The Whittier Street connection to Juneau

Posted: Sunday, April 12, 2009

You may not know us, but we're here. We have walked by you on the streets. We have attended school with you and your family members. We may have attended some of the same weddings and funerals or sat by you at community events.

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Courtesy Of The Alaska State Library Historical Collections
Courtesy Of The Alaska State Library Historical Collections

We are the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-granchildren of Maurice Staples Whittier, a Juneau resident for whom Whittier Street, the public right-of-way between Village Street and West Willoughby Avenue adjacent to the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall downtown, was named.

Whittier's proud descendants include grandchildren, Joanne (Cowling) Wilder and Don Cowling; great-grandchildren, Teri (Kobylus) Maxwell-Holt, Traci (Kobylus) Gilmour, Richard Whittier Barron and Nanci Jo (White) Ferster; and eight great-great-grandchildren, including one who bears his namesake, Thane Whittier Maxwell.

The family home sits on Distin Avenue overlooking what was once Whittier Street, with Grandpa's shop just below the Indian Village. You may know Grandpa's shop; his name was R.W. Cowling. He's the one many of you called on the way to the fishing grounds for repairs to your Chrysler 440s. The Whittier family home, still owned by the family, has seen four generations of Juneauites grow and raise their families in this community.

This part of our family story began on Dec. 28, 1903, when M.S. Whittier was appointed inspector of customs to the port of Sitka. During the next 11 years, he served in this capacity at Sitka, Ketchikan, Cordova, Juneau and Skagway. Along with his duties to the U.S. Customs Service, M.S. Whittier was deeply rooted in the community as evidenced by the many service organizations in which he was a member. These include secretary of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, Territorial Chamber of Commerce, Shriners, Elks, mason with the Scottish Rite Temple as well as being in the Northern Lights Presbyterian Church.

In February 1914, he became a permanent resident of Juneau upon purchasing what would become the family home for the next 95-plus years on Distin Avenue. This property extended into the Indian Village and on to the tidelands. The land is now known as Willoughby Avenue. When M.S. Whittier transferred this property to the city of Juneau, the city named Whittier Street after him.

In the Centennial Gazeteer, published by the Gastineau Channel Centennial Association in 1979, it states, "Whittier runs from Willoughby Avenue to Egan Drive and the Government Dock and was built during WWII as a rock-filled causeway to provide a second access route to the subport area. It was named for Maurice Staples Whittier."

Our family would like to thank the Juneau Empire for giving us the opportunity to relay just a part of our family history. I would imagine if we dig deep, we can find that most downtown streets have a story.

There are so many families in this community that have a long, rich history that this is a great opportunity to learn more about them. Many documents, namely Gastineau Channel Memories, have been written about the families in this community.

Teri Maxwell-Holt and Traci Gilmour

Great-granddaughters to Maurice Staples Whittier


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