Recognize heritage of Merchants Wharf

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, May 30, 2005

The April 24 Juneau Empire story on the history of the Merchants Wharf Building was indeed interesting, but was not accurate in stating that seaplane operations there ended in 1968. In fact, scheduled and charter seaplane operations took place at the Seadrome, as the facility was known prior to the conversion to shops and restaurants, for more than 10 years after that date.

To help fill the void in seaplane service left by the merger of Alaska Coastal Airlines into the Alaska Airlines system, Bill Bernhardt, Dean Williams and Marlene Johnson formed Southeast Skyways in 1968. The airline started modestly with two Cessna 180 aircraft, but soon expanded with additional Cessnas, Dehavilland Beavers and Grumman Goose aircraft. Skyways offered year-round scheduled service for passengers, mail and freight to the communities of Hoonah, Angoon, Tenakee, Pelican and Elfin Cove (later expanding to Haines and Skagway).

Additionally, Skyways hauled a large volume of freight and passengers to and from the Snettisham Hydroelectric project when it was under construction, and offered charter service throughout Southeast. As cruise ship travel to Juneau expanded, the company worked with the cruise lines to pioneer flight-seeing excursions from the ships, a service that has continuously based operations at the Merchants Wharf ever since. At its peak, Southeast Skyways had a dozen aircraft and about 40 employees.

The Seadrome was a complete aviation facility with waiting rooms and offices, dock facilities, and elevators that carried aircraft from the water level to the large maintenance hangar on the upper level and freight down to the floating docks. It is an important part of Juneau's history, and I hope the debate on the future of Juneau's waterfront makes all reasonable efforts to ensure that the heritage of the Seadrome/Merchants Wharf is properly recognized.

Dean Williams


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