Eight decades on the river: The history of the Taku Glacier Lodge

Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2002

What began as a mine doctor's tent city getaway is one of Juneau's longest-lasting tourist attractions.

In 1923, Dr. Harry C. DeVighne, who worked for the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine, built a log-cabin lodge and set up sleeping tents for a hunting and fishing outpost he called the Twin Glacier Camp. He and his visitors traveled by boat, watching the tides to bring people and supplies over the water highway's many sandbars.

Seven years later, Mrs. Erie L. Smith, part of a wealthy Michigan family, bought the lodge during a yacht tour of the Panhandle, in part as a new home for her adult son, known as "Hack."

"Hack was a little bit of a problem child," current lodge caretaker Pat Volmer said during a history presentation to visitors last week. "He had a few habits that were kind of embarrassing to his mother and she thought he was tarnishing the family name. She thought it was time for him to move out, move way out."

Hack and a work crew put up additional buildings, including cabins that stand today.

Smith sent her nurse, Mary Joyce, to the camp to keep an eye on Hack, who sometimes would swim into the river to catch a ride on a mining barge for a tour of Juneau's bars.

"He kept on going till Mary came into town, scraped him off the floor and brought him back out here," Volmer said. "She was no longer a nurse. She was a warden."

After Hack died of a heart attack on a 1934 hunting trip, Smith gave Joyce the camp, which at the time included 14 buildings, 15 sled dogs and three cows.

In the winter of 1935-36, Joyce decided to embark on an adventure by dogsledding from the camp to the Fairbanks Ice Carnival. Juneau guides refused to help her, Volmer said, so she recruited help from Taku River Tlingits and began the 1,000-mile journey, which took about three months.

"When Mary got back to Juneau, they had a big parade for her," he said.

Joyce turned the lodge into a tourist resort before selling it in 1942. The name changed to Taku Glacier Lodge in 1949.

The lodge had several owners, some operating a camp and others using it as a home or getaway, until 1971, when Ron Maas bought the property. He and his wife, Kathy, repaired and restored the old camp and began the current flightseeing and salmon bake day tours in 1979.

Ken Ward, who operated an air taxi business, and his wife, Michelle, who worked for Alaska Airlines, bought the lodge in 1993. They continue to run the business and sometimes live at the lodge.

It's hard work raising a family and maintaining a remote business site, but Ken Ward said he loves the lodge and expects to stay in the business as long as he can.

"I get to do a lot of neat interaction with the visitors, who really enjoy it, and I get to do a lot of outside work," Ward said. "I get to spend my time on keeping an 80-year-old lodge in as good shape as I can."

Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.

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