After 80 years, log camps close

Gildersleeve shuts two Southeast sites

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2000

KETCHIKAN - An era is ending in Southeast Alaska.

After operating for the past 80 years, Gildersleeve Logging Inc. has dismantled its two floating camp sites at Dall Island's Grace Harbor and closed down all of its logging activity.

One of the camps was the largest of its kind in the world, complete with streetlights, church and school. It was a symbol for the Alaska logger lifestyle during timber's heyday in the Tongass National Forest.

In recent years, Gildersleeve had been working under contract with Sealaska Timber, but the companies decided to part ways last November, said company owner Keaton Gildersleeve.

Without another large contract in sight, Gildersleeve said he decided to shut the company down, release its employees and sell most of its equipment.

Last month the company towed a large amount of equipment to Everett, Wash., to sell and has been towing remaining portions of its floating camp to storage sites on eastern Prince of Wales Island.

Keaton Gildersleeve and his cousin Richard represent the third generation to lead family logging operations in Alaska and Canada since the early part of the 1900s.

Their grandfather Bill moved from Oregon to the Canadian west coast around 1920 to join his brother Doc in a logging business.

In the early 1950s, two of Bill Gildersleeve's sons - J.R and Murray - came to Alaska and formed Gildersleeve Logging. In 1954, at the start of the long-term pulp contract with Ketchikan Pulp Co., they took a subcontract to fell timber for the mill. Within two years, the Gildersleeves had their own contract with KPC.

In the mid-1960s, the brothers parted ways and formed competing companies. Those companies later merged.

The Gildersleeve camps were well known for their sense of community and emphasis on family living. The core group of employees at the time of the decision to close operations had been with the company for no less than 10 years, said Keaton Gildersleeve.

``That tells you something about our family concept,'' he said.

The company employed between 75 and 125 people during the past five years. It could continue logging, said Keaton Gildersleeve, but the large camp lifestyle that he loved is gone.

``It was never about money,'' he said. ``It was about a way of life.''

During the towing operation up the west coast of Prince of Wales Island, Richard Gildersleeve said his plans are to move his home off its float and onto a parcel of land in Wrangell.

Keaton Gildersleeve is moving his family to Washington state, where he will spend most of the upcoming winter sorting out and selling equipment and portions of the camp, he said.

``We spent our lives in God's country, and we knew what it was and I can't begin to tell you how it's going to hurt to walk away,'' Keaton Gildersleeve said.

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