The fireman mayor - and proud of it

Posted: Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Emery Valentine was Juneau's thirteenth mayor, and the first to be elected as mayor directly by the voters. (The town's first 12 - from1900 to 1917 - were elected by the city council from among their own members, according to a "Juno's Days of Yore" column written by historian Bob DeArmond in April 1986). Valentine served a total of six, one-year terms, from 1908 to1912 and from 1917 to 1919.

Valentine was born in Dowagiac, Mich., in 1858. As a boy of 10 he crossed the plains to Colorado, riding a small pony. Who's Who in Alaskan Politics (1977) says he made this journey "with an overcoat for saddle and hay-rope stirrups," which indicates he must have been an experienced rider.

He became a miner in Colorado, but lost a leg in a mining accident. He then learned the goldsmith trade by apprenticing himself to a jeweler. In 1884 he moved to Montana. He was the proprietor of jewelry stores in both Colorado and Montana from 1876 to '86.

Valentine arrived in Juneau in May 1886 and established E. Valentine Jeweler. In 1887 he was advertising himself as an assayer, gunsmith, jeweler and watchmaker. A display advertisement for his business called it "the oldest, largest and best jewelry establishment in Alaska," and said that it specialized in "all kinds of jewelry made of Native gold kept in stock and made to order."

Valentine was such a well-known personage that the Empire newspaper heralded the 42nd anniversary of his arrival in Juneau with an article published May 12, 1928. According to that article, Valentine bought his first lot in town from Joe Juneau and built the Franklin Street edifice known today as the Seward Building. In 1897 he ventured to Skagway and built a wharf at the end of State Street. The dock he built was variously known as the Juneau Dock, Valentine's Wharf and Sylvester Wharf. It became notorious after it served as the spot where Soapy Smith was killed in an 1898 shootout with surveyor Frank Reid.

Valentine's other enterprise in the Gold Rush boomtown was as a partner in the Klondyke Mercantile Company, a wholesale lumber business.

Valentine may have intended to set up a jewelry business in Skagway, but he had heavy competition there in the person of businessman Herman Kirmse, who established one of the town's first jewelry and watchmaking stores in 1897. Kirmse came to Skagway after having followed every gold rush and silver rush from Colorado to South Dakota. His creations in gold, gold nuggets, walrus ivory and silver became world renowned and were awarded four gold and three bronze medals at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909.

Soon after his arrival, Valentine helped to organize the Juneau Volunteer Fire Department. Early volunteers included 16-year-old Charles Goldstein, Jim Jorgensen, Harry Wert, photographers Percy Pond and Lloyd Winter, William Goldstein, Ed Decker and B.M. Behrends. A hand-drawn hose cart and hand pump and a bucket brigade were used to fight fires in those early days. Things improved somewhat in 1897 when Valentine donated a spring wagon to the volunteers. The wagon had high wooden sides, painted with the slogan, "You ring the Bell and we'll do the rest."

In 1902, Valentine served a term on the city council. He also organized the city water system. The modern fire department dates to 1911 when the volunteer group was reorganized by order of Mayor Valentine. But it wasn't until 1916 that the fire department purchased its first pumper truck, an American La France which could pump 350 gallons a minute.

In 1912 Valentine began construction of the Valentine Building and the following year moved his jewelry store into it.

During his terms as mayor he was largely responsible for the acquisition by the city of a large dock near the south end of town, an act which DeArmond calls "very controversial" in his biography of Valentine for the State Library. The dock was known as People's Wharf. He was also largely responsible for moving the public library into the city hall.

Valentine was a Republican and long a supporter of Judge James Wickersham, following Wickersham to the Bull Moose faction of the party in 1912. He was chairman of the Republican state central committee from 1912 to 1914. However, in 1926, Valentine broke with the Judge and that faction and joined the administration faction.

He served as Japanese vice-consul for which he was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor.

Valentine was married four times, widowed once and divorced three times. He died at Juneau in September 1930, and is buried near the center of Evergreen Cemetery beneath one of the largest monuments there. A twin monument for Jennie Valentine stands next to his.

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