City and Borough of Juneau
Historic Preservation in Juneau
Historic Shipwreck Sites
The lifeline of Southeast Alaska has always been maritime travel. The first mariners in Southeast Alaska were the Tlingit and Haida Indian tribes. They constructed large ocean going canoes to travel long distances for trade, to visit other villages or to wage war. Later, the region was explored by the French, Spanish, and British, but none had a larger presence than Russia. Following the United States purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, steam powered ships carrying occupation troops and supplies for new settlements traveled throughout the region. Prior to this time, the Alaska coastline was shunned by all except for explorers and traders. The Southeast Alaska waterways were known as some of the most challenging in the world, due to treacherous tides, winds of gale strength, poor visibility, and unmarked reefs. With these factors and the increased maritime traffic, it resulted in an increase in maritime disasters.
The arrival of air transportation was the beginning of the demise of the pioneer steamship companies. The smaller companies soon disappeared and only larger ones, such as the Alaska Steamship Company survived. Today, Alaska state ferries, the Coast Guard, fishing vessels, barge lines and luxury cruise liners safely navigate the waters of the inside passage. The geography of Southeast Alaska makes it a very unique part of the world. As a result, only three towns in the archipelago can be reached by road. Most Southeast Alaska communities still rely heavily on the marine transportation, as they are inaccessible by road.
A 1992 historic sites and structures inventory survey identified 13 shipwrecks within the City and Borough of Juneau. All the mishaps discussed within this document occurred in the Lynn Canal, which was a most direct route to Dyea, the gateway to the gold fields.