City and Borough of Juneau
Historic Preservation in Juneau
In December of 1880, prospectors were finding gold on the beaches of Douglas Island, across the channel from Juneau. In May of 1881, a French Canadian named Pierre "French Pete" Erussard found gold at the mouth of a creek he named Parris (later changed to Paris). He, and other prospectors, staked placer and lode claims in the area. Douglas City was established to serve the new gold mining operations.
The boundaries comprising the Douglas Townsite historic neighborhood are generally the west side of First Street to the west side of Fifth Street and the north side of H Street to an irregular line along Bradley Street connected diagonally to the right of way shown as Kinzie Street. This area represents the original platted Douglas Townsite.
The neighborhood is composed of primarily residential buildings with a few commercial buildings along 3rd Street. Most buildings are wood frame construction reflecting the available materials and local building technology. The only reinforced concrete structure is the Douglas School Gymnasium which was built in 1937. This construction method was likely influence by the higher technology brought to the area in the later years by the mining engineers.
Although many buildings in the neighborhood reference national architectural styles they were predominately modest in detailing. This is most likely a result of the economy of shipping materials to this remote part of the world and the availability of skilled craftsmen in the region.
Buildings within the Douglas Townsite neighborhood are representative of the historic socioeconomic character of the Douglas population which was predominately working class dependent on the mining industry. The neighborhood was under much developmental pressure during the turn of the century as the community grew rapidly during the period of gold mining expansion. However, the great mining boom was followed by a devastating bust with the Treadwell cave-in in 1917. Three town fires (1911, 1927, 1937) further devastated Douglas and in many ways the architectural character of the community never recovered.
The Douglas Townsite neighborhood comprises a unique area featuring examples of early period architecture reflective of the geographic and economic influences of the early development of Douglas. Although today Douglas serves primarily as a bedroom community to the Juneau workplace, its proud community spirit survives in part due to the unique historical residential character of its building environment.