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Almquist, Gustaf and Hulda

by Edna Almquist Williams

My parents, Gustaf Edward Almquist and Hulda Frederika (Welin) Almquist, were born in Sweden. They came to the United States at separate times in 1902, to Ellis Island, New York. My father had relatives living in Connecticut so they were on the East Coast until 1905. The humid weather in the summer bothered my father, so they went to Seattle, Washington, and were married there in 1905. My father was a tailor, having learned the trade in Sweden. Seattle was a comparatively small town at that time. My parents were married for 15 years before I was born, and I am their only child.

I lived with my parents in the Beach Drive home for the first five years of my life and then in 1926, they decided to move to Juneau, Alaska. They had two friends here that influenced their move, Anna Jenson and Ida Foss, who owned the Snow White Laundry which was located on South Franklin Street next to the Juneau Cold Storage. As of this writing in the year 2000, this space is the empty lot on the south side of the downtown parking garage.

We lived in a number of places in Juneau—the first one being the Cliff Apartments, close to where the State Office Building is now. The Sorby Apartments on South Franklin Street was another residence location, and I can remember my father walking me to the Fifth Street School during the Taku wind storms. We had to duck into doorways all the way to escape being blown over during the violent gusts of wind that occurred those days. Before we left Juneau for a few years in 1930, I lived in a house very close to the Fifth Street School. It is still being occupied and is on Seward Street across from the Capitol Building and a couple of houses up the street from the Masonic Temple.

When I was in the fifth grade, my parents decided to go back to Seattle. We returned to our Beach Drive home in Seattle. I graduated from the West Seattle High School in 1938.

My father had already returned to Juneau, so the day after my graduation my mother and I were on a steamship headed for Alaska. I had hoped to go to the U. of Washington, but it was during the Depression and money was scarce so I went to work in the U.S. Forest Service office in the Federal Building as a Clerk-Typist. This was followed by a year with the Federal Disbursing Office and then with the Alaska Game Commission.

In 1938, I met Dean Williams and we started dating. This was an “off and on” relationship for four years after which we became engaged. World War II was on at that time and the Army Signal Corps sent Dean to Nome. After a year, he returned to Juneau and we were married in the Northern Light Presbyterian Church which was then located on the corner of Fourth and Franklin Streets. The wedding reception was held in the Baranof Hotel which was only a few years old in 1943.

The Army reassigned Dean to Juneau so he worked in the Federal Building for a year. At that time, the Alaska Communications System took care of Western Union telegram business in addition to the military communications. We rented an apartment near Ninth Street and lived there for a year before the Army sent Dean out in the Aleutians to Attu and Adak. For economic reasons, I moved back with my parents, who were then living on Distin Avenue (behind the Governor’s Mansion). After his Army discharge in December 1945, we moved into our home which we bought from Dean’s parents at 1401 Martin Road and are still living at that address in the year 2000.

For the first year of our marriage I did not work. Then when Dean was in the Aleutians I worked for the State Unemployment Compensation Commission (a division of the Department of Labor). In March 1947, I quit working as I was pregnant. Our first child, Janice, was born in 1947 at St. Ann’s Hospital (now St. Ann’s Nursing Home). A son, Gordon, was born four years later in 1951. I was a “stay-at-home mom” until the fall of 1958, when both children were in school full-time. I applied and got the job as a Secretary for the Juneau Chamber of Commerce who had their office in the Municipal Building at that time. Worked there for a year and then spent one year working for the Boy Scout Office. The following year I went back to the Chamber of Commerce and spent the years from 1960 to 1969 working there. Following this employment, I worked one year for a brokerage firm, First Securities. then back to the Chamber again and was employed by them until 1980, when the visitor information section was transferred to the new Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. I spent ten years with the Bureau as the Volunteer Coordinator (a paid position) until my retirement in 1990, when I reached the age of 70.

Juneau had a population of about 5-6,000 when I first arrived so I have seen many changes over the years. Being a territory, the government entity was very minimal and was housed in a small building on Seward Street (approximately in the location of the Simpson Building where Rainbow Foods is now). The Native children went to the Government School on Willoughby Avenue. I can remember in my grade school days that some of the children would change schools frequently because it was hard to determine just how much the percentage was for each one between the white and native races.

The Taku winds played a big part in the weather during the winter. The gusts were tremendous. Many windows were broken and sand and pieces of buildings were blown down the street. Occasionally, there were injuries during the worst storms. I can remember the snow being piled up in the middle of the street on South Franklin, sometimes six feet or higher. Snow removal then was a far cry from today’s efficient operations.

The Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine was in full operation and we liked to see the miners with lamps on their heads coming down the trail from the vicinity of the mill in the evening. Unfortunately, gold was then about $35 an ounce and the mine was a low-grade producer so they didn’t make the big money they would have when gold got to around $400 an ounce.

The Mendenhall Glacier area has changed considerably. We used to have picnics about where the Forest Service Observatory is now and the glacier was very close.

The people living in Juneau in the 20’s and 30’s didn’t have the opportunities we have today to live or have cabins on the waterfront—mainly because the road system went only as far as Auke Lake. My parents did have a cabin where the U. of Alaska Southeast is located now with a magnificent view of the Mendenhall Glacier across Auke Lake. The blueberry bushes were thick in that area and my mother loved to pick them and made delicious pies.

Tourists were coming to Juneau at that time on the Alaska Steamship boats such as the Yukon, Baranof, Alaska, etc. and the Admiral Line. Later the Northland Transportation Company added to the fleet of ships with two or three smaller vessels. The gift shops were not visible as they are today, but the Natives would spread their moccasins, totem poles, beaded work, and other handmade items on the wooden sidewalks in front of the stores on So. Franklin Street. A beautiful pair of moccasins could be bought for $7 in the 1920s and the early part of 1930s.

Juneau has been my home for many years and I am glad my parents brought me to this great land when I was a small girl. Living here has been rewarding and I feel I have had experiences that never would have been possible living in another part of the United States.

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