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Olds, John

by Donna Olds Hanna Barton

John Olds was born in Cornwall, England, in 1840. He went to work in the mines at age 13. In 1858, he entered the United States and worked four years in the Michigan copper mines, then went to the mines of Nevada and California before entering British Columbia in 1877, to work in the Cassiar District. In 1878, he went to Sitka, Alaska, where he worked at the Stewart Mine for George Pilz.

John Olds was one of the first to reach the Juneau area after gold was discovered there. In December, 1880, he came to Juneau on the steamer Favorite with the first party of miners from Sitka. They landed at Fritz Cove Road and came on to Juneau by canoe. He and Pat McGlinchy built a cabin on a part of what became Lot 6 of Block 2 when the townsite was surveyed. The place became known as The Flag of All Nations and Olds retained his interest in it until 1883.

Olds operated placer mines and lode claims with several partners in the Silver Bow Basin and on Montana Creek, until he quit mining in 1886. With a partner, Charles Morse, he bought the Franklin Hotel on Front Street. Morse sold his interest a few years later to Morris Orton. In 1892, Olds and Orton tore down the old Franklin, which was built partly of logs, and put up a new three story hotel. Olds wanted to call it the New Franklin and Orton wanted it to be the Occidental. They shook dice to decide and Orton won. Olds was not particularly disturbed, but Sam Wheelock, former owner of the Franklin, was so incensed he built another hotel across the street and named it the New Franklin. It wasn’t prosperous, and was later acquired by Olds and turned into a miners’ boardinghouse.

On December 7, 1886, Olds married Miss Lila Prior, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Prior of Juneau, the first two white women in Juneau. They had five children: Brilliant, Klonda, John, Harry, and Lyda. Brilliant was the first white child born in Juneau.

Cornishman John Prior had brought his family north in 1879, to Sitka, where he worked in the Stewart Mine. He arrived on Gastineau Channel from Sitka in a dugout canoe in December, 1880, and with others did placer mining on Ready Bullion beach that winter. His wife, English born Elizabeth Sellers Prior and their daughter, Lila, age nine, joined him a bit later.

In Juneau, the Prior family first lived in a cabin on Third Street where an office building now stands. They then moved to another cabin where the Memorial Library was later built and is now the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. That cabin was replaced by a frame dwelling and Mrs. Prior lived there until her death in August, 1921.

Lila Prior was born in Grass Valley, California, and had just passed her fourteenth birthday when she married John Olds. He built a large dwelling on Fifth Street, behind the Prior home. John Olds was active in civic affairs. In 1903, he headed the drive to raise funds to bring Joe Juneau’s remains from Dawson to Juneau, where Joe Juneau is buried. In 1907, he was active in forming the ’87 Pioneers Association. In his last years, he suffered a great deal from rheumatism and died while receiving treatment in Olympia, Washington, on August 29, 1910. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Brilliant Olds graduated from Juneau High School in 1908, and then married Clarence Carpenter. They had two daughters, Dolly, and Clary.

Klonda Olds married Lester Mathews, a lawyer, and had two children, Myra and John. They later moved to Denver and then to California.

John (Jack) Olds died in the 1918 flu epidemic while serving with the Army in the midwest, on the way to Europe.

Lyda married Duncan Sinclair and they had a daughter, Lila. They lived in the John Olds home until 1944.

Harry Olds married Viola Wiggen of Seattle in 1926. They lived in the Prior home on Fourth Street until 1947, when the property was sold to the City for the Juneau Memorial Library. The family then moved to the John Olds home on Fifth Street where they lived until 1956. Harry died in 1957. The home was then owned by Red Swanson for several years and is now a bed and breakfast called Capital Inn. Harry and Viola had three children: Shirley, Donna, and John. Mrs. Olds lived in Seattle from 1956 to 1974, when she returned to Juneau to be with her daughter, Donna Hanna. She died in Anchorage while visiting her son John in February, 1985, and is buried in Seattle.

Harry’s son John had two sons, John and Wally. That John was the fourth John Olds in Juneau.

Donna Olds and George Hanna were married April 30, 1949. He was a construction worker and later owned his own construction company. He died in 1978. Donna has worked as a grocery store checker and trainer for over thirty years. Their son David and his wife Laurie Sewill Hanna have three children: Jason, Lindsay, and Coulter, and live in Juneau. Their daughter Kandi and her family includes children Natasha, Tyrell and Angela and they live in Kennewick, Washington.

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