by Kathleen Metcalfe
As of March 2001, the Flynn-McAlister family tree has been rooted in Alaska for 101 years, 76 of those years in Juneau.
Patrick and Ellen Flynn, seven year old daughter Nellie, and 4 year old son Willie, arrived in Skagway in 1900 from Tacoma, Washington. Patrick Flynn immigrated to the United States from County Tipperary, Ireland in 1876. He married Ellen Flaherty, an Irish immigrant from Galway, in Tacoma, Washington, where their daughter, Helen Grace (“Nellie”) was born in 1893. Their son John William (“Willie”) was born in Ellensburg in 1896. Another son, Owen Patrick, was born in Skagway in 1904. Patrick worked for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad and his sons followed him into the profession. Owen later became an accountant and served as city clerk for the City of Skagway. Willie spent his entire career with the railroad.
At least one of Patrick Flynn’s siblings, his sister Mary, followed him to Alaska, stayed for a brief period of time, married Martin Coyne and returned to Washington. His sister Elizabeth remained in New Jersey and until recently was unknown to the Alaska family. One of Elizabeth’s great-great granddaughters, Carolyn Rothlisberger, reconnected with the Alaska Flynn descendants in 1999, after researching census records and obituaries for Skagway and Juneau. (Much of the Flynn family history comes from Carolyn’s genealogical research).
James (Jim) McAlister was born in 1894, in Vancouver, British Columbia, one of six sons born to Peter and Caroline McAlister. Jim and two of his brothers, Lorne and Walter, came to Alaska in 1914, seeking adventure and fortune. They settled in Skagway where Jim found work on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad as a clerk. He also did bookkeeping for several local businesses. Lorne worked as a customs officer. He and his wife Bessie had two children before Bessie died of tuberculosis. Walter became a prospector in the Yukon and named his claims after his brother Jim’s daughters.
Not long after Jim McAlister arrived in Skagway, he fell in love with Nellie Flynn. They married January 8, 1918, and their first daughter, Caroline, was born on December 7, 1919. The young McAlister family moved from Skagway to Juneau in 1924. Jim had been offered a job as Territorial Deputy Auditor and came to Juneau seeking a better life for his family. Work was scarce in Skagway and it was becoming the ghost town it turned into prior to its 1980’s revival as a tourist destination. Three more daughters were born in Juneau: Kathleen (Kay), Patricia (Pat) and Marilyn. In 1928, the McAlister family bought a home at 730 Gold Street, on Chicken Ridge overlooking Gastineau Channel.
With the onset of WWII, Alaska was declared a war zone because of its close proximity to Japan. Juneau became a “subport of debarkation” and 5,000 servicemen arrived in the territorial capital. Pat told stories of “Gruening’s Guerillas,” a group of elderly and disabled men who patrolled Juneau. One of their duties was to make sure resident’s blackout curtains were shut so the town could not be spotted from above by Japanese bombers. V.M. “Pop” Metcalfe, our paternal grandfather, was one of the volunteers. The Japanese had invaded the Aleutians, there were sightings of Japanese submarines near Sitka and everyone in Alaska was on alert. The McAlister girls were teens at the time and enjoyed the excitement and whirlwind dating scene.
Jim McAlister worked several different jobs to support his family. In addition to his duties as Deputy Auditor, his nephew, Peter McAlister (who presently lives in Vancouver, B.C.) said that Jim had a produce business and kept many projects going around the house. Peter said that Jim was a “hell of a nice man,” and that he twice invited Peter’s family to come stay in Alaska.
In 1926, when Peter was 10, he and his mother and father, Mina and Edward (Bud) McAlister, left Vancouver for Skagway where they lived during the early part of the Depression. They stayed with Lorne and Bessie McAlister for three years. At the age of 17, Peter returned to Alaska when Jim McAlister offered to find him work in Juneau. Peter said his first job was mixing and pouring cement for a Norwegian carpenter in the Casey Shattuck Addition. He said he never worked as hard in his life. When Peter arrived in Juneau, he gave Jim McAlister money for his board, and when he left, Jim gave him a paycheck and returned the board money. Some of Peter’s best memories are of playing with kids in Skagway and spending the summer in Juneau, on Gold Street.
Jim McAlister died June 18, 1943, the day before his 50th birthday. He left his wife, Nell, and four teenage daughters. Nell, who hadn’t worked since her marriage, was forced to go to work to support herself and her daughters. She first worked at the Baranof Hotel as a maid, and later found a job at Stevens of Juneau, a women’s clothing store on Seward Street. She remained at Steven’s for 30 years.
Caroline and George Gullufsen, Kathleen and Bob Prather and Patricia and Vern Metcalfe raised families in Juneau. Eleven of their children and 23 grandchildren remain in Alaska. Marilyn and Harold Kling and their four children and three grandchildren live in Chicago. Caroline had four children, Patrick, Carrie, George and Michael, who died in an accident at age 5. Kay had three children, Jeff, Barney, who died in infancy, and Susie. Pat had nine children, Vernon, Jr.(Mac), Kimberly, Peter, Patrice, Kathleen (Teeny), James (Jake), John, Mark and Heather. Marilyn had four children, Carol, Harold, Jr., James (Jamie) and Kelly.
Kim Metcalfe (eldest daughter of Patricia and Vern) and her husband, Paul Helmar, bought the family home on Gold Street in 1984. In 1998, Paul, Kim and her brother Peter McAlister Metcalfe organized a Metcalfe-McAlister family reunion to celebrate “70 years at 730 Gold Street.” Many friends and relatives gathered to tell stories about growing up on Gold Street and Basin Road, and to reminisce about the good old days in Juneau.