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Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Harris, Thomas

by submitted by Mike Grummett

Tom Harris was born in Juneau on April 16, 1917, in his parentís home which was located at what is now a parking lot between Bullwinkles Pizza Parlor at 318 Willoughby Avenue and the office building located at 400 Willoughby Avenue.

Their house, located at 336 Willoughby, which was built by Tomís father, was on piling over the tideflats, with a wood plank roadway leading from the downtown area.

Tomís paternal grandfather was Richard Tighe Harris, Sr., co-founder of the city of Juneau. During the 1880ís, Richard Tighe Harris, Sr., while in his 50ís met and married a young Thlinget girl from Hoonah; only her first name, Kitty, is known with certainty. To their union four children were born. William John Harris, Jr. was born on May 14, 1882. He died two days later, the cause of death unknown. A second son was born to them on March 19,1884, also named William John Harris, Jr. On November 10, 1885, Richard Tighe Harris, Jr. was born and two and a half years later, on March 22, 1888, Mary Kelchine Harris was born. Kitty Harris and the three children were baptized on Sunday, July 15, 1888, by Reverend Eugene S. Willard in the Presbyterian Church in Harrisburgh (Juneau), Alaska. Mary Kelchine Harris died on February 24, 1889, at the age of eleven months. No cause of death was reported. Kitty Harris died in February, 1893, at 26 years of age. Again, no
cause of death was reported.

Tomís father was Richard Tighe Harris, Jr. and his mother was Inez Ashby Harris. Inez was the daughter of Thomas Henly Ashby, a miner who arrived in Juneau on May 11, 1884 and Dorothy Irene Andreafsky Ashby.

Tomís living siblings are Irene Harris Lenz who lives in Seattle and Liela Harris Haley who lives in Juneau. Tomís older brother William died in an accident at age 7, Mary died out of state in 1948, Charlotte was lost to whooping cough and measles as an infant and Tomís younger brother Richard died in 1998 in Juneau.

Richard T. Harris, Jr., Tomís father, attended school in Juneau and in the mid 1890ís, began further studies at the Chemawa School in Oregon. He learned the carpentry trade, studied drawing and played the clarinet in the school band.

Tom Harris, like many young people in Juneau, sold newspapers on the street for the Empire. It was one of his first jobs and he remembers lining up outside the Empire office with his papers for the rush to see who could get downtown first. ďYou had to be careful not to get tripped. If you did you would lose out,Ē Tom said. He later delivered papers. His route was up Main Street and down Calhoun past the old Seaview Apartments, the Cliff House and the Knight Apartments, then down toward the Evergreen Cemetery area. His helper was Herman Porter. Hermanís father worked for many years for Alaska Electric Light and Power.

As early as age eleven, Tom fished and helped his father run the family troller, a 30 foot vessel powered by a gas operated 7 hsp single cylinder Vulcan engine. They also hunted deer together, mostly in the Young Point area near Admiralty Cove.

One night they were tied up with Andy Bernstein when Andyís boat caught fire. Hearing Andy yell, Tomís father jumped up, pulled Andy aboard with one hand and with a knife in the other, cut the lines. They were barely able to get clear when Andyís gas tank exploded. Reflecting on this experience Tom said, ďMy father was a quiet man and didnít say much, but his actions that night spoke loudly.Ē

Tom spent his early years working with his father in the carpentry trade and joined the Carpenters Union, Local 2247 on May 2, 1940. His work with his father counted toward his apprenticeship and soon he was on his way as a journeyman. He went on to be a foreman on many jobs in Southeast Alaska as well as the Westward and ultimately became Business Agent in 1973, for Local 2247, retiring in 1979.

Tomís first job as foreman was with Ray Peterman on the construction of the Northern Commercial Company building between Harris Harbor and Aurora Basin. When Tom showed up for work one day, Peterman announced that he was leaving the job to work on the Simpson Building and that Tom should take over as foreman on the NC building. Tom pleaded that he was not ready for that, but Peterman said, ďYou can do it,Ē and with that, he was out the door. ďI did it,Ē Tom recalled, ďand thatís how I became a foreman.Ē

In addition to the Northern Commercial job, Tom participated in the construction of the Mendenhall Apartments, the Subport building, the Foodland (A&P) building, Juneau Motors Co., the Goldstein Building (after the fire), the Channel Apartments and one of his more challenging jobs, building a concrete fish ladder at Falls Creek, south of Petersburg in the Wrangell Narrows.

Tom was not only skillful at running big jobs but was known as a craftsman as well. Tomís nephew, Bill West, remembers that one of his winter jobs when things were slow was to refinish the pianos and benches for Mrs. Anderson at the old Anderson Music Shoppe, located next to the Arctic Brotherhood Hall on Third off of Main Street. The State Office Building which houses Health and Social Services now occupies that space.

Tom also worked as a shipwright at the Subport for three years during World War II.

Tom and Virginia Garnick were married September 14, 1972. Virginia worked for the State of Alaska Department of Education for nineteen years beginning in 1965, until she retired in 1984. The couple reside at the Parkshore in Juneau. Tom and Virginia had no children together.

Tom and Virginia Harris.