Madsen, Niels Peter & Mathilda (Anderson)
by Janice and Jerry Taylor
Niels Peter Madsen came to America from Denmark. He was born in 1867, in Hurup, Denmark, but grew up in Thisted just north of there. Family tradition says that he was a gunner’s mate in the King’s Navy. One day he fired the wrong salute to the King and was mustered out. It was easy to get on a whaling ship replacing sailors who wanted to remain at home. He got off the ship in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Using horse and wagon, he got to Minnesota, then went on to the southwest, then on to San Diego where he caught a ship to Astoria, Oregon, stayed there awhile fishing, and then headed to Skagway, Alaska, in 1897. His daughter, Elizabeth, said that he traveled quite a bit throughout Alaska with a dog team, but came back to Skagway. He lived in a cave his first winter until he built his cabin with recycled lumber from the old town of Dyea near Skagway.
Peter tried the trail of ’98 to the gold fields but decided there were too many fools either losing their money or their lives, so he returned to Skagway. He established a business, fishing and cold packing halibut to be shipped to the Klondike and Whitehorse on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, as well as south on the big steamers. He owned a big icehouse, bringing huge blocks of ice from Lake Bennett in the winter. He was also very active in the Salvation Army Church.
Peter returned to Denmark in November 1902, to visit family and “look for a wife.” His partner, Martin Holst, asked Peter to look up his mother in Denmark since Martin had never contacted her after he left Denmark. After visiting his family, Peter and his younger brother found the boardinghouse which his partner’s mother ran. Her niece, Mathilda Anderson, was one of the girls working there. She had been born in 1880, in Mols, Knebel, Denmark. In Mathilda’s own words written in 1958 after a trip home to Denmark: “I heard his fantastic stories about the gold rush to Alaska. I had adventure in my soul and wish to come along but non money. Don’t worry he say und spred 1000 Dl ind... Gold... on the table. I had never seen anything like that and wanted to go and see that rich land... After a few days I decided it would be so wonderful to see a far away new country, and went along besides his Broder.”
The three left Denmark traveling with another young couple, reached England, went cross country to Liverpool, and sailed 13 days in rough weather until they reached Halifax. Mathilda and Peter were married at the Salvation Army Church in Montreal, Canada, then traveled by train to Vancouver, went to Seattle, and sailed four days, reaching Skagway at last. Peter was frequently gone attending to his fish business. He bought a large Bible and a medical book for $25, to help Mathilda learn English, and so she could take care of any problems when he was gone on his boat. Apparently, the medical book was rather graphic, and once when he was away, and she was trying to read it, she became frightened and started using the pages for fire starter! However, she later became a practical nurse.
Peter had the first gas boat in Skagway. He took the International Correspondence Course on Combustible Engines. About 1908, E. A. Hegg, a well known photographer, arrived in Skagway on his own boat of the same name. When he moved on to the Klondike, he sold the Hegg to Peter.
Three children were born to Peter and Mathilda in Skagway: Elizabeth (1905), Esther (1906), and Edward (1910). Elizabeth told stories of how her mother had a Saint Bernard named Gladys, who pulled a sled about town for transportation, and who whelped many pups which Mathilda sold for use as sled dogs. The family moved to Haines in 1911, when the Alaska Railroad was in the planning stage and Haines was a proposed water terminus. Seward was chosen and Haines went into a decline. Capt. Peter Madsen bid on the mail contract between Haines and Skagway, getting a four-year contract from 1909 to 1913. He carried passengers and freight as well as the mail.
Peter’s younger brother, Martin, homesteaded in Haines. In 1932, he married Ruby Allen, sister of P.B. “Doc” Allen of Haines. Martin and Ruby did not have any children and both lived their lives on the Haines homestead.
By 1913, when the mail contract was up, Juneau was having a boom with expansion of the A-J Mine and there was plenty of work for boats to haul sand and gravel needed for cement foundations. Peter loaded the family home on a barge and towed it to Juneau. The barge landed on the tide flats just south of where the Juneau-Douglas Bridge was later to be built. He bought a lot in the Casey-Shattuck addition on 9th Street, where the Fire Department now sits. With a team of horses, and a capstan, the house was pulled up the beach to the lot, and jacked up while a foundation was put under it. The family lived in a tent that first summer while the house was being enlarged. A well was dug which later supplied many of the settlers of the “flats” until city water was put in. The youngest child, James, was born in Juneau in 1918.
Peter was kept very busy with his boat and a crew of men loading two barges with sand and gravel between tides—wheelbarrow and shovel work— paying wages of a $20 gold piece per shift. Later, he had another mail contract which lasted eight years between Juneau, Snettisham, Sumdum, Taku, and Kake, earning $3,866.99 per year. Elizabeth went with him much of the time and learned to navigate well. He had just returned from one of his trips when he learned that the Princess Sophia was aground, so immediately went out again. But her captain would not let anyone off, and a storm came up when the tide came in, sinking the ship.
Peter became sick during the flu epidemic of 1919, developed a chronic heart problem, and never fully recovered his strength. The family went to southern California for a time, then back to the Seattle area. Both Mathilda and Elizabeth held numerous jobs to support the family. They returned to Juneau in 1925. Peter remained ill of health, and was on his way south on the SS Alaska in 1929, when he became worse and was removed from the ship in Ketchikan. He died four days later and was buried there.
In 1931, Mathilda Madsen was married to Andrew Streed. The family continued to make its home on West 9th Street in Juneau. Andy Streed died in 1956. Mathilda remained in her little home as the town of Juneau grew and developed. The Federal Building, including the post office, was built across the street. Her sons ran the Madsen Supply Store next door until 1975, when both the store and little home were “razed, casualties of the urban renewal plans to widen Glacier Avenue by 16 feet and transform the south side of the street into a new commercially zoned business area,” as the Southeast Alaska Empire reported in February 1975.
Mathilda Madsen Streed lived the rest of her life with her daughter Elizabeth on 11th Street in Juneau. Mathilda was an active church member her entire life and belonged to Northern Lights Presbyterian Church from its early days. She loved her yard work, knitting, visiting with friends, and talking of her life. Mathilda returned to Denmark to visit just once, in 1958, at age 78. She died quietly in 1979, and was laid to rest beside Andrew Streed in Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau.
After graduation from high school, Elizabeth Madsen worked at Excursion Inlet where she met Sidney J. Thompson, who had been born in 1902, in Nailsworth, England. They married in Seattle in 1926 where his parents lived. Daughters Audrey Jean (1927) and Marjorie Ann (1928) were born in Juneau and completed the Thompson family.
Elizabeth worked in Ordway and Lu Ek’s Photography Shops and at First National Bank of Anchorage as a teller. Sidney was a U.S. Deputy Marshall, U.S. Marshall, and a projectionist at the old Capital Theatre both before and after being Marshall. Elizabeth died in Juneau at age 90, and her ashes were buried on her mother’s grave in Evergreen Cemetery. She had eight grandchildren: Jerry, Jeff, Dan, and Kirk Taylor and Carl, Jim, Terry and Geri Ann Mueller.
Esther Madsen lived most of her life in the “lower 48.” She was married three times but had no children. She died in Issaquah, Washington, in 1989. Her ashes were also buried on her mother’s grave.
Edward Madsen served in the U.S. Army. He was married to Laurel Goodel in 1950, and after her death, he married Dorothy Gronowski. He had no children. Ed worked for a time in the A-J Mine and over the following years, worked with his brother Jim.
James Madsen married Gertrude Sivertson and had children Kay, Donald, Martin and JoAnn. Over the years, Jim owned and operated many businesses from a fish cart, a bike rental and repair shop, sand and gravel hauling, to eventually Madsen’s Supply, a boat and arine supply store located on 9th Street. He and his family also did a lot in real estate and building construction. Jim died in 1988, and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Peter Madsen weds Mathilda Anderson, Feb. 1903.