Chief Anotklosh of the Taku tribe, circa 1913
Long before European settlement in the Americas, the Gastineau Channel was a favorite fishing ground for the Auke (A'akw Kwáan) and Taku tribes, who had inhabited the surrounding area for thousands of years. The A'akw Kwáan had a village and burying ground here. In the 21st century it is known as Indian Point. They annually harvested herring during the spawning season, and celebrated this bounty.
Since the late 20th century, the A'akw Kwáan, together with the Sealaska Heritage Institute, have resisted European-American development of Indian Point, including proposals by the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They consider it sacred territory, both because of the burying ground and the importance of the point in their traditions of gathering sustenance from the sea. They continue to gather clams, gumboots, grass and sea urchins here, as well as tree bark for medicinal uses. The city and state supported Sealaska Heritage Institute in documenting the 78-acre site, and in August 2016 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "It is the first traditional cultural property in Southeast Alaska to be placed on the register."
Descendants of these indigenous cultures include the Tlingit people. Native cultures have rich artistic traditions expressed in carving, weaving, orating, singing, and dancing. Juneau has become a major social center for the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian of Southeast Alaska.
Although the Russians had a colony in the Alaska territory from 1784 to 1867, they did not settle in Juneau. They conducted extensive fur trading with Alaskan Natives of the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak. Some ships likely explored this area, but did not record it.
The first European to see the Juneau area is recorded as Joseph Whidbey, master of the Discovery during George Vancouver’s 1791–95 expedition. He and his party explored the region in July–August 1794. Early in August he viewed the length of Gastineau Channel from the south, noting a small island in mid-channel. He later recorded seeing the channel again, this time from the west. He said it was unnavigable, being filled with ice.
After the California gold rush, miners migrated up the Pacific Coast and explored the West, seeking other gold deposits. In 1880, Sitka mining engineer
George Pilz offered a reward to any local chief in Alaska who could lead him to gold-bearing ore. Chief Kowee (Tlingit Kaawa.ée) arrived with some ore, and several prospectors were sent to investigate. On their first trip to Gold Creek, they found deposits of little interest. However, at Chief Kowee's urging, Pilz sent Joe Juneau and Richard Harris back to the Gastineau Channel, directing them to Snow Slide Gulch (the head of Gold Creek). There they found nuggets "as large as peas and beans," in Harris' words.
On October 18, 1880, the two men marked a 160-acre (650,000 m2) town site where soon a mining camp sprang up. Within a year, so many miners had arrived that the camp became a village, albeit made up mostly of tents and shacks rather than substantial buildings. It was the first European American settlement founded in this territory after the United States purchased Alaska.
By the autumn of 1881, the village had a population of over 100 and was known as Rockwell, after Lt. Com. Charles Rockwell; later it was known as Harrisburg after prospector Richard Harris. On 14 Dec. 1881, a miners' meeting of 72 persons decided to name the settlement Juneau, after prospector Joe Juneau. Perhaps they changed the name to be more distinctive, as another Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania.
Establishment of Russian Orthodox Church
Perhaps because of the pressure of this European encroachment, some Tlingit appealed to the Russian Orthodox Church. It had given services in northern Tlingit settlements in local languages since 1800 and 1824. One of its priests had translated scripture and liturgy into the Tlingit language in the 1830s–1840s. The Tlingit arranged for an Orthodox priest to come to their settlement in Juneau. In 1890, some 700 people converted, following chief Yees Gaanaalx and his wife of Auke Bay. The Orthodox Church Missionary Society supported the Tlingit in furnishing and constructing a church for this large congregation.
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church was completed in 1894 and has maintained a strong presence among the Tlingit, Serbians, and other Europeans who followed this church. The iconostasis has six large panels sent from Russia.
Development of mining
During this period, prospector and placer miner John Lemon operated in what is today the Lemon Creek area. The neighborhood that developed there was named for him by early settlers, as have been several other landmarks in Juneau.
Major mining operations in the Juneau mining district prior to World War II included the Treadwell Mine, The Alaska-Juneau Mine, and Alaska-Gastineau Mine.
In 1906, after the decline of whaling and the fur trade, Sitka, the original capital of Alaska, became less important and the territorial legislature moved the seat of government to Juneau. Juneau was the largest city in Alaska during the inter-war years, passing Fairbanks in the 1920 census. In the post-World War II years, it was displaced by Anchorage in 1950.
20th and 21st centuries
In 1911, the United States Congress authorized funds for construction of a capitol building for the Alaska Territory. World War I delayed construction was and there were difficulties purchasing the necessary land. Citizens of Juneau donated some of the required funds, and construction began on September 8, 1929. Construction of the capitol took less than two years, and the building was dedicated as the Federal and Territorial Building on February 14, 1931. It was designed by Treasury Department architects in the Art Deco architectural style. The building was originally used by the federal government to house the federal courthouse and post office for the territory. Since Alaska gained statehood in 1959, the building has been used by the state government.
The Alaska Governor's Mansion was commissioned under the Public Building Act in 1910. The mansion was designed by James Knox Taylor in the Federal style. Construction was completed in 1912. The territorial governor at that time was the first governor to inhabit the mansion, and he held the first open house for citizens on January 1, 1913. The area of the mansion is 14,400 square feet (1,340 m2). It has ten bathrooms, six bedrooms, and eight fireplaces. The governor resides here when in Juneau on official business. In June 1923, President Warren G. Harding became the first president to visit Alaska. Harding visited the Governor's Mansion while Territorial Governor Scott Bone, who was appointed by Harding, was in office. Harding spoke from the porch of the mansion explaining his policies and met with attendees.
Robert Atwood, then publisher of the Anchorage Times and an Anchorage "booster," was an early leader in efforts to move the capital to Fairbanks, which many in both cities resisted. Some supporters of a move wanted a new capital to be at least 30 miles (48 km) from Anchorage and Fairbanks, to prevent either city from having undue influence. Juneau has continued as the capital. In the 1970s, voters passed a plan to move the capital to Willow, a town 70 miles (110 km) north of Anchorage. But pro-Juneau people there and in Fairbanks persuaded voters also to approve a measure (the FRANK Initiative) requiring voter approval of all bondable construction costs before building could begin. Alaskans later voted against spending the estimated $900 million. A 1984 "ultimate" capital-move vote also failed, as did a 1996 vote.
Juneau remains the capital. Once Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, Juneau's population increased along with the growth of state government. After construction of the Alaska Pipeline in 1977, the state budget was flush with oil revenues, and it expanded programs for the people. That growth slowed considerably in the 1980s.
In 2005 the state demographer projected slow growth in the borough for the next twenty years. Cruise ship tourism has expanded rapidly, from approximately 230,000 passengers in 1990 to nearly 1,000,000 in 2006, as cruise lines have built more and larger ships—even 'mega-ships.' They have sailed to Juneau seven days a week instead of six, and over a longer season, but the cruising tourism is still primarily a summer industry. It provides few year-round jobs but stimulates summer employment in the city.
In 2010, the city was recognized as part of the "Playful City USA" initiative by KaBOOM!, created to honor cities that ensure their children have great places to play.
Juneau is larger in area than the state of Delaware and was, for many years, the country's largest city by area. Juneau continues to be the only U.S. state capital on an international border: it is bordered on the east by Canada. It is the U.S. state capital whose namesake was most recently alive: Joe Juneau died in 1899, a year after Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian leader for whom Bismarck, North Dakota was named.
The city was temporarily renamed UNO, after the card game, on April 1, 2016 (April Fool's Day). The change was part of a promotion with Mattel to draw "attention to new wild cards in [the] game". For Juneau's cooperation, Mattel donated $15,000 "to the Juneau Community Foundation in honor of late Mayor Greg Fisk."
Juneau hosts a major Zip-line attraction developed by
Experience Based Learning.