The House of Wickersham, located on 7th Street in downtown Juneau, is operated and cared for by the division of Alaska State Parks.
Bobbie Vaden, a volunteer docent, looks out the living room window at the House of Wickersham on Tuesday, Sept. 3. A cutout of Judge James Wickersham is on display within the enclosed porch.
Story last updated at 9/11/2013 - 6:40 pm
People that make it up the hill to the House of Wickersham in downtown Juneau have three things in common, says volunteer docent Bobbie Vaden: they have a strong desire to understand history, they love architecture, and they come with lists of questions.
“They really want to understand,” she said.
Some of what they want to understand is the role Federal Judge and Congressman James Wickersham, who gave the house its name, played in Alaskan history.
Vaden, a retired history teacher and school librarian from Waco, Texas, said for many older visitors, “The house reminds them of houses from their childhood … a lot of them are reaching a point in their lives where they’re reflecting a lot.”
They comment on the gramophone and the radio, and they’re curious about Alaskan culture.
“I feel like we’ve really met the needs of a lot of visitors. And they do come with needs,” she said.
Visitors Tad and Lisa Santino hiked up the hill to see the house while in town on a cruise. Tad is a pilot for Alaska Airlines, though his current route doesn’t stop in Juneau.
“I saw it in a guidebook and I thought ‘In all that time I’ve never been … to this house,’” he said. “This was wonderful.”
Vaden estimates that less than 5 percent of visitors are from Juneau, though those that come in “absolutely love” the house and its recent changes, which include a exterior paint job and redone flooring.
In her spare time, Vaden goes through stacks of papers in the house, organizing and preserving them for the future. One of her favorites is from the Sitka Times, in 1868. She said the editor started out using flowery language, talking about the paper’s goals and objectives. A few issues later, towards the end of the paper’s run as the Sitka Times, he wrote an editorial about how a U.S. Army Officer, offended by a previous editorial, had threatened him with “a punch in the mug, a tap on our breadbasket, or a bloody snout.” Another Army Officer saved him from that fate.
“Those are the kinds of stories that are just worth a million dollars,” Vaden said. “This house is filled with stories. There’s not enough time in the day to tell them all.”
The House of Wickersham is open to the public free of charge, though it will close to tours Sept. 25. It will re-open in the spring. More information is available at http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/wickrshm.htm.
Mary Catharine Martin is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly.