Story last updated at 11/20/2013 - 5:15 pm
Craig, on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island (POW), is the island's largest town and was once referred to as "Fish Egg" until a new name was petitioned for.
With its population of 1,400 (2010 census), its homes and commercial buildings sprawl along the waterfront of Klawock Inlet. A busy community, it continues to grow with new buildings and industries every time my husband Frank and I visit.
In early September, we cruised in the TWINKLE from Wrangell to Coffman Cove, the northeastern end of the POW road system. The roads also connect the northeastern end at Labouchere Bay to the other various small towns and from Klawock to Hollis and the State ferry system terminal. Its southern end is near Hydaburg.
My destination was Craig to attend the POW Chamber of Commerce Tourism Summit where I gave the history of the island in the allotted 20 minutes. Now is my chance to expand on Craig's beginnings.
Many know the town was named for Craig Millar. However, it was his father, James Millar, who brought the family to the west coast of POW. Millar, of Peterboro, Ontario, Canada came to Alaska in 1886 bringing his family including 10-year-old Craig. I am not sure what he did between that time and when he built salmon salteries. He may have opened a trading post at the Haida village of Klinkwan.
Together James and his sons entered the salting business in 1892 at Hunter Bay and Nichols Bay on the southern end of the island. Eventually Millar & Sons added small salteries at Nutka Bay, Kasook Bay, and Sukkwan Island, all on the southern end of POW. In 1895, the only site on the east coast of POW was opened at Tolstoi Bay, but did not prove successful. During the late 1890s, the family continued to live at the Native village of Klinkwan.
As he grew up, Craig Millar struck out on his own to establish salteries at Deer Harbor (1867) and Coppermount (1899). He ran them with help from the local Haidas who fished and/or worked salting the fish.
There are several versions of how the fishing village of Craig was founded. One version tells how Millar, in his 30s, continued to expand his fishery business. As remote as POW's coast was, early pioneers moved about the area. Craig Millar must have known about the saltery at Klawock. When exploring the coastline in 1906, he found a few Natives living in shacks on the shore of the western end of an unnamed peninsula south of Klawock. He bought a cabin, made some improvements, and started salting salmon.
It would be nice if history was this easy.
Conflicting information comes from the May 1906 Pacific Fisherman magazine. It tells us that Craig Millar was salting salmon at Hunter Bay as he had in earlier years. More conflict: the same magazine reports that Craig Millar went to work in 1907 at the Northwestern Fisheries cannery at Hunter Bay. Another version is that Hyman H. Bergman had been salting salmon at Klawock in 1906, and in early spring 1907, he and Millar were salting salmon there near the mouth of the Klawock River.
I wasn't able to resolve these conflicts. The next step in the town's founding is that Millar may have been the one who contacted the J. Lindenberger Co. of Astoria, Ore., in 1907 about developing a mild-cure business at his site at the unnamed peninsula. Perhaps he did or it may have been Bergman. At any rate, the company at that time wanted to expand its curing business from the Columbia and Sacramento Rivers where the king salmon runs were diminished.
On February 4, 1908, J. Lindenberger began the paper work to obtain a site from the supervisor of the Tongass National Forest. His company officials obtained a Special Use Permit from the U.S. Forest Service for a tract of land 300 by 450 feet upon which to build a fish curing station and general store on the north end of "Bergman Island." This is the only use of that name I have seen.
As a consequence in 1908, Bergman, as Lindenberger's representative, opened the mild-cure plant at Fish Egg, as he called the site. At that time he and Millar abandoned the Klawock saltery. Craig Millar was put in charge, and Bergman returned to his base in Ketchikan.
Under Millar's direction, a plant for mild-curing kings and freezing halibut and other species of salmon was constructed. Mild-curing meant the salmon was preserved in a salt brine, and the barreled product had to be kept in the cold storage plant. Crews also put up a general store building.
Over the next few years, J. Lindenberger Co's employees cut timber and cleared the area covered by the permit.
The accompanying photograph shows how Craig had grown by 1910. The largest building is the cold storage, and it is surrounded with numerous cabins and buildings. Later J. Lindenberger had to take the owners of these cabins to court to secure clear title to its land.
Many Native fishermen from the Haida villages had previously fished for Millar and some if not all transferred their allegiance to the new mild-cure station. These fishermen trolled for the king salmon as far away as Forester Island. Others undoubtedly continued to fish for the cannery in Hunter Bay or for the Klawock cannery. Several boats can be seen in the photograph anchored in front of the new village.
By 1911, people were still using Fish Egg for the name. It had a few houses and the mild cure establishment, but development of other parts of the fishing industry for kings and halibut contributed to the community. A sawmill was constructed by an association of local businessmen, however, it was sold to a Seattle man in February 1912. By the end of the year, a white population of nearly 100 people was engaged in various occupations.
A big change came to Fish Egg in 1912. Lindenberger organized Lindenberger Packing Company and built a salmon cannery. No surprise, Craig Millar was in charge.
With a larger population, in 1912, the federal government began to provide services. W. G. Beattie, superintendent of the Department of Education in Alaska, authorized a government school. Miss Edna L. Freeman established the school and taught the students.
Mail could be received after a post office opened on June 5, 1912 with Frank West Thompson appointed as postmaster. I have not found who petitioned for the post office and abandoned the name Fish Egg, replacing it with Miller's first name.
A group of petitioners to the marshal's office reported it needed some form of law. Having heard that conditions were becoming "intolerable", the U.S. Marshal in Juneau traveled there in August. By October Deputy Marshal W. D. MacMillan of Douglas moved to Craig. This was an outgrowth of the U.S. Marshal's investigation. That summer, the Daily Alaska Dispatch of Juneau reported about 2,000 people lived in Craig, a population undoubtedly inflated with temporary fishermen and cannery workers.
In addition a new U.S. Commissioner's precinct was established. Orin Kitley, who had operated sawmills in Fish Egg and Coppermount, was appointed as the local commissioner. He acted much as today's magistrate.
The West Coast Mill Company took over the sawmill and E. M. Streeter became superintendent. He told a reporter that experienced workers were brought north from the Puget Sound area.
On a lighter note, in November of 1912, Craig became the smallest town in the United States to have an order of the Loyal Order of the Moose. It was chartered and granted on recommendation of J. Frederick Johnson of Juneau. By November there were 50 members.
As for Craig Millar, he remained cannery superintendent until 1917, when Lindenberger sold the facility. Later Millar purchased the cannery at Warm Chuck Inlet on Hecata Island and ran if for many years before selling it to Nakat Packing Company. The cannery at Craig continued to pack salmon until it burned.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at email@example.com.