Chief Shakes Historic Site – Wrangell, AK

Description

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the Chief Shakes Historic Site in 1940 on a 0.704 acre tract of land located on Shakes Island in Wrangell Harbor. The park was part of a larger U.S. Forest Service program focused on the restoration of totems and Native cultural assets. At the center of the park is a 1940 replica of an early 19th Century Tlingit community house. Nine totem poles surround the house—a Sealion Prince, Kadashan Red Snapper, Kadashan Crane, Underwater Grizzly, Three Frogs, Bear Up Mountain, and Sea Serpent. Seven of these totems poles are reproductions of older poles, while two are originals. All were carved in 1940 as a Civilian Conservation Corps project. Six posts are incorporated in the house. Four of these posts are ancient house posts of Chief Shakes’ “Shark House,” and two of them are an original pair of Raven Clan house posts.

The park was finished and dedicated in 1940, under the supervision of Linn A Forrest, an architect with the U.S. Forrest Service. As World War II began and the need for relief work declined, the CCC phased out its operations in Southeast Alaska. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

The 1970 nomination form of the National Register of Historic Places notes the exceptional historical significance of the Native art pieces at Shakes Island: “The Shark House houseposts incorporated in Chief Shakes Community House have been characterized in an Alaska State Museum report as perhaps “the oldest and finest set of houseposts in existence.” At least one source states that these dogfish totems were brought from Old Wrangell to Wrangell in 1832, while another suggests that they were carved eight years before the first Russian ship arrived in the Lituya Bay area. It is not inappropriate to categorize these unique carvings as national treasures.”

Part of the Chief Shakes Historic Site photographic and ethnographic material published by the Living New Deal was provided by courtesy of Linn A. Forrest (1905-1986). Forrest was a practicing architect who photographed the totem poles at the time of their restoration, between 1939 and 1941. Forrest oversaw the joint program of the Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps to recruit Alaska native carvers in the restoration and recarving of totem poles throughout Southeast Alaska. Employed by the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, Forrest transferred to Juneau, Alaska in 1937, where he undertook the totem restoration as one of his first projects. Under his supervision, indigenous carvers preserved and restored 103 totem poles and three Tlingit and Haida community houses. Forrest documented the restoration process and maintained notes and a photo record of a significant portion of the work. He used a Leica camera designed for the then new Kodachrome 35mm color slide format.

Source notes

Chief Shakes Historic Site, Shakes Island, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 1970, accessed July 21, 2017.

Project originally submitted by Steve Forrest (with documentation courtesy of Linn Forrest); Brent McKee on July 21, 2017.

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Location Info

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Chief Shakes Historic Site
Wrangell , AK

Coordinates: 56.465469809098146, -132.38029358147583

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