By June Allen
July 12, 2002
Canneries, usually located at the mouths of salmon streams, were required to build hatcheries upstream, in the interests of conservation. Some of the canneries complied with that federal order from the Department of Fisheries, and were genuinely rearing and releasing fish - like the one on Ketchikan Creek. Others in more remote locations were said to be token hatcheries, doing very little to assist the And then the over-fished salmon industry sagged in the late 1920s and the Ketchikan Creek hatchery was abandoned.
Somehow City Power & Light must have fallen heir to the property or purchased it, because the hatchery building was moved just across the road and used as a warehouse for the utility company's powerhouse. Then in 1935, the City bought the power company, renamed it KPU, and the old hatchery building became a building for Ketchikan's fairs in the late 1930s and served several other purposes over the years - from dances to roller skating.
At the time the hatchery was abandoned, a prosperous and genial Irish gentleman named Peter Gilmore eyed that piece of deteriorating fish-pond property. Pete came to Ketchikan in 1899 from the gold fields of the north and loved the country. He even named one of his daughters Alaska. He bought property on the waterfront and opened a saloon facing Front Street, the Emerald, with rental rooms above and a bowling alley below on the dock level. It was across from today's historic Gilmore Hotel, built years later by Pete's brother Patrick. He prospered and built a turreted home nicknamed Gilmore's Castle on Grant Street.
The late Stan Oaksmith remembered that Pete was a city employee in the late 1920s and was in charge of the streets. Park Avenue and streets in that whole neighborhood in the area were all being improved at that time. Pete Gilmore began to see the possibilities of that pretty little park-like property along the creek. So he rolled up his sleeves and volunteered his time. Stan Oaksmith mentioned that the city was awfully tight with its purse-strings at that time! Over time Pete groomed and improved the ponds, shored up the sides of the little streams, kept brush cut and engineered the flow of the water onto the property. He planted trees and his volunteer work began to be noticed by others, especially by one, Jerry Murphy, one of the hardest workers.
Others came to help, too, building little walkways from area to area, bridging the streams, donating shrubs or flowers. The Balcom family donated rocks collected from all over the world by pioneer Mercedes Balcom. They were set into a concrete pedestal that supported a brass sundial. A little rock lighthouse also was added to the park's attractions. And central to the park's attractions was the main pond with the lighted fountain in the middle. The park had always been a popular place. But times change.
By 1989, the park's attractions were in sorry shape. The sundial was missing and the pedestal vandalized. The lighthouse was also damaged. The fountain hadn't operated in at least 15 years and no one remembered when the lighting had last worked. Tourism was increasing steadily and the city was considering having the fountain repaired and restored. But the estimate came in at $30,000!
It was then that Jim Carlton (later borough mayor) made a case for taking on the fountain job and the Ketchikan Lions Club made the City an offer: "We'll do it! We'll do it for you for nothing!" It was the same spirit of volunteerism that had built the park in the first place. And the Lions, known locally for taking care of the "labor" type jobs for the community - like the school bus shelter-building and placing for school bus stops - set to work. The job was headed by Lions Jim Carlton and Ray Roady, Lion Club charter member and longtime resident who was past 80 years of age at the time and worked long after younger members had pooped out.
They were joined by many other volunteer helpers. One was then-city engineer Fred Monrean, who did the rock work on the crumbling fountain base. He said his grandfather had been a stonemason. He was a good worker and he knew how to do it! Also volunteering was Mike Scheel, a KPU foreman who did the lion's share of the electrical work and made sure no one electrocuted themselves.
The job, however, was larger than expected. The water pipes to the pond would have to be replaced. And, after the first fountain pipes had been installed so many years ago, the city's water had begun to be chlorinated. The outflow water pipes from the fountain pond went to the fish hatchery next door - built in 1963, and chlorinated water couldn't be used in rearing fish. So all pipes had to be rerouted, requiring lots of ditch digging. It was a similar story in regard to the electricity. In both cases, replacement required ditches. And the Lions got to it! The lighting receptacles and lines were so old they couldn't be matched and not only had to be replaced but fitted through new conduit to a different power box. And new and different colored lenses for the lights had to be ordered to fit.
Still, the Ketchikan Lions Club and their volunteer helpers finished the job - even if a little later than they had planned. And, they had completed that $30,000 job for a grand total of just of $900 from their treasury. That, they said, is what a town can do when it puts its mind to it.
In November the fountain had to be shut off because of possible upcoming freezing temperatures. But the following spring the fountain was cascading high into the air and the colored lights were spinning their hues over the sprays of water. And by summer the children were once again wading in the larger ponds, dunking and shrieking with delight, while barefoot toddlers held onto their mothers' fingers for dear life as they stepped gingerly onto the mud and pebbles in the shallow but icy little streams. Quiet adults sat and read, sitting on benches near the soothing spray of the restored fountain. And tourists looked on, smiling, having not a clue how that amazing fountain in a miniature park in a rather small city got there in the first place!
And that's the story of City Park.
Photo by Gigi Pilcher