In its 115-year existence, the city of Eagle has worked hard at preserving that which defines it.
Founded in 1899 and incorporated in 1901, Eagle maintains to this day a diverse, if not small, population of native, soldier and civilian residents. As the town coalesced, a blend of gold miners, Han Athabaskan natives, soldiers and those just seeking a place to call their own, over time, Eagle eventually became a cohesive unit.
It was gold that brought miners from the Yukon Territory across the river to Alaskan territory. By the fall of 1898, early accounts estimated as many as 1,700 people had constructed cabins and tents along the Yukon River. It wasn’t long after that Eagle was determined to be a strategic location for the transportation, trade and communications center of the Yukon and interior Alaska.
Like many mining towns at the time, Eagle boomed with commerce at the turn of the 20th century. Serving Yukon River towns from Saint Michael to Whitehorse, steam-wheelers more often associated with the Mississippi River operated an international trade route between the United States and Canada. The waterfront became the heart of Eagle’s economy as more and more buildings and warehouses were constructed.
It wasn’t a luxurious lifestyle. After all, this was a mining town in Alaska. However, like many bustling townships, Eagle did have its fair share of amenities, including a church, a saloon and even a brothel. As one may expect, the combination of businesses attracted its share of lawlessness, so by 1899 Congress authorized a military reservation be constructed in Eagle, and it was that Fort Egbert – named for infantry Col. Harry C. Egbert – was established.
As time passed, much of the mining activity in Eagle began shifting further west toward Nome and Fairbanks. By 1911, Fort Egbert was all but abandoned and Eagle began to settle into the city it would remain as today.
The lawlessness of the late 19th/early 20th century Eagle had settled, but the rough and rugged nature of the city’s early settlers remained. “The misfits that live at the end of the road” became a welcome moniker for the residents of Eagle and it remains that way to this day.
These days those who live in Eagle and/or those who choose to move there come for the challenge. Don’t come to Eagle looking for the height of fashion, unless it means wearing whatever is suited best for the day’s activity. And activities there are aplenty in Eagle for those interested in wide-open spaces, camping, fishing, mining and hiking.
Eagle Bluff, for which the town earned its name, may not be home to as many eagles as it once was (peregrine falcons took over roost years ago), but it still provides a rigorous workout and some of the best vistas the city can afford.
However, it’s the town’s history that is truly on display in Eagle. Residents work hard to preserve it. Homes as old as the city itself remain much the way they were when they were originally built and just as functional. Pat Sanders, president of Eagle’s Historical Society, believes that has a lot to do with the fact that the city looks after its own just as much as it looks after the town’s history.
Despite its eclectic, no nonsense, history, Sanders calls the town a “wonderful, compact, dysfunctional family.”
People wave at each other as they pass by, and they’ll do it again 30 minutes later when they see each other again. And then again 30 minutes after that, and so on. If they don’t wave back, they know there’s a problem, but “they’ll be there to help you the next day,” Sanders said.
That’s the way they like it in Eagle, Sanders said. It may not be the most luxurious lifestyle, but if it's luxury they wanted, residents wouldn’t have moved to Eagle.
Just like the Han tribes name translates, the residents of Eagle are the people by the river, the misfits at the end of the road. And that’s just the way they like it.