Monday, September 12, 2016

Jesse Lee Children's Home

My first cousin twice removed, Alexander Eugene Muir (1917-1999) married Minerva B. Hansen sometime before 1940. She was born in Chignik Bay, Alaska, on 3 July 1916 to Lars Antone Hansen and Nancy J. Anderson and was eldest of eight children. Her father was Norwegian and immigrated tot he United States when he was 19 years old. I'm not sure how he ended up in Alaska, perhaps he was drawn by the gold rushes in the Yukon Territory. At the time Lars came to Alaska, it was the newest U.S. territory.

Nancy J. (Anderson) Hansen with her parents and siblings before her marriage
to Lars Anderson; courtesy of Puyulek Pu'irtuq: The People of the Volcanoes!
by Michele Morseth

In 1920 Lars was a fisherman working on his own account. He lived with his in-laws. Nancy's father had come to Alaska from Oregon sometime after 1870 and married a woman whose father was Russian and whose mother was Native American. She was considered a Creole and she and her children were marked as mixed race on all census forms. After Nancy married Lars and they had children, those children were also marked as mixed race on each census form.

Lars died sometime before 1930 and Nancy lived alone with her children. Nancy's daughter, Minerva, migrated to Washington State sometime after that. However, by 1940 Nancy had remarried, worked as a nurse at the local cannery, and lived with her husband, a son by her first husband and two other children she had with her second husband. Another son was a lodger with a local family. However, her remaining five children by Lars lived at the Jesse Lee Orphanage Home in Seward, Alaska.

Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska in 1901; courtesy of Wikipedia

I wondered why she made that decision and I will likely never know, but the Jesse Lee Orphanage had a very interesting history. It was first founded in 1890 in Unalaska as a boarding school. Students were mostly Native American and mixed race children from the Aleutian Islands and the Seward Peninsula. During the Spanish flu pandemic the population of many remote, coastal Native American Villages had been decimated. The boarding school became crowded and its buildings were in serious need of repair. In addition it was expensive to ship food and supplies to the school. It was decided to move the institution to Seward, which was the largest port in the territory. The new site consisted of several acres and several buildings, including a shop, vocational classrooms, a darkroom, library, gymnasium, and dormitories.

During World War II, the children were moved to other locations and the buildings were painted camouflage. A temporary Fort Raymond Army Base occupied part of the orphanage's property. A 1964 earthquake caused extensive damage resulting in the demolition of one of the dormitories. The Methodist Church moved the orphanage to Anchorage and sold the Seward property to the city. The home has remained vacant since that time.

In an interesting bit of trivia the territorial flag was designed by one of the students at the Jesse Lee Home, chosen among 700 other entrants in a statewide contest. The design is now the state flag.

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Creoles: A Social Experiment
Chignik Bay, Alaska

2 comments:

  1. What an interesting family story. Alaska is still rough terrain to be living in, but I can't imagine how difficult it was to get there or the living conditions over a hundred years ago.

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    1. I've read some books about the area as this is the only family in my tree from Alaska. It was a very hard life!

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