Dozens of historic buildings fill the heart of downtown Juneau. Get a brochure describing them from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum (4th St. and Main St.).
One of Juneau’s most photographed sights is the onion-domed St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (5th St. and Gold St., 907/586-6790, www.juneau.org/parksrec/museum, Sun. 1–4 p.m., Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. mid-May–Sept., tours $2), built in 1894. Inside are icons and artwork, some dating from the 1700s. For a more evocative experience, attend a service (Sat. 6 p.m. and Sun. 10 a.m.).
Marine Park, along Shattuck Way, with its lively mix of people and picturesque views, is a good place to relax after your tour of downtown. Directly across the street a bright mural depicts the Haida creation legend.
Evergreen Cemetery, between 12th and Seater Streets on the north side of town, has the graves of Juneau’s founders, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, along with a marker near the spot where Chief Kowee was cremated.
Alaska State Museum
Anyone new to town should not miss the Alaska State Museum (395 Whittier St., 907/465-2901, www.museums.state.ak.us, daily 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. mid-May–late Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. late Sept.–mid-May, $5, under age 18 free). Inside, you’ll find an impressive collection of Native Alaskan artifacts (including wildly creative Yup’ik Eskimo spirit masks) and exhibits relating to the Russian-American period and other aspects of Alaskan history.
The Alaska State Museum also houses a gallery of contemporary fine arts and brings in special exhibits each summer. But the highlight is the circular stairwell, which houses a full-size bald eagle nest and other Alaskan wildlife.
Juneau-Douglas City Museum
The fine Juneau-Douglas City Museum (4th St. and Main St., 907/586-3572, www.juneau.org/parksrec/museum, Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. May–Sept., Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Oct.–Apr., $4 adults, children free) houses an interesting collection of maps, artifacts, photos, and videos from Juneau’s rich gold-mining history. Be sure to check out the three-dimensional model of Perseverance Mine with its intricate maze of tunnels.
Other features include a 19th-century store, a hands-on history room that’s popular with kids, and a small gift shop. Join guided walking tours of historic Juneau—60 downtown buildings that were built before 1904 still remain—in the summer for $10, including museum admission.
State Office Building
Enter the State Office Building (SOB) from Willoughby Avenue and take the elevator up to the 8th floor. Here you’ll discover a 1928 Kimball organ, a lovingly preserved totem pole from the 1880s, the Alaska State Library, and a panoramic view from the big observation deck (great for bag lunches). The airy lobby is also a pleasant place to stay dry on a rainy day; Friday at noon you’ll enjoy the added bonus of an organ recital.
Just up Calhoun Avenue from the SOB is the large white Governor’s Mansion. Built in 1912 in the New England colonial style, it overlooks much of Juneau from its hilltop location. The mansion is not open to the public.
Out front is a totem pole carved in 1939–1940. Near its base are the figures of a mosquito and a man, representing the Tlingit tale of the cannibalistic giant, Guteel, and his capture by hunters in a pit. The hunters built a fire to kill him, but just before he died he warned, “Even though you kill me, I’ll continue to bite you.” His ashes swirled into the air, becoming the mosquitoes that fulfill Guteel’s promise.
More than 20 other totems are scattered around downtown. Most are recent carvings, but some date to the 19th century. Pick up the Totem Pole Walking Tour brochure from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum (4th St. and Main St.) to find them all.
Alaska State Capitol
Back on 4th Street is the marble Alaska State Capitol. Completed in 1931, it was originally the federal office building and post office. The building is not at all like a traditional state capitol, and from the outside it could easily be mistaken for an aging Midwestern bank, complete with wide steps and marble columns. Free tours (907/465-2479 for reservations) of the bank—oops, capitol—are every 30 minutes Monday–Friday 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.–4 p.m. mid-May–mid-September. Historical photos line the 2nd floor.
You may sit in on the legislature when it’s in session January–March. The antics of the legislature are always a hoot, especially after the FBI raided their offices in 2006 and found ball caps brazenly labeled “Corrupt Bastard’s Club.” It makes me proud to be an Alaskan.
House of Wickersham
Built in 1889, the House of Wickersham (213 7th St., 907/586-9001, www.alaskastateparks.org, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m. mid-May–Sept.) offers a good view of Juneau and the surrounding country, and visitors are provided a fine tour. This was the home of Judge James Wickersham (1857–1939), a man who had a major impact on Alaskan history.
As Alaska’s longtime delegate to Congress, in 1916 he introduced the first statehood bill—43 years before it passed—and was instrumental in the establishment of the territorial legislature, McKinley National Park, the University of Alaska, and the Alaska Railroad. Be sure to take a gander at the Native Alaskan ivory carvings that Judge Wickersham collected from around the state.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition