Roadhouse Historical Museum
An Alaskan Treasure that Beat the Odds
the heart of Delta Junction sits a small log building, peacefully
nestled among grass and wildflowers. It is the epitome of Alaskan
idyllic. It’s a rather unassuming building. No neon signs no flags or
banners just weathered logs and a warm and inviting feeling. One’s first
glimpse of the Sullivan Roadhouse Historical Museum tells nothing of its
remarkable past and the epic journey yes journey that it took to get to
its new home. It should be obvious by now that this is not the typically
boring story of a museum coming to life. Rather this is a saga of an
historical building that survived intact against overwhelming odds. It
is nothing short of a miracle, and this story really should be titled To
Live or Die on a Bombing Range.
Once again business boomed and the Sullivan became known as one of the nicest stops on the trail. The log house was a favorite among travelers. Amid all of the success, fate again stepped in and by 1921 the cutoff was abandoned, as cars were regularly traveling the long distances between Valdez and Fairbanks on the wide and smooth main trail.
John and Florence left their roadhouse in 1923. They simply packed up a few personal belongings and moved to Fairbanks. The roadhouse sat abandoned for the next 20 years, visited only occasionally by hunters seeking shelter.
With world war breaking out in 1941, the government began building an Army base in the interior of Alaska. The military land grab included the abandoned roadhouse. Again, fate roared in as the old building was now sitting on the edge of the active use Oklahoma Bombing Range. Threats from stray ordinance and fire were constant, but against all odds the old log building hung on. Over the years, fire licked at its door many times, but the roadhouse had held its own in its battles with man and nature. Time had taken its toll on most of the other original sod roofed roadhouses and they had long since collapsed. Miraculously, the Sullivan was still standing. Although the military made improvements to the structure, the metal roof that had protected it from the elements for so long was beginning to fail. The old roadhouse was slowly dying.
In the early 1970’s the Army ordered the site around the Sullivan cleaned up. A man was sent to clean up the site by bulldozing most of the artifacts left in and around the old roadhouse into a big hole that was to be filled in with dirt. However, he just couldn’t bring himself to bury the historical items, so he secretly hauled them out and stored them in his barn. The roadhouse now empty of her treasures sat alone in a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, slowly returning back into the earth.
Fortunately, local historians had other plans for this old log house. A congressional program to save historic buildings called the Army Legacy Fund stepped in. Its last project, before being felled by the budget ax, was to move the old roadhouse log by log in a helicopter to Delta Junction, where it was refurbished and covered with a new metal roof.
It was a wonderful opportunity for its new owners, the Delta Chamber of Commerce, to turn it into a museum for the public to enjoy. The desire was to showcase artifacts and antiques along with the history of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail and the roadhouses that operated along its route.
Unfortunately, there were very few items original to the old building. That was until fate stepped in yet again. As the man, who wants to remain anonymous that more than twenty five years ago defied a direct order and saved the treasures at the original site of the roadhouse brought them out of a dusty corner of his barn and returned them to their rightful home for all to see.
Photos Courtesy Kathy Trim
Dick MacEntire gave it to John Saunby in 1973, John used it for nearly 2 decades on his trap-line in the Alaska Range, in the area of the West Fork of the Little Delta.
John felt certain this sled was a part of the winter trail and likely made stops at the Sullivan’s during its operation. In the 1970’s and 80’s Saunby made stops at the original site of the abandoned roadhouse – which was used frequently by trappers, hunters and explorers prior to it (the roadhouse) being moved to Delta in the mid 1990’s.
John donated the sled to the Sullivan Roadhouse Museum August 2012, it’s seems fitting that it should be returned to a familiar landmark – in a sense “coming home”.
Mike Farrar and Paul Ashby hung it from the beams in the main salon that same day.
Thank you John, for the donation of this generous treasure.
Thank you Mike and Paul, for in securing it to its permanent place of the roadhouse history.
Submitted by Christy Roden