The New Eldorado. A Summer Journey to Alaska
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Tacoma has about thirty thousand inhabitants to-day; in 1880 it had seven hundred and twenty! The assessed valuation eight years ago was half a million dollars. It is now over sixteen million dollars, and this aggregate does not quite represent the rapid increase of real estate. Here, months have witnessed more growth and progress in permanent business wealth and value of property than years in the history of our Eastern cities. At this writing there is being built a large and architecturally grand opera house of stone and brick which will cost quarter of a million dollars, besides which the author counted over forty stone and brick business edifices in course of construction, and nearly a hundred two and three story frame-houses for dwelling purposes, of handsome modern architectural designs. Away from the business centre of the city the residences are universally beautiful, with well-kept lawns of exquisite green, and small charming flower gardens fragrant with roses, syringas, and honeysuckles, mingling with pansies, geraniums, verbenas, and forget-me-nots. It is astonishing what an air of leisure and refinement is imparted to these dwellings by this means, – an air of retirement and culture, amid all the surrounding bustle and rush of business interests.
The city claims an ocean commerce surpassed in volume by no other port on the Pacific except San Francisco. Its substantial and well-arranged brick blocks, of both dwellings and storehouses, lining the broad avenues, are suggestive of permanence and commercial importance, while a general appearance of thrift prevails in all of the surroundings. Pacific Avenue is noticeably a fine thoroughfare, – the principal one of the town. The place seems to be thoroughly alive, and especially in the vicinity of the shipping. The author counted fifteen ocean steamers in the harbor, and there were at the same time as many large sailing vessels lying at the wharves loading with lumber, wheat, coal, and other merchandise, exhibiting a degree of commercial energy hardly to be expected of so comparatively small a community. We were informed that four fifths of the citizens were Americans by birth, drawn mostly from the educated and energetic classes of the United States, forming a community of much more than average intelligence. Young America, backed by capital, is the element which has made the place what it is. It was a surprise to find a hotel so large and well appointed in this city as the “Tacoma” proved to be; a five-story stone and brick house, of pleasing architectural effect, and having ample accommodations for three hundred guests. It stands upon rising ground overlooking the extensive bay. The view from its broad piazzas is something to be remembered.
Across Commencement Bay is a point of well-wooded land, called “Indian Reservation,” where our government located what remains of the Modoc tribe who so long resisted the advance of the whites towards the Pacific shore. These former belligerents are peaceable enough now, fully realizing their own interests.
Statistics show that there is shipped from Tacoma, on an average, a thousand tons of native coal per day, mostly to San Francisco and some other Pacific ports.A large portion of this coal comes from valuable measures belonging to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, situated thirty or forty miles from Tacoma, and some from the Roslyn mines farther away. The Wilkinson and Carbonado mines form the principal source of supply for shipment, and the Roslyn for use on the railroad. These last are thirty-five thousand acres in extent. One of the many veins of the Roslyn coal deposit is estimated to contain three hundred million tons of coal, conveniently situated for transportation on the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
The great Tacoma sawmill does a very large and successful business, finding its motor in a steam engine of fourteen hundred horse-power, and having over seven hundred men on its pay-roll. This number includes mill-hands, dock-men, choppers, and watermen, the latter being the hands who bring the logs by rafts from different parts of the sound. There are a dozen other sawmills in and about the city. The lumber business of this region is fast assuming gigantic proportions, shipments being regularly made to China, Japan, Australia, and even to Atlantic ports. A whole fleet of merchantmen were waiting their turn to take in cargo while we were there. We believe that Tacoma will ere long become the second city on the Pacific coast, and perhaps eventually a rival to San Francisco. Its abundance of coal, iron, and lumber, added to its variety of fish and immense agricultural products, are sufficient to support a city twice as large as the capital of California.
One sturdy gang of men, who are bringing in a large raft of logs, attracts our attention by their similarity of dress and general appearance, as well as by their dark skins and well-developed forms. On inquiry we learn that they are native Indians of the Haida tribe, who come down from the north to work through a part of the season as lumbermen, at liberal wages. They are accustomed to perilous voyages while seeking the whale and fishing for halibut in deep waters, commanding good wages, as being equal to any white laborers obtainable.
We embark at Tacoma for Alaska in a large and well-appointed steamer belonging to the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, heading due north.
The first place of importance at which we stop is the city of Seattle, the oldest American settlement on the sound, and now having a busy commercial population of nearly thirty thousand. It has an admirable harbor, deep, ample in size, and circular in form; the commercial facilities could hardly be improved. Here again are large substantial brick and stone blocks, schools, churches, and various public and private edifices of architectural excellence. Enterprise and wealth are conspicuous, while the neighboring scenery is grand and attractive. To the east of the city, scarcely a mile away, is situated a very beautiful body of water, deep and pure, known as Lake Washington, twenty miles long by an average of three in width, and from which the citizens have a never-failing supply of the best of water. The lake has an area of over sixty square miles, and is surrounded by hills covered with a noble forest-growth of fir, spruce, and cedar. Seattle has four large public schools averaging six hundred pupils each, and a university to which there are seven professors attached, with a regular attendance of two hundred students.
Among the great natural resources of this region there is included sixty thousand acres of coal fields within a radius of thirty miles of Seattle. These coal fields are connected with the city by railways. Tacoma and Seattle are also joined by rail, besides two daily lines of steamboats.
Great is the rivalry existing between the people here and those of Tacoma, but there is certainly room enough for both; and, notwithstanding the destructive fire which lately occurred at Seattle, it is prospering wonderfully. About four miles distant from the centre of business is situated one of the largest steel manufactories in this country, the immediate locality being known as Moss Bay. Here timber, water, coal, and mineral are close at hand to further the object of this mammoth establishment, which, when in full operation, will give employment to five thousand men. Real estate speculation is the present rage at Seattle, based on the idea that it is to be the port of Puget Sound.
Between the city and hoary-headed Mount Tacoma is one of the finest hop-growing valleys extant. It has enriched its dwellers by this industry, and more hops are being planted each succeeding year, increasing the quantity exported by some twenty-five per cent. annually. It may be doubted if the earth produces a more beautiful sight in the form of an annual crop of vegetation than that afforded by a hop-field, say of forty acres, when in full bloom. We were told that the land of King County, of which Seattle is the capital, is marvelous in fertility, especially in the valleys, often producing four tons of hay to the acre; three thousand pounds of hops, or six hundred bushels of potatoes, or one hundred bushels of oats to the acre are common. It must be remembered also that while there is plenty of land to be had of government or the Northern Pacific Railroad Company at singularly low rates, transportation in all directions by land or water is ample and convenient, a desideratum by no means to be found everywhere.
From the deck of the steamer, as we sail northward, the irregular-formed, but well-wooded shore is seen to be dotted with hamlets, sawmills, farms, and hop-fields, all forming a pleasing foreground to the remarkable scenery of land and water presided over by the snow-crowned peak of Mount Tacoma, which looms fourteen thousand feet and more skyward in its grandeur and loneliness. How awful must be the stillness which pervades those heights! As we view it, the snow-line commences at about six thousand feet from the base, above which there are eight thousand feet more, ice-topped and glacier-bound, where the snow and ice rest in endless sleep. There are embraced within the capacious bosom of Tacoma fifteen glaciers, three of which, by liberal road-making and engineering, have been rendered accessible to visitors, and a few persistent mountain climbers come hither every year to witness glacial scenery finer than can be found in Europe. Persons who have traveled in Japan will be struck by the strong resemblance of this Alpine Titan to the famous volcano of Fujiyama, whose snow-wreathed cone is seen by the stranger as he enters the harbor of Yokohama, though it is eighty miles away.
As we steam northward other peaks come into view, one after another, until the whole Cascade Range is visible, half a hundred and more in number.
The summit of Tacoma is not absolutely inaccessible. A dozen daring and hardy climbers have accomplished the ascent first and last; but it involves a degree of labor and the encountering of serious dangers which have thus far rendered it a task rarely achieved. Many have attempted to scale these lonely heights, and many have given up exhausted, glad to return alive from this perilous experience between earth and sky. Members of various Alpine clubs cross the Atlantic to climb inferior elevations. Let such Americans test their athletic capacity and indulge their ambition by overcoming the difficult ascent of Tacoma.
Port Townsend is finally reached, – the port of entry for Puget Sound district and the gateway of this great body of inland water. Tacoma, Seattle, and Port Townsend are all lively contestants for supremacy on Puget Sound. The business part of Port Townsend is situated at the base of a bluff which rises sixty feet above the sea level, upon the top of which the dwelling-houses have been erected, and where a marine hospital flies the national flag. To live in comfort here it would seem to be necessary for each family to possess a balloon, or that a big public lift should be established to take the inhabitants of the town from one part to the other. It is rapidly growing, – street grading and building of stores and dwelling-houses going on in its several sections. Vancouver named the place after his distinguished patron, the Marquis of Townshend. We were told that over two thousand vessels enter and clear at the United States custom-house here annually, besides which there are at least a thousand which pass in and out of the sound under coasting licenses, and are not included in this aggregate. The collections of the district average one thousand dollars for each working day of the year.
Port Townsend is nine hundred miles from San Francisco by sea, and thirty-five hundred miles, in round numbers, from Boston or New York. It is the first port from the Pacific Ocean, and the nearest one to British Columbia, besides being the natural outfitting port for Alaska. We were surprised to learn the extent of maritime business done here, and that in the number of American steam vessels engaged in foreign trade it stands foremost in all the United States. Its climate is said to be more like that of Italy than any other part of America. The place is certainly remarkable for salubrity and healthfulness, and is universally commended by persons who have had occasion to remain there for any considerable period. The view from the upper part of the town is very comprehensive, including Mount Baker on one side and the Olympic Range on the other, while the far-away silver cone of Mount Tacoma is also in full view. The busy waters of the sound are constantly changing in the view presented, various craft passing before the eye singly and in groups. Long lines of smoke trail after the steamers, whose turbulent wakes are crossed now and then by some dancing egg-shell canoe or a white-winged, graceful sailboat bending to the breeze.
Certain custom-house formalities having been duly complied with, we continued on our course, bearing more to the westward, crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, bound for Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island and of British Columbia, at which interesting place we land for a brief sojourn. To the westward the port looks out through the Strait of Fuca to the Pacific, southward into Puget Sound, and eastward beyond the Gulf of Georgia to the mainland.
The city of Victoria contains twelve thousand inhabitants, more or less, and is situated just seventy miles from the mainland; but beyond the fact that it is a naval station, commanding the entrance to the British possessions from the Pacific, we see nothing to conduce to the future growth of Victoria beyond that of any other place on the sound. The aspect is that of an old, steady-going, conservative town, undisturbed by the bustle, activity, and business life of such places as Tacoma and Seattle. Vancouver, on the opposite shore, being the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, bids fair to soon exceed it in business importance, though it has to-day less than ten thousand inhabitants. The population of Victoria is highly cosmopolitan in its character, being of American, French, German, English, Spanish, and Chinese origin. Of the latter there are fully three thousand. They are the successful market-gardeners of Victoria, a position they fill in many of the English colonies of the Pacific, also performing the public laundry work here, as we find them doing in so many other places. In the hotels they are employed as house-servants, cooks, and waiters. Yet every Chinaman who lands here, the same as in Australia and New Zealand, is compelled to pay a tax of fifty dollars entrance fee. The surprise is that such an arbitrary rule does not act as a bar to Asiatic immigration; but it certainly does not have that effect, while it yields quite a revenue to the local treasury. At most ports the importation or landing of Chinese women is forbidden, but some of the gayest representatives of the sex are to be seen in the streets of Victoria, with bare heads, having their intensely black hair, shining with grease, dressed in large puffs. The heavy Canton silks in which they are clothed indicate that they have plenty of money. They affect gaudy colors, and wear heavy jade ear-rings, with breastpins of the same stone set in gold. The lewd character of the Chinese women who leave their native land in search of foreign homes is so well known as to fully warrant the prohibition relative to their landing in American or British ports. The effort to exclude them is, however, not infrequently a failure, as with a trifling disguise male and female look so much alike as to deceive an ordinary observer. The Asiatics are up to all sorts of tricks to evade what they consider arbitrary laws.
Officially Victoria is English, but in population it is anything else rather than English. Until 1858 it was only a small trading station belonging to the Hudson Bay Company; but in that year the discovery of gold on the bar of the Fraser River and elsewhere in the vicinity caused a great influx of miners and prospectors, mostly from California, and it was this circumstance which gave the place a business start and large degree of importance. The houses are many of them built of stone and bricks, the gardens being also neatly inclosed. The streets are macadamized and kept in excellent order. The city is lighted by electric lamps placed on poles over a hundred feet high, and has many modern improvements designed to benefit the people at large, including large public buildings and a fine opera house.
The harbor of Victoria is small, and has only sufficient depth to accommodate vessels drawing eighteen feet of water; but near at hand is a second harbor, known as Esquimalt, with sufficient depth for all practical purposes. If quiet is an element of charm, then Victoria is charming; but we must add that it is also rather sleepy and tame. It might be centuries old, everything moving, as it does, in grooves. Business people get to their offices at about ten o’clock in the morning, and leave them by three in the afternoon. There is no evidence here of the fever of living, no symptom of the go-ahead spirit which actuates their Yankee neighbors across the sound.
Esquimalt is situated but three or four miles from Victoria, and is the headquarters of the English Pacific squadron, where two or three British men-of-war are nearly always to be seen in the harbor, and where there is also a very capacious dry-dock and a naval arsenal. At the time of our visit a couple of swift little torpedo-boats were exercising about the harbor and the sound. The well-wooded shore is dressed in “Lincoln green,” far more tropical than boreal. The many pleasing residences are surrounded with pretty garden-plots, and flowers abound. We have rarely seen so handsome an array of cultivated roses as were found here. So equable is the climate that these flowers bloom all the year round. A macadamized road connects Esquimalt with Victoria, running between fragrant hedges, past charming cottages, and through delightful pine groves. We see here a flora of great variety and attractiveness, which could not exist in this latitude without an unusually high degree of temperature, accompanied with a great condensation of vapor and precipitation of rain. Victoria is admirably situated, with the sea on three sides and a background of high-rolling hills, and also enjoys an exceptionally good climate, almost entirely devoid of extremes.
The suburbs are thickly wooded, where palm-like fern-trees a dozen feet high, and in great abundance, recalled specimens of the same family, hardly more thrivingly developed, which the writer has seen in the islands of the South Pacific. The wild rose-bushes were overburdened with their wealth of fragrant bloom; we saw them in June, the favorite month of this queen of flowers. No wonder that Marchand, the old French voyager, when he found himself here on a soft June day, nearly a century ago, amid the annual carnival of flowers, compared these fields to the rose-colored and perfumed slopes of Bulgaria. If the reader should ever come to this charming spot in the far Northwest, it is the author’s hope that he may see it beneath just such mellow summer sunshine as glows about us while we record these pleasant impressions in the queen-month of roses. Glutinously rich vines of various-colored honeysuckles were draped about the porticoes of the dwellings, whence they hung with a self-conscious grace, as though they realized how much beauty they imparted to the surroundings. The drone of bees and swift-winged humming-birds were not wanting, and the air was laden with their delicious perfume. The wild syringas, which in a profusion of snow-white blossoms lined the shaded roads here and there, were as fragrant as orange-blossoms, which, indeed, they much resemble. The air was also heavy with a dull, sweet smell of mingled blossoms, among which was the tall, graceful spirea with its cream-colored flowers, so thickly set as to hide the leaves and branches. The maple leaves are twice the usual size, and fruit trees bend to the very ground with their wealth of pears, apples, and peaches. The alders, like the ferns, assume the size of trees, and cultivated flowers grow to astonishing proportions and beauty. The bark-shedding arbutus was noticeable for its peculiar habit, and its bare, salmon-colored trunk contrasting with its neighbors.
A portion of the site of Victoria is set aside as a reservation, and named Beacon Hill Park, containing choice trees and pleasant paths bordered with delicate shrubbery. But the whole place is park-like in its attractive picturesqueness. In the interior of the island there is said to be plenty of game, such as elk and red deer, foxes and beaver. These forests are dense and scarcely explored; sportsmen do not have to penetrate them far to find an abundance of game, so that in the open season venison is abundant and cheap in the town.
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