Wrangell Sentinel -

Looking back: 50 years of AMHS service in Southeast/ part one of a two-part series


The Alaska Marine Highway System is celebrating 50 years of service to Alaskans this year. In light of this, the Wrangell Sentinel is looking back at the stories that shaped the development of the system, which began with one ship in 1963 and has grown to eleven vessels serving more than 350,000 passengers a year.

It all began with the M/V Malaspina, when the first ship in the newly formed system docked in Ketchikan on Jan. 21, 1963. Three days later the vessel docked in Wrangell for the first time at 6:45 a.m. on Jan. 24.

The Taku and Matanuska ferries came next and in its first year of service AMHS extended its reach from Ketchikan to Petersburg, Sitka, Skagway, Wrangell and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. During that inaugural year the AMHS fleet moved more than 15,000 vehicles and 80,000 passengers.

What follows are news articles from the Wrangell Sentinel, beginning with the Jan. 30, 1963 issue that reported the initial docking in Wrangell.

January 30, 1963: Twenty board Malaspina in Wrangell on maiden journey

Three long blasts from the Wrangell Lumber Company’s whistle at 6:45 yesterday morning welcomed the M/V Malaspina to this lumber capital of Alaska. Southeast Alaska’s marine highway was officially in business. The sleek blue and gold vessel, first of the three big ferries which will traverse the Prince Rupert-Haines-Skagway route, was on her maiden voyage and scores of towns folk turned out to crowd the ferry approach for a first glimpse of the new vessel.

It departed for Petersburg some two hours later. “She’s running nicely,” said Admiral B. E. Lewellen, head of the Marine Transportation Division, who was aboard for the first voyage. “We’re taking it easy, ironing out the kinks, and everything seems to be highly successful.” Gov. William A. Egan, bound for his inaugural in Juneau this weekend after a quick trip to the national capital for a conference with President Kennedy and other top officials, was up bright and early to greet the official boarding delegation and to extend best wishes to the residents of Wrangell.

“We feel the ferries are going to be a fine thing for Southeast Alaska and the entire state,” commented the Governor as he reached for another cup of coffee in the snack room.

Also aboard was Commissioner Richard Downing of the Department of Public Works, of which Marine Transportation is a division. The Commissioner and Mrs. Downing were enjoying the trip and the Commissioner was duly proud of the new vessel. He anticipated delivery of the Taku, the next ferry, in late March and the Matanuska in April.

Despite a chilly breeze from the Stikine most of the population of Wrangell was on hand to greet the trim blue and gold ship as she eased into the terminal for her first tie-up here. Scheduled for a 30-minute stop, the ferry was in a couple of hours, permitting many to go aboard to see the totem-decorated interior and prowl around. Many Wrangellites were passengers for Petersburg and some for Juneau.

President Frank Murkowski and Donald J. House, of the Chamber of Commerce, were among those for Petersburg. The Chamber delegation arrived aboard with 100 Shrimp and crab cocktails, compliments of the Chamber. Heading the Wrangell welcoming committee was Acting Mayor R. H. Armstrong.

There were some 25 or 30 from Ketchikan, Juneau bound for the inaugural and the legislative session, which convenes Monday in the Capital. Among them were state Reps. W. R. Boardman and Wally Kubley of the First City. Rep. Boardman allowed that Warren Taylor would be Speaker of the House for another term, but that the Republicans would get the chairmanships of the Rules and Finance committees. “And,” added the popular lawmaker from Ketchikan who is also Manager of the Ketchikan Chamber, “this marine highway is going to do things for Southeast Alaska.”

First ticket purchased in Wrangell was to Postmaster Marjorie Sharnbroich who is en route to Juneau for the inaugural and a visit with her sister and brother-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. William Whitehead. Dr. Whitehead was elected to the State House of Representatives from the Juneau district in the last election.

Among other Wrangellites who boarded the Malaspina here were: Mrs. Mary Churchill for Juneau, who will be seeing her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Rude and family; and the following for Petersburg: Frank Murkowski, Don House, Thurston Everson, R.W. McKibben, Ed Callbreath, Ann Campbell, Karen Campbell, Irish Ruks, Ned Zenger, Matt Wilicki (Internal Revenue agent, Juneau), Dr. D. A. Coon, W. R. Fink, Dick Evans, George Norris, Mr. and Mrs. Dick Stough, Everett Buness, Mr. and Mrs. Robert, I. Ditman and Kenneth Mason. Ditman is a member of the House of Representatives from Valdez.

The following is a chronological look back at what it took to get the Alaska Marine Highway System up, running and functional, beginning with March 1962.

March 16, 1962: Juneau firm enters low bids for terminals

Cole and Paddock of Juneau entered apparent low bids for the construction of six ferry terminal dock structures for the state’s Marine Highway System, Public Work Commissioner Richard A. Downing announced yesterday.

Three other bids on the dock construction were opened yesterday, but Cole and Paddock was the only firm to enter bids on all six structures. The firm already holds the state contract for construction of transfer bridges for the ferry terminals.

The Juneau firm entered bids of $76,085 for dock structures at both Haines and Skagway; $61,500 for the Juneau dock; $63,289 for Petersburg; $63,289 for Wrangell, and $59,314 for Sitka.

Downing said the successful bidder will be required to start work within 15 days after receiving notice to proceed, and must complete the work by Sept. 15. There was no explanation why the completion date for the terminals was Sept. 15 since the Department of Public Works announced earlier that the first ferry sailing is scheduled for Labor Day, Sept. 3.

June 8, 1962: Malaspina enters service

This photo, taken from the January 25, 1963 edition of the Wrangell Sentinel shows the M/V Malaspina on her maiden voyage north as the flagship of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The 352-foot ferry Malaspina slid down the ways here Monday signaling what Gov. William A. Egan of Alaska called “perhaps the most important and permanent achievement for Alaska since statehood.”

The Governor’s wife christened the Malaspina, which will go into service between Prince Rupert and Haines in September as the first ferry in a planned three-vessel fleet. Sen. Ernest Gruening, D-Alaska also attended the launching.

Others who attended were B.E. Lewellen, director of Marine Transportation System in Alaska, and Mrs. Lewellen and officials of the Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company, who built the vessel, Mayor Gordon Clinton of Seattle and other officials. Representing Wrangell at the ceremony were Mr. and Mrs. L. T. Campbell and former Wrangellites: Mr. and Mrs. Thor Hofstad, Dr. and Mrs. William Whitehead and Brooks Hanford, among others.

See part two of this series in next week’s Wrangell Sentinel.


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