13 Facts You Might Not Know About Whittier, Alaska

by Janis on August 7, 2016

The tiny town Whittier, Alaska is located 58 miles southeast of Anchorage at the head of Passage Canal on the west side of Prince William Sound.

Popular with photographers, hikers and hunters thanks to its natural beauty and wildlife, Whittier is most visited as the embarkation/debarkation point for one-way cruises between Anchorage to Vancouver by Princess and other cruise lines. Whittier is also a port for the ferries on the Alaska Marine Highway.

13 Facts You Might Not Know About Whittier, Alaska

1. Whittier is the wettest city in the United States, receiving an average of 197.8 inches of rainfall each year. The city also averages 249 inches of snow each winter.

2. The area that is now Whittier, Alaska was once part of the portage route that Chugach Natives of Prince William Sound traveled to reach Turnagain Arm for fishing.

3. Prospecting miners used this same passage during the Alaska Gold Rush as the quickest passage from the Sound to Alaska’s Cook Inlet and Interior regions.

4. In 1915, a glacier in the area was named for American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 –1892) known for his anti-slavery writings as well as his book Snow-Bound. The name of Whittier Glacier eventually became the name of the town.

Whittier, Alaska.5. The area where Whittier sits today was developed during World War II. The United States Army constructed Camp Sullivan, a military facility with a port near Whittier Glacier. When a spur of the Alaska Railroad was completed to Camp Sullivan in 1943, the port became the primary debarkation point for cargo, troops, and dependents of the Alaska Command. Population in the area reached 1,200 people.

6. Since the Port of Whittier was an ice-free, deep water port strategically located to Anchorage and Interior Alaska, the U.S. military planned to develop a large complex in the area for its personnel after World War II. Two large buildings completed between 1953 and 1957 still dominate Whittier’s skyline.

7. In 2016, the city of Whittier is home to 218 citizens, according to its website.

Begich Towers in Whittier, Alaska. Photo by Jessica Spengler.

Begich Towers in Whittier, Alaska. Photo by Jessica Spengler.

8. Whittier has been described as a “town under one roof” since most of its residents live within the same 14-story Begich Towers apartment building which includes a post office, a general store, hospital, the Whittier Police Department, and the mayor’s office. There is also a church, a grocery, laundry, a small hotel, conference room, and a play area with an indoor pool within the complex.

9. Completed in 1957, the 150-unit Hodge Building was named for Colonel Walter William Hodge, who was a civil engineer and the commanding officer of 93rd Engineer Regiment on the ALCAN Highway. The apartment building was renamed in 1972 in memory of U.S. Congressman Nick Begich from Alaska who died in a plane disappearance near the area.

The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska. Photo by Gabor Eszes (UED77).

The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska. Photo by Gabor Eszes (UED77).

10. The Buckner Building — constructed by the military in 1953 – is the other dominant building in Whittier. The building was shuttered in 1966 and remains abandoned today.

11. Whittier suffered $10 million of damage from the Good Friday earthquake on March 28, 1964. It was the largest recorded U.S. earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. The after-quake tsunami that hit Whittier reached 43 ft. in height and killed 13 people.

12. The only way to drive to Whittier is via the 13,300 ft. long Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel through Maynard Mountain. Both trains and highway traffic use the tunnel at alternating times.

An Alaska Railroad passenger train leaving Whittier towards the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. Photo by Patrick Todd.

An Alaska Railroad passenger train leaving Whittier towards the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. Photo by Patrick Todd.

13. Known by locals as the Whittier tunnel or the Portage tunnel, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel links the Seward Highway south of Anchorage with Whittier. It is the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America.

Have you visited Whittier, Alaska? What fun fact can you add?

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