History of Gustavus
The history of Gustavus has three timelines: The forces of nature that formed it in the last 200 years, which makes Glacier Bay a United Nations World Heritage Site; white settlement; and native oral history and use.
When Captain George Vancouver sailed through Icy Strait in 1794, Glacier Bay was completely covered by the Grand Pacific Glacier. Over the next century, the glacier retreated some 40 miles, and a spruce-hemlock forest began to develop on the land. By 1916, the glacier had retreated 65 miles from the position observed by Vancouver.
Gustavus is located on a flat area formed by the outwash from the glacier — and the area is still growing. Gustavus began as an agricultural homestead in 1914. In homage to abundant wild strawberries growing on the flats, the area was once known as Strawberry Point. The current name was derived from Point Gustavus, which lies seven miles to the southwest.
Glacier Bay National Monument, which included Gustavus, was established by President Calvin Coolidge in 1925. After many appeals – and 30 years of effort — homesteaders were allowed to keep their land when the Gustavus area was excluded from the National Monument. In 1980, with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the National Monument became a National Park.
The first white settlers to make a home in Strawberry Point were three pairs of newlyweds, fresh off a steamer in Juneau in the spring of 1914. However, the first settlers to stay came in 1917, when Abraham Lincoln Parker homesteaded at Good River with his wife and six children.
Homesteading here came to an abrupt end in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlarged the Glacier Bay Monument boundaries and took possession of all unpatented lands. The 13 families that had successfully patented their homesteads were stunned. Roosevelt’s actions not only land-locked their homesteads and halted further growth and development, but the brown bear reserve now surrounding their ranches held the threat of devastating their herds of cattle. Homesteaders felt they were being driven out of the area.
Thanks in part to an unrelenting letter-writing campaign by Charles Parker, a son of A.L. Parker, homesteading was restored by presidential proclamation in 1955, when 19,000 acres were released back to Gustavus.
(Some of this information was provided courtesy of Gustavus Historic Archives and Antiquities.)