Museum in Naknek works to preserve the past, as it looks toward the future

Sep 10, 2019

The Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum sits at the heart of Naknek. But though it is now a centerpiece of the community, it wasn’t always that way. 

A picture of the AR Davey building built around 1937 as a general store. In 1949 in was also Naknek's post office.
Credit Courtesy of the Bristol Bay Historical Society

For 10 years, the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum sat dark and empty.

“It's up on a side street in a plywood building that was originally the fisherman’s union hall,” said Fred Anderson, the museum president.

Care for the museum and its artifacts had fallen by the wayside. Anderson's concern for the historic objects prompted him to use unconventional means to save the museum.

“Since we were avid card players, I started doing tournaments to raise money to get the account open and the lights and heat on,” he said.

The Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum today, with the Anchor of the Charles Moody sailing ship in front.
Credit Courtesy of the Bristol Bay Historical Society

Anderson held poker games for several years, and negotiated to acquire the building in which the museum sits today. Finally, in the summer of 2015, the Bristol Bay Historical Society Museum had its grand re-opening. Since then, the museum has been host to thousands of visitors and a number of unique exhibits that highlight myriad aspects of Bristol Bay life. 

“The history is that there’s more than just fishing, and I think they really can relate to a lot of things," said Mary Brown, one of the museum's employees.

She said the museum’s plans have only expanded since their opening at Fishtival in 2015. 

“Right now we're working on getting a boat warehouse, we have over a dozen boats starting from the sailboats to the early conversions and the early gillnets,” she explained. 

That warehouse is an old Diamond O Cannery building in South Naknek. Anderson, the museum’s president, sees the idea of housing the historic boats owned by the museum in a historic building as a sort of double win. 

“So ideally, you’ll be able to walk into this boathouse – the same year as the early sailboats – and see the evolution of the Bristol Bay wooden boat. And it can be done,” he said.  

The Alaska Packers Association, (Diamond O) warehouse in South Naknek, was built in the early 1900's as a kit building. There are plans to disassemble the building this month, numbered and bundled.
Credit Courtesy of Bristol Bay Historical Society

Anderson said the most important goal of the museum has always been education. During the 10 years the museum was out of commission, the town lost a lot of opportunities to preserve its history, he explained, and Naknek and King Salmon can’t afford to lose more. Now, Anderson is striving to maintain professional, informative exhibits. In order to do so, he has a friend who works at the Anchorage Museum come to Naknek every year to help set up professionally-designed displays.

“Anyone could thumbtack a poster to the wall,” he said.  

But not every small town could rally to preserve and present their history. Next is the boathouse. And after that? Time will tell. 

Contact the author at sage@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.