How to Get to Ouzinkie – The SS Cordova Connection

 

 

How to Get to Ouzinkie: The SS Cordova Connection

(A Photo Essay Based On the Letters of Jean O. Lund)

 

Introduction: 

This short article (as with its companion pieces about civil and military transportation to Kodiak) makes use of rare photos, postcards and memorabilia to chronicle the story of the great old ships of the Alaska Steamship Company, which were the main method of reaching Kodiak and other outlying areas in the years before regular airline traffic.  This photo essay features pictures taken in Kodiak and Ouzinkie when the SS Cordova regularly docked there. Most of the photos are from the 1940s, but shots from other areas and time periods are used when they fill in the gaps of the story. 

 

Most of the text in these articles is from a first-hand account of a journey from Seattle to Kodiak and then on to Ouzinkie on the SS Cordova in October of 1945, chronicled by Miss Jean O. Lund, a Baptist missionary traveling to Ouzinkie to work at Baker Cottage.  She was a prolific letter writer, and her colorful account (found in the civil transportation article linked above) gives us a vivid glimpse of a journey aboard the Alaska Steamships.

 

The specific data on the SS Cordova comes from the “A Pictorial History of the Alaska Steamship Company” issue of the Alaska Geographic magazine, Vol. 11 No. 4, published in 1984 (although no photos from the magazine were used).

 

About the photo:  The SS Cordova, launched in 1912, was the oldest ship in the Alaska Steamship Company’s fleet at the time this remarkable photo was taken. Here she is pictured tied up at the Grimes Packing Company dock in Ouzinkie in this very rare World War II era cachet photo. When I found this item on eBay, I purchased it because it featured a cachet postcard and mail cancellation stamp from the SS Cordova, and I was working on this article about the ship after discovering Miss Lund’s accounts. The photo, glued to the lower right hand corner of the card, was too small to see when I bid on it (the photo is less than an inch high). Only after I got it under the scanner did I notice the unmistakable mountain outline and the angles of the cannery buildings and realize that it was actually a photo of the SS Cordova at the dock in Ouzinkie, and therefore the perfect lead photo for this article!

 

 

Ouzinkie features prominently in this detail from a 1941 Alaska Steamship Company routes map.  Not only is it the only Kodiak area village listed, but the map erroneously makes it appear that Kodiak is not on the route!

 

Miss Lund’s Journey on the SS Cordova Continues:

(See “How to Get to Kodiak” for Part One)

“As we docked two hours early, there was no one there to greet me.  I found a ticket master, who directed me toward the Baptist parsonage.  As I was on my way there, Rev. Morony found me and took me out to the Mission.  There I was introduced to Mary Setzekorn, the missionary from Ouzinkie that I am going to replace.  She had come in to town earlier with a sick baby.  She is due a vacation, since she has not seen her family or friends Stateside in over six years!"

 

A steamship (probably the SS Cordova from its tubby shape and long superstructure) arrives in Kodiak channel in this portion of a tinted panoramic postcard fold out from the early 1940s.

 

A young man disembarks (perhaps from the SS Denali) as crewmembers look on, in this photo from the Jean Lund scrapbook, taken in the fall of 1945.

 

The SS Cordova is docked at the Standard Oil / Erskine dock in Kodiak in this 1940s Helsel postcard.

 

Miss Lund’s Impressions of Kodiak:

I found out that the Cordova was not due to sail to Ouzinkie until the next day (it actually stayed in Kodiak almost two days) so I got to explore Kodiak a little.  I had much time to get acquainted with the people at Kodiak, and also toured the stores many times.  Always one would find something new.  You’d be surprised at the fine stores they have there.  Streets are like the old cow paths.  They turn every so often."  

 

The “old cow path” streets (as described by Miss Lund) of postwar Kodiak in this Helsel post card photo. This street is approximately near where Rezanoff Drive meets Mill Bay Road today.  Some of the houses on the hill are still there!

 

Prices at the Stores in Kodiak

“Here are some prices you might be interested in: Ice Cream $1 a quart, butter $1 a pound, eggs dollar a dozen for storage eggs.  But clothes prices are not too bad.  There are two big department stores where you can get most anything you want. They had just unloaded a washing machine, a steam ironing machine and a mangler, something I had not seen for a long time.” 

W. J. Erskine (later to be named Donnelley and Acheson), a major store in Kodiak from the war days to the tidal wave, when it was destroyed along with the cannery and the dock it shared.  The Erskine store is the building in the top center left with the covered porch, next to the dirt road. (portion of a 1941 Helsel photo)

 

(Tim Smith’s comment)

I believe the “big department stores” Miss Lund is referring to (she was from a small farming town) are what I knew as Donnelley and Acheson, then called W. J. Erskine (out on the dock below the Baranof House) and O. Kraft and Son, in the center of town.  In reference to Jean Lund’s account, I wrote originally that I had no idea what a “mangler” was. Then I got an email from Zelanna Copsey, daughter of Bill and Zelma Stone, Superintendents of the Kodiak Baptist Mission from the mid-1940s to 1970. She told me the item is a "mangle," and is used to press clothes after they have been washed. She saw one in the basement of Doane Cottage when she was a kid. Mystery solved...any inaccuracies or incomplete details that you spot in these articles will be cheerfully corrected!

 

The SS Cordova leaving the dock in Kodiak channel (Helsel photo).

 

 

Jean Lund’s ticket from October 1945 for the SS Cordova, (with the old spelling of Ouzinkie).

 

Miss Lund Departs for Ouzinkie:

The evening before the boat left Kodiak, we boarded the boat where it had been moved, out at the Army base.  Going through Kodiak for the last time about 8:00 PM the night before departing, I witnessed a sight I had heard and read about.  Five destroyers had docked at the base, and the boys had been allowed shore leave in Kodiak. And did they celebrate! It looked like an invasion of young men, with none too good behavior. Drunks were all over the streets, and when I came through, the officers were herding them into busses and back to the boats.  Such a sight, all those young men out on the town. I shudder to think of it even yet.”

 

Miss Jean O. Lund, the source of most of the photos and artifacts, and also the first-hand voyage account featured in these articles, relaxes at the famous Otherside Beach rock near Ouzinkie in the fall of 1945.  This photo is from the scrapbook of Miss Rold, another Baptist missionary who served as a houseparent at Baker Cottage in Ouzinkie for many years.

 

Miss Lund Arrives in Ouzinkie:

The next morning at 6:00 AM we departed for Ouzinkie.  It took about two hours, and I finally arrived on Spruce Island.  The Cordova stayed tied up at the dock until the following morning.  There to greet me at the cannery dock was Miss Rold and all twelve of the children who live in Baker Cottage.  They paraded me up the hill to the orphanage, but not before I was introduced to the school teacher, the postmaster, the storekeeper and many of the local native folks.  I’m on the island now, but I will have to introduce my family individually in a later letter.  Yours Because His, Jean O. Lund, October 23, 1945.”

 

Miss Lund’s further account of her life in Ouzinkie for the winter of 1945 - 46 will be the subject of a future article on the history of Baker Cottage, my family home since 1958.

 

This is Ouzinkie as Miss Lund saw it in this 1945 photo taken from the church hill, looking toward the Grimes Packing Company dock.  The house in the foreground was long gone when I moved to Ouzinkie in 1958.

 

This view of Ouzinkie (from the winter of 1945-46) is taken from the walkway between the oil dock and the store.  A small “x” in pen marks the store, and above it to the left, another pen mark shows the old (pre 1935) school, which was torn down right after I moved to Ouzinkie in 1958.  Notice the “Eric Bulmer” house does not have its more familiar porch awning, and that the store had not yet received its big extension.  The young man in the foreground is identified in the picture as Arthur Haakanson.

 

Three young girls: Claudia Laschinsky, Betty Smith and Tiny Walkoff greet the SS Cordova at the Grimes Packing Company dock in Ouzinkie in 1946 in this photo from Miss Lund’s scrapbook.

 

One of Jean Lund’s baggage tags from her 1946 voyage home from Ouzinkie to Powers Lake, North Dakota.

 

Jean O. Lund (left), Mary Setzekorn and Miss Rold on the dock in Ouzinkie, next to a steamship.  Miss Lund replaced “Setze” as houseparent at Baker Cottage in Ouzinkie from October 1945 to June 1946.  Most of the photos and memorabilia are from her collection.

 

Epilogue:

Miss Jean Lund traveled to Alaska in the “wild and wooly” period between the war and statehood.  She was an open and outgoing soul, and her accounts of interactions aboard ship indicate she could make friends easily.  She certainly seems a sweeter person than her severe-looking portrait on Otherside Rock would indicate.  Her diary records picnics and playtimes with the kids at the Mission, and she was always doing some fun activity with them.  But it had to have been difficult for her to travel from the sedate environment of her work with the Japanese-American detainees in the internment camps to take on the responsibilities of running a large orphanage in a remote village in 1940s Alaska. She was an excellent observer (look for a forthcoming article based on her 1945 visit with Father Gerasim in Monk's Lagoon) and generally more accepting of new cultures and ways than we usually give "old school" missionaries credit for being (except for maybe her Midwestern shock at seeing whole streets full of drunk sailors when she was in Kodiak)! In rereading her letters to friends and supporters back home, I was also impressed with her natural Christian witness, whether on board a steamship in the middle of the North Pacific getting to know her shipmates, or whether "on the field" at Baker Cottage in Ouzinkie. Her life seemed to emulate what she said in her typical sign-off line at the end of her many letters: "Yours because His!"

 

Jean Lund’s letters are a real boon to our understanding of those times, and it’s a pity I never got to meet her.  Likewise, it is sad that I never saw one of those rusty old Alaska Steamships, much less had a chance to travel on one.  The last passenger vessel under the ASC banner sailed in 1954 to ports in the Southeastern, and by the time I was old enough to be aware of ships and travel, they were long gone.  All we have now are accounts from passengers such as Miss Lund, and artifacts (such as are featured in these articles) from her wonderful scrapbooks.  But her accounts help to fill in a piece of the history of the Kodiak Island area, and Ouzinkie in particular.  Those funky old vessels like the SS Cordova were once the only regularly-scheduled way to get from Here to There (Seattle to Kodiak or Ouzinkie to “Outside”).  I hope you have enjoyed these pages, and I welcome any additions or corrections you may have.    –Timothy Smith, web author, April 2005

 

 

 

About the unusual photo: Two steamships at once are tied up at the Grimes Packing Company dock in Ouzinkie in this rare photo from Miss Rold’s scrapbook, courtesy the KBM collection.  The ship in the foreground is the SS Cordova, and the ship in the background, with only its bow, a bit of the superstructure, its taller stack and its masts visible, can’t be positively identified, but appears to be a freighter similar to the Alaska Steamship Company’s SS Derblay. Notice that it is high tide; perhaps the larger, dockside ship needed the extra draft.

 

 

Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: Tanignak@aol.com) This article and website is © 2005 Timothy L. Smith, Tanignak Productions, 14282 Tuolumne Court, Fontana, California, 92336 (909) 428 3472. Images unless otherwise listed are from the collection of Rev. Norman L. Smith or the Timothy L. Smith collection. This material may be used for non-commercial purposes, with attribution. Please email me with any specific requests. You are welcome to link to this site.

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