Seward and its surroundings comprise a land of memorable beauty--saltwater bays, frigid blue glaciers, majestic mountains and alpine valleys. Located on the Kenai Peninsula at the head of Resurrection Bay, the city is one of Alaska's oldest and most scenic communities.
HistoryThe Kenai Peninsula was once home to the Inuit and Denai'na people; some of their descendants still live here today. In the late 18th century, the Russians arrived and established permanent communities on the peninsula. They developed a shipbuilding site for the Russian America Company on Resurrection Bay in the area that is now Seward.
In 1903, the town was founded and named after Secretary of State William H. Seward, who in 1867 had persuaded the U.S. Congress to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. The birth of Seward as a town was actually the result of a plan to build a railroad into the Interior. With the arrival of the survey crews, Seward was on its way to becoming the leading port of Alaska--a position that it held for many years.
In 1915, however, the city of Anchorage was established to the north, and it grew to proportions that eventually overshadowed Seward. A bigger blow was felt in 1964 when an earthquake, one of the most powerful ever recorded in North America, hit the area on Good Friday, devastating the town's economy. Residents spent the next 20 years working together to rebuild Seward and return it to its status as a thriving port.
Today, Seward is a port of call for several cruise lines and the state ferry system. It is also the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad. The local economy is based on the commercial fishing industry, ship services and repairs, and tourism.
SightseeingA stroll through Seward's historic downtown is a pleasurable way to see the city and its turn-of-the-century buildings. The Seward Chamber of Commerce operates several Visitor's Information Centers, including the main facility located at 2001 Seward Highway in the north end of town, where you can obtain information and maps to help make the most of your visit. Another visitor's center, located on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street, was originally a 1916 Pullman railcar and now houses the Mount Marathon Museum, a tribute to one of the country's oldest and most grueling foot races up and down the 3,000-foot mountain, held every year on the Fourth of July. The latest center is a booth conveniently located on the railroad dock to greet cruise-ship passengers and provide help and information about all that Seward has to offer.
The Seward Community Library has interesting exhibits of Russian icons and paintings by prominent Alaskan artists. In addition, you can watch a slide show, presented daily at 2 p.m., that illustrates the devastation caused by the Good Friday earthquake. You can also see the original Alaska state flag, designed in 1926 by a 13-year-old resident of the town, on display here. The State and City Office Building, at 5th Avenue and Adams Street, also has photos from the quake, and in the basement of the building is a city museum featuring artifacts from early settlers, as well as handmade Aleut basketware.
The University of Alaska's Institute of Marine Science is a great place to learn about the marine and mammal life that lives in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska. Tours are offered regularly.
You may wish to venture outside the city to drink in some of Alaska's most impressive natural beauty. The Seward Scenic Byway, designated in 1990 as a national scenic byway, winds through the Chugach National Forest and provides a spectacular view of the wonders of the Alaskan wilderness.
Also outside Seward is Exit Glacier, part of the Kenai Fjords National Park. This dramatic river of ice is the most accessible point of the Harding Icefield. Boat tours from Seward offer visitors the opportunity to see blue tidewater glaciers and Alaskan wildlife, including sea otters, sea lions, porpoises, bald eagles and various seabirds.
SportsHiking is a favorite pastime around Seward. You can hike to the face of Exit Glacier in a ranger-led group. The region is also famous for its excellent fishing. Anglers can choose from freshwater streams and lakes, the shores of Resurrection Bay or the Gulf of Alaska. The catch of the day could be any one of five species of salmon. At The Small Boat Harbor, near the cruise-ship dock, you can hire a boat and rent tackle.
ShoppingHistoric downtown Seward is the kind of warm, friendly place where you can shop for hours at your leisure. Fourth Avenue is its center. As you browse through the charming stores filled with Alaskan merchandise, you're sure to find something perfect for yourself, your home or a special someone.
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