Golden Heart History: The S.S. Nenana, Lady of the River

 The S.S. Nenana at Pioneer Park. (Aaron Walling/KTVF)
The S.S. Nenana at Pioneer Park. (Aaron Walling/KTVF) (KTVF)
Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 3:27 PM AKDT
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The Lady of the River, the Queen of the Yukon, is the one and only S.S. Nenana.

"Not just because it ran the Yukon and the Tanana Rivers, but also because of the uniqueness of it. It is the largest wooden hulled vessel this side of the Mississippi." said Pioneer Park Manager Donnie Hayes.

Her current home is within Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, but her history dates back to the 1930s when she was the lifeline for the Interior. She measures in at 237 feet long, 42 feet wide.

The S.S. Nenana's early stages begin after the Alaska Railroad was completed. The plans were made by W.C. Nickum and her pieces came from Seattle, which were sent to Nenana for building.

"But more importantly there's other things that make it very rare and unique," said Park Manager Hayes. "Number 1 its in-hull hogging system is something that a lot of history buffs haven't on vessels like this. The other cool thing is that this is actually the very first known wooden hulled vessel from Yukon and B.C. that was built and designed by blue prints."

The Nenana was in service from 1933 to 1954, making the 1600 mile journey from Nenana to Marshall every two weeks carrying supplies and passengers. With up to 32 crew, 35 passengers and 300 tons of cargo, she would carry goods along the Yukon and Tanana Rivers.

Many people have been associated with the S.S. Nenana, and their history is tied to the famous boat. "The cool thing is that over the last couple of years we're finding more and more people that had family members that have lived and worked on it, or have actually worked on or lived on it themselves," said Hayes. "And so it's still a fresh enough history that we're finding people that still care about it because their history is a part of it as well."

Technology finally caught up, making the Nenana obsolete, and she went unused for some time before being brought to Fairbanks. In 1965, she made her final trip on the river, and now resides in Pioneer Park.

For 21 years she serviced the major rivers, and while she may be closed to visitors for the time being, there are resources being used to help restore the sternwheeler to allow people to walk aboard her once again.

Copyright 2020 KTVF. All rights reserved.

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