Sunday, November 2, 2014

Part D: Skagway's First Frame House

This is part of a series on Skagway's historical buildings. Check the BLOG ARCHIVE for stories about Skagway’s Gold Rush stores, cabins, and homes—and the people who built them, lived in them, and died in them. . .
Ben Moore Home, 1897
(Fifth Avenue, east of Broadway, north side, next door to the cabin)
Ben Moore began building Skagway’s first frame house about the time his father arrived in mid-May of 1897—a simple structure. One and a half stories tall, rectangular, clapboard siding—set directly in front of the cabin. At some point it was absorbed into the house but eventually shifted fifty yards westward to create a backyard. And as Ben’s family grew so did the house—a porch, a kitchen to the east, a parlor to the west. When he and Minnie left Skagway in 1907, Herman and Hazel Kirmse first rented then purchased the home.

Sadly, Ben and Minnie Moore’s marriage was an unhappy one. What began as a pretty love story ended badly. They’d met at a potlatch in March , 1890, near present-day Haines. Ben was twenty, Klinget-sai-yet, fourteen. “She saw me at the same time I saw her,” Ben later wrote. A pretty girl with a delicate appearance and long black hair, “refined and modest,” “a way above any of her class.” She turned out to be Chief George Shotridge’s daughter, to whose home Ben had been invited after the potlatch. He writes of this princess:

"…a bed was made up for me in one corner of the room. I lay there thinking of this meek and modest little native maiden in the next room. No warning whisper came to me to flee and dismiss this child of nature from my mind. Thoughts of home in Victoria and of another girl down there came to mind but were chased away. I was in faraway Alaska, living in the present… Thus it was with me, and thus it was that lifelong unhappiness was brought about for her and for me, and which one’s fault was it? Surely not hers, but mine."

They were happy at first, and in his journal Ben often referred to her as his “little girl bride.” They settled mostly in Juneau, Ben working the canneries and sawmills, transporting freight, occasionally foraying up to Moorseville to continue improvements on the homestead. When they moved up permanently in April, 1896, Benny was four years old, Edith Gertrude four months, and they were happy. Not until after they’d moved into the house, a third baby on the way, that life together began to sour. Some credit Ben’s temper. Others Captain Moore’s prejudice. Certainly Skagway was to blame.

Benny, Francis, Minnie, Edith Gertrude 
Isolated from her family and culture, Minnie endured the lonely, not-so-subtle ostracizing of Skagway’s incoming “Muffin and Crumpet” ladies—who, try as they might, couldn’t welcome a “Siwash Squaw” into their very “proper” Victorian circle. There were exceptions, of course, and Minnie entertained these more gracious folks in her cozy, lovely Victorian home. However, her children were taunted at school, and by 1906 Minnie’s unhappiness ran deep. To escape the terrible unkindness, she and Ben moved to Juneau. To no avail. Plagued by depression and alcoholism, her unhappiness deepened. She and Ben finally divorced three years later. In 1910, she remarried—a plumber from Victoria—and while she may have known some happy years, by 1917 she knew only unhappiness and sadly took her own life.

Which one’s fault was it? Ben had written. “Surely not hers, but mine.”

To stand in the walls of this home one can hear laughter and joy—not all was sorrow. But ultimately, the sorrow sighs—both Minnie’s and Ben’s.

Today the Ben Moore home has been restored to its 1904 appearance, the interior reflecting what it would have been like to visit the Moores in those early days . Too bad pretty Minnie, “refined and modest,” “a way above any of her class,” was not good enough for Skagway’s pioneer women. We might have had a different story whispered from these walls.

If you're interested in more on Skagway, you can purchase my book Skagway: It's All About The Gold. Click on the cover image in the right sidebar to take you to your purchase portal.