Nenana, Alaska

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Nenana (pronounced /nɛˈnænə/) is a Home Rule City in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area of the Unorganized Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska. Nenana lies at the juncture of the Nenana River and the Tanana River. The population was 402 at the 2000 census. "Nenana" means 'a good place to camp between two rivers.'[citation needed]


History and culture

Nenana is in the western-most portion of Tanana Athabascan Indian territory. It was first known as Tortella, an interpretation of the Indian word "Toghotthele" (TOG-uh-TEE-lee), which means "mountain that parallels the river." Early explorers such as Allen, Harper and Bates first entered the Tanana Valley in 1875 and 1885. However, the Tanana people were accustomed to contact with Europeans, due to trading journeys to the Village of Tanana, where Russians bartered Western goods for furs.

The discovery of gold in Fairbanks in 1902 brought intense activity to the region. A trading post/roadhouse was constructed by Jim Duke in 1903 to supply river travelers and trade with Indians. St. Mark's Episcopal mission and school was built a short distance upriver in 1905. Native children from other communities, such as Minto, attended school in Nenana. A post office opened in 1908. In 1915, construction of the Alaska Railroad doubled Nenana's population. The community incorporated as a city in 1921.

The Railroad Depot was completed in 1923, when President Warren Harding drove the golden spike at the north end of the 700-foot-long (210 m) Mears Memorial Bridge over the Tanana River. Nenana now had a transportation link to Fairbanks and Seward. According to local records, 5,000 residents lived in Nenana during this time, however, completion of the railroad was followed by an economic slump. The population in 1930 was recorded at 291.

In 1961, Clear Air Force Station was constructed 21 miles southwest, and many civilian contractors commuted from Nenana. A road was constructed south to Clear, but northbound vehicles were ferried across the Tanana River. In 1967 the community was devastated by one of the largest floods ever recorded in the valley. In 1968 a $6 million bridge was completed across the Tanana River, which gave the town a road link to Fairbanks and replaced the river ferry. The George Parks Highway was completed in 1971, which provided a shorter, direct route to Anchorage.

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