Ketchikan appears to be losing population, but it’s hard to tell what is correct. Its overall population in 2016 was said to be 13,746. However, the internet gives its count as 8,220 in 2022, and Rand McNally, a publication I trust, gives its count for this year as 8,050. So who is right? More reliable perhaps, is Ketchikan’s reputation as being the rainiest city in Alaska. It’s said to get 160 inches of rain every year by the usually accurate National Geographic, and it did sprinkle after Ruth and I toured it on June 2, 2022.
Ketchikan is a city that most people who take a cruise to Alaska do visit. That’s another certainty. My first impression of it was lots of stores and gift shops as Ruth and I headed for Creek Street. On our way to Dolly’s whorehouse, we saw a fish ladder for salmon on Ketchikan Creek. In 1936 there were 7 canneries cooking cans of this fish after they were caught, and this town was rightfully called “The canned salmon capital of the world”. Its other product was lumber, but the main pulp mill closed in 1997.
Ketchikan, the word itself, derives from Tlingit culture. Its name in Tlingit, kich-xaan or Kitschk-him, has something to do with eagles’ wings. This town is on large Revillagigedo Island but natives shorten this to Revilla normally. Ketchikan had Alaska’s first downtown, a fact that was recognized in 2017 when its entire downtown was named a National Historic District. It also had the first paved street in this state. Downtown Ketchikan once contained 3 movie theaters.
Even though most of its mines are now closed, salmon viewing is still a big activity here. So are counting totem poles, hiking, and seeing lakes. Ketchikan is said to have the world’s largest concentration of totem poles. They are virtually everywhere in town. Ruth really enjoyed her close up view of Misty Fjords not too far away and appreciated the Tongass National Forest the next day. Tongass is the largest forest in the United States with 17 million acres of trees.
Ketchikan has been around almost since George Vancouver landed in the area in 1793. For its first couple of hundred years, it had a bad reputation. Brothels were legal until 1953, and there were several of them on Creek Street. Bootlegging was also allowed. These illegal activities existed alongside marine services, sawmills, and timber cutters.
Ketchikan today sits on 3 islands 670 air miles from Seattle. The airport is not on Revilla, but Alaska Airlines maintains daily flights to it from both Seattle and Portland. At this time of year, many of these flights are completely booked.
Alaska has a population nearing 700,000. It ranks 47 among states regarding population. That population is larger than 3 other states: North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.