Century of history at the Governor’s House

Juneau residents line up for tours at Governor’s House celebration on Thursday. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Former residents of the Governor’s House joined Juneau residents in a centennial birthday celebration on Thursday.

The first big phase of a $2 million repair just recently wrapped up to fix the columns, stucco, and paint of the Governor’s House, the primary residence of Alaska’s First Family in Juneau.

People took free tours on Thursday afternoon, sampled cookies and lemonade, and were able to chat with those who spent time working and living in what has been called by one author as ‘The White House of the North.’

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Three Governors pose for a picture.
Three Governors: Frank Murkowski, Bill Sheffield, and Sean Parnell pose for a picture. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Attendees included Governor Sean Parnell, author Carol Sturgulewski who is also the daughter of Governor Frank Murkowski, former Representative Clark Gruening who is the grandson of Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening, Governor Bill Sheffield, First Lady Nancy Murkowski, and Governor Frank Murkowski. Also performing on Thursday was the Zahasky Family Alaska String Band.

The day before Thursday’s party, First Lady Sandy Parnell said that the recent repairs should help the Governor’s House last for another century. Most of the work was intended to fix a hundred years of rain and wind which had taken their toll on the structure. Most of the work focused on the wooden columns, and the exterior paint and stucco.

“We really wanted to make sure it got done before the one-hundred year anniversary so the House was at her best for the one-hundredth year,” said Parnell.

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A plaque in front of the five-bedroom, eight-bathroom Governor’s House notes that it was constructed with $40,000 from the federal government. That was a lot of money back then, but it wasn’t enough to finish the Governor’s House as planned.

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Plaque in front of Governor’s House.

“They had to pinch pennies,” said Parnell.

She described clapboard siding initially being installed on the exterior instead of the stucco that was added on later. Oak planking was installed instead of parquet flooring, and purchase of a grand piano took up half of the budget that was left over for furnishings. There was no landscaping and the yard was used for storage of construction materials for a few years.

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Parnell walks us over to a wooden Seal of the District of Alaska located at the top of the fireplace in the ballroom. It was installed when construction started in May 1912 before Alaska became a Territory.

Seal of the District of Alaska
Seal of the District of Alaska

“It was covered up in plaster and paint,” said Parnell. It was later revealed during renovation of the House in the 1980s.

“It’s actually a very beautiful part of the history of the House.”

Alaska became a territory in August 1912. Governor Walter Clark moved into the House when it was completed at the end of December 1912. The original, restored seal of the District of Alaska is still in place above the ballroom’s fireplace.

Parnell says most administrations have left their mark with changes to the Governor’s House that have enhanced its livability while staying true to its historical origins.

Governor Bill Sheffield, for example, gutted the interior, redid the electrical system, and ripped up the dated shag carpeting.

First Lady Neva Egan refinished forgotten furniture that had been placed in storage.

Parnell says the Hickels acquired alabaster lamps for the ballroom that are still used today.

Governor Tony Knowles had the kitchen, library, and third-floor suites redone.

And, First Lady Nancy Murkowski started a foundation devoted to the House’s renovation and related educational efforts.

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