Sitnews - Stories In the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Pioneer family spans a century

By June Allen

July 09, 2003
Wednesday - 12:45 am

When Henry Kubley arrived in bustling Ketchikan in the winter of 1903-04, it looked like the "big city" to him! Ketchikan had families, a school, a hospital and a steadily growing population. Henry Kubley was an optimistic man, a Gold Rusher with at least five years of Alaska experience under his belt! But that past handful of years had been spent in an isolated little mining camp at the head of Portland Canal, today's Hyder, Alaska. It was the base for one of the scattered gold strikes in the frenzied years of Alaska's gold fever. The pick-and-shovel claims were just across the border in Canada, a region of looming mountains and incredibly heavy snowfalls. Henry tried his luck with several Canadian prospectors and miners but later decided luck might smile on a venture into the retail trades. He soon realized, however, that his little Hyder store would not support a family - and Henry had a wife and three children in Seattle patiently waiting for him to send for them.

Kubley Family - 1906
Lawrence, Henry, Ruth, Mina, Alma
Photo courtesy Kaaren Kubley

Hyder had not been Henry's intended destination. The exciting tale he spun for his family and friends in later years told of his lucky decision to try a Klondike adventure! At the time, he explained, his children were safely reared past early childhood and his wife, Mina, was willing to hold the family together until he struck it rich. And so, Henry found himself propelled along in a gold-frenzied mob on the docks of Seattle until he managed to slip away and stow away on an Alaska-bound sailing ship. He believed the ship was headed for Skagway with passengers and supplies - he was on his way! But the ship's first port of call was Hyder and it was there that he was discovered and booted ashore, Henry said, and where he stayed for the next five or six years.

Gold rushes, wilderness and hardship adventure had certainly not been on the minds of the five farm-reared Kubli brothers when they landed on America's shores and were processed in New York during one of the waves of immigration in the second half of the 19th century. The five young men, Swiss-born and German-speaking, were headed for Wisconsin, specifically to a farming and dairy region of fellow countrymen of similar origins near Oshkosh, on Lake Winnebago. On arrival in New York the immigrant brothers identified themselves, lined up and were examined and interviewed. And they found their surname spelled in different ways, probably because of misunderstanding or an inkblot of a scratching pen as harried immigration agents filled out official papers with the names spelled variously as Kubli, Kubly, or Kubley.

Kubley's Candy Store - 1904
Photo courtesy Kaaren Kubley

Henry Kubely married, settled down in Wisconsin and fathered three children, daughters Ruth and Alma and then son Lawrence in 1890. The children were enrolled in German-speaking schools. But then in 1893 the bottom fell out of the American economy and the nation found itself in the grips of one of the worst economic depressions in the country's history. Times were hard even in rural Wisconsin, so the adventurous Henry decided to move his young family west. They finally settled in Seattle where Henry heard there were jobs to be had. That tided the family over until the gold fever was too hard to resist and Henry headed north to Alaska.

In the spring of 1904 Henry sent for his family. Mina Kubley, the girls and young Lawrence sailed for Ketchikan. Henry had used his Hyder stake to open a small Front Street store between Dock and Market street (now Mission), selling candy, soda pop, newspapers and tobacco. Daughters Ruth and Alma worked in the shop and came to be nicknamed The Candy Kids. Over the years the expanded Kubley stock included curios, especially Indian moccasins made by the area's Native craftswomen. The family lived in a small house on the beach along Hopkins Alley.

As soon as Lawrence was old enough - and young people went to work early in those days - he found work in the sawmill, read meters and spent his spare time playing baseball, the sport that made him home-town famous in baseball-mad Ketchikan! Later he went to work in J.R. Heckman's store as a clerk in the hardware department. When he was marrying age, Lawrence went south to court and marry his childhood sweetheart, Bernice Payne. On the couple's return, they set up housekeeping in apartment upstairs over the Alaska Steamship Co.'s freight and baggage warehouse on Front Street - on what today is called dock 1B. Although Lawrence and Bernice's second daughter, Norma, was born in Seattle in 1919, both daughter Gertrude and son Walter (Wally) were born in Ketchikan's first hospital on Mission Street, Gertrude in 1917 and Wally in 1921. The old hospital building is now occupied by the Seaman's Center.

Alma Kubley Home - 1910
Photo courtesy Kaaren Kubley

It was sometime during the Prohibition-1920s that, as Lawrence gained respect and admiration from his fellow townspeople, old Henry Kubley faded from the scene. He left Ketchikan "under a cloud," although the family today doesn't know what happened. Henry later was reported to be rum-running from Canada to Washington state - until he was pushed out of the boat in the Straits of Juan de Fuca by his partner. His grandson Wally searched the general region over a number of years but failed to find any trace of a burial site in the event his body had been recovered.

Lawrence and his young family were comfortably settled in their dockside apartment on Front Street on the night of March 24, 1924, when just across the street the Revilla Hotel with its landmark turret caught fire! Pacific Steamship's Admiral Rogers happened to be in port that day and the ship maneuvered into position to train its pumps onto the stubborn blaze and the surrounding buildings. If it had not been for the ship's efforts in aiding the firemen, the entire city block would likely have burned to the ground, according to a contemporary news report. Lawrence Kubley was among the volunteer firefighters who fought the fire. In fact, a year later he would become Fire Chief and serve in that capacity for ten years.

Today's concrete Ingersoll Hotel building replaced the old Revilla. But Bernice Kubley was not going to watch the construction. She was thoroughly traumatized by the fire and refused to take her children back into the wooden apartment building built on a wooden dock. So Lawrence bought a home at 630 Water Street. The lot was part of Charles Ingersoll's "Afterthought Lode" mining claim. The house had been built in 1920 by Alex Runge (who was the uncle of a recent Gateway Borough's mayor, Jim Carlton). The Kubleys remained in that Water Street house until their children were grown and gone.

After his father's reported death, Lawrence Kubley took over the family candy shop on Front Street and added an ice cream parlor. His sisters married and moved away. Lawrence shared the business operation with his mother, Mina, called "Grandma" Kubley by the children of the town. Customers from many of those years remembered that "Grandma" kept a sharp eye on the behavior of her young customers! Lawrence retained his love for baseball, cheering on local teams long after he was no longer playing. In the early days before broadcast ballgames, Lawrence would get the latest World Series reports from the telegraph office (near the candy store) and, standing on the boardwalk in front of the businesses, would read the play-by-play action of the games to a crowd of fans.

George H. Beck, Lawrence Kubley, Sam Daniels on fire truck on Water Street, circa 1930
Photographer: Elliot L. Fisher - Donor: George L. Beck, KM
Photo courtesy Ketchikan Museums

Lawrence continued his business activities for many years, involved in many projects. He opened his Dream Theater on Front Street, next door to Tongass Trading's concrete building and just across the street from the candy shop. When talkies came in during the late 1920s, he decided to change the theater's name and held a contest to rename it. The winning name was The Revilla Theater. Lawrence stayed busy in community and Chamber of Commerce affairs for the next quarter of a century. He was one of the town's boosters who worked to have the first neon-lighted welcome arch made in 1951 (today's neon welcome arch is a replica of the older one).

As one Kubley aged and began to move into the background, there was another to take his place. Lawrence's son Wally began to distinguish himself in his own right, in both business and politics. When he got out of the service after WWII he bought Newtown Liquor Store from Ronald Wick, who had decided to move to Port Protection. His business activities continued in an era of prosperity and growth after the mid-century arrival of the pulp mill. His ventures included the 10-lane Billiken Bowl on Stedman Street, the Sportsman Bar and Café in Wards Cove, a partnership in Model Cleaners as well as rental properties.

Along the way he made the business move that is still attached to the Kubley name today. In the early '50s he bought Harold Blanton's Front Street bar and changed the name from Harold's to The Sourdough Bar. But when Wally started to renovate the shopworn old building, he decided it would be better to move the bar across Front Street to its present location on the dock. Wally's first business partner was long-time friend Pete Wilson, but,

 Walter and Fern (the 1962 Mrs. Alaska) visit Fern's father Sgt. Donald Bellamy at the Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, California. At the far right is Mrs. Bellamy.
Courtesy Kaaren Kubley
he says, he "lost him" in Las Vegas. Carroll Bass then became his partner in the venture until 1966 when Wally sold out to him.

By then Wally was ready for a plunge into statewide politics. He had been elected to and served a three-year term on Ketchikan City Council from 1957-60. He served in the state Legislature. Then in 1966 he was tapped to go to Juneau with Governor Wally Hickel to serve as his legislative assistant. When Hickel became Secretary of the Interior under President Nixon, Wally was named Commissioner of Commerce. Then Kubley went on to Anchorage and later became Commissioner of Transportation. Wally's son, Don Kubley, followed his dad into politics but from another angle - he has been a lobbyist in Juneau for many years, using his familiarity with Southeastern Alaska to the region's advantage.

And back home in Ketchikan, Wally's son Larry bought the Sourdough Bar from Carroll Bass. Today he and his son, young Wally, are the bar's owners. The Sourdough is known for its unique photo gallery of fishing vessels, a marine disaster or two, and an fascinating collection of boats in distress - on the rocks, ashore, shored up or just posing for the camera.

That accounts for five of the six Kubley generations in town: Henry, Lawrence, Wally, Larry, plus young Wally. But wait Wally's daughter Kaaren Kubley has a daughter Shona, and

Photo Gallery
Shona has a daughter named Paige. So that makes six generations of Kubleys begun back at the turn of the 20th century.

Wally and Fern (the 1962 Mrs. Alaska!) came back home to Ketchikan from their retirement in Edmonds. Wally is 82 this year and he wanted to be near his children, grandchildren and great-grandchild. He has been having a wonderful time visiting and greeting old friends. He goes now and then for the morning "oldtimers' coffee hour" at the Sourdough. He's been running into old friends everywhere he goes and he says he's excited about coming home. And Fern says she's even beginning to get used to the rain all over again.

I wonder what old Henry would think if he could see his family these days. Would he be proud? Or would he maybe already be stowed away again and off to another adventure?



This June Allen Story Is Made Possible In-Part By These Sponsors:

Madison Lumber & Hardware

Classic Tours
Downtown Drugstore

 Alaska Glass & Supply

 Sourdough Bar & Liquor Store

For information on how to become a sponsor, call 247-8590.



Copyright © 2003 June Allen
All rights reserved.
Not to be reprinted in any form without the written permission of June Allen.


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