Eagle, Alaska, is a charming outpost in the middle of nowhere. That’s no exaggeration: the nearest Alaskan city is 75 miles away by dusty road and the closest Canadian city is 103 miles down the Yukon River. Maybe that’s why everyone is so friendly: if you visit Eagle, it’s because you really want to.
This town of 129 people is a mere one square mile with a church, a courthouse museum from Eagle's heyday at the turn of the 19th century, a two-room schoolhouse, a general store and the Eagle Mall, which is a four-booth open-air tourist shop covered with a tarp.
Despite its lack of amenities, it’s a quaint slice of community where you’ll actually want to stay a lot longer. The Yukon River tour boat starts and ends at Eagle and serves as the major—and probably only—source of tourists.
Like many Alaskan cities, Eagle has had a boom and bust cycle. It started in the late 1800s as a supply and trading center for miners in the Yukon River area. By 1898, Eagle had more than 1,700 residents, but few traces of this boom remain. In 1900, Fort Egbert was built, serving the U.S. Army for some 10 years until it was shut down. Today, the tiny fort, actually a couple of mule barns, is only visited by tourists. In fact, the barns are interesting: read the diaries of one of the men who cared for the mules. Colorful--and surprisingly funny.
Eagle pulls out the stops for tourists. As we boarded our bus after departing our boat, we were told that we would have a guided tour by an Eagle native. We looked forward to our guide’s stories, but he actually didn’t have many: he was only 12 years old. But he was adorable, telling us about who in town lived where and what it was like to have only one classmate and only four fellow students in his entire high school.
The Courthouse Museum, site of the Alaska Interior’s first court (until it moved to Fairbanks), is two stories. The first floor is a typical court museum (and gift shop) while tourists can participate in a mock trial on the second floor courtroom. A nice idea--and rather fun.
The Eagle Mall features local craftspeople offering their wares at very reasonable prices. I bought a beautiful necklace for just $15 and wished I had gotten more. The people are also happy to discuss their life in Eagle, where they are virtually landlocked through the winter (the Internet is their saving grace). You can appreciate your local stores when you hear how they have to drive three hours to get to a supermarket during the summer. (No real exit in the winter, unless by plane or snowmobile).
The local grocery store located on the water's edge reminds me of Ruthanne's store in "Northern Exposure" but without the pretentious items. Prices are expensive--as they are in all of Alaska. Be sure to check the community bulletin board outside the store, where posters advertise everything from babysitting to alerts about the Visiting Nurse's visit to town.
Homes in Eagle are very modest and cottage-like, with many marked with antlers as a decorative outdoor display. Like in many communities set in breathtaking scenery, the houses are surrounded with junk--old cars, old furniture and other carcasses of life. They also had tiny fenced gardens. Vegetable gardens, we are told, are very productive during the summer with the long days and relatively warm temperatures.
Overall, Eagle seems to be a delightful town. I wouldn't mind visiting this quirky little community again.