The Bristol Bay Historical Society re-opened the Naknek museum in 2015, and it has become the epicenter of Bristol Bay history. The society’s president Fred Anderson and the community continue to build the ever-growing museum.
The museum is set up in a building that at different points in time served as a post office, jail and liquor store.
“I think that’s the perfect fit to have a historical museum and collection in a historical building,” Anderson said.
The museum was indefinitely closed for 10 years before Anderson found the new location facing the main street of Naknek.
It had a soft opening in 2015 as it is still growing. Anderson said the community continues to donate items all the time.
“We’ve even had a few people that pulled up that were actually emotional I know that sounds extreme,” he said. “But we’ve had people get emotional that not only we’re reviving the museum but this building.”
Donations have included everything from small artifacts such as jewelry or old cannery labels all the way to full-sized wooden sail boats.
This year the historical society hired Sharon Thompson to digitize old photographs and interview elders in the community. She presented her collection at this year’s Fishtival.
Part of the museum has been used as a restoration room for this project. After touring the room, Anderson locks the door.
“We keep everything well locked. Even last night I saw a head bobbing. We have to keep security around here,” he said.
One of Anderson’s favorite artifacts at the museum is the 4,000 pound anchor. It sits outside, in front of the museum. He says in 1882 it used to travel with a ship from San Francisco to Alaska. The ship burnt in Bristol Bay in 1920 and the anchor sat for 40 years. The Hadfield family adopted it and have since donated it to the historical society.
“Every time I talk about it I get excited. It’s kind of a metaphor for our museum, self-rising from the depths and now being a functioning entity,” he said.
Another artifact is a picture of the first basketball team in the Bristol Bay Borough. It’s especially important to Anderson.
“Those are a lot of my buddies. That’s me,” he said. “One guy didn’t even have tennis shoes – see he has bare feet.”
Some items Anderson and the historical society team have yet to identify. One such item is a wooden-trough-like artifact.
“We’re still doing research on it, it’s well designed,” he said. “Somebody will figure it out, we might have to put it on the internet or something.”
Anderson said he recommends if people find artifacts to bring them to the society.
Future plans for the museum include the addition of an aviation and sail boat display. For the Fishtival parade this summer the society featured the fully restored 1932 double-ender sailboat. It is on a long term loan from the Anchorage Museum.
Anderson said he hopes to see the museum double in size, as well.
The society is also marketing the museum toward the large number of summer tourists in Bristol Bay.
“We’re going to put the schematics of a sail boat in the terminal in King Salmon so people will know we have a beautiful museum here,” Anderson said.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through the end of the month. Then it will close for the winter and open again next May.