Fairbanks, Alaska, is a pretty special place. Not only is it one of the state’s largest cities and just down the road from Denali National Park and Preserve, it’s a bouncing-off point for trips into Alaska’s remote villages, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park. Landing a tourism job is one of the best ways to experience life in and around Fairbanks—and knowing a bit of compelling trivia about the area will make you an entertaining tour guide, whether you do it for a living or just for fun. Here are 10 facts about Fairbanks any good Alaska resident, or visitor, should know.
Got moose? Fairbanks does. In droves, actually. According to surveys by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, an estimated 500 moose call the Fairbanks urban environment home. In fact, the moose population around Fairbanks has almost doubled in the past decade. So, in an attempt to keep them from becoming roadkill, officials are issuing more hunting permits for cow moose in and around the Fairbanks road systems. On average, about 150 moose die on Fairbanks area roads each year.
What’s with the water tanks? Visitors to Fairbanks might notice residents driving around with water tanks in the beds of their pickups. It’s because much of the water supply around Fairbanks contains high levels of iron and arsenic. So residents often use holding tanks buried under their homes and haul their own water—instead of paying to have water delivered at several times the cost.
The first settlers in the Fairbanks areas built “grow houses.” These started with a couple’s first small, square cabin. Then, as children were born, the settlers would build additions to that. Some grew to include several additions. You can still see a well preserved historic example of a “grow house” in Fairbanks at 1323 1st Avenue.
Not a single street was paved in Fairbanks until 1938. Even though the dirt streets consistently cycled from dust to mud to snow to mud each year, the city initially voted down using a federal grant and city bonds to pave the roads—only to change their minds and approve it the next year.
In fact, in Fairbanks’s early history, pedestrians walked on raised wooden boardwalks to avoid the mud of the street. Today, you can see the last remaining remnant of the historic boardwalks to the right of the cement sidewalk in front of a historic home at 805 4th Avenue.
Of the city’s population—35,252—nearly half is made up of military personnel. The Ladd Army Airfield in Fairbanks was originally built for testing aircraft and equipment in cold weather, since no place else in the United States had such consistently cold conditions.
The coldest temperature ever recorded in Fairbanks was a numbing 66 degrees below zero on Jan. 14, 1934. It’s so cold, actually, that many parking lots offer electric outlets. No, they’re not for charging up your iPhone. They’re for plugging in engine block heaters so vehicles can start.
Did you know Fairbanks housed a “red light” district up until the mid 1950s? It stretched from Barnette Street to Cushman Street on 4th Avenue.
The worst disaster in Fairbanks history was the flood of 1967. That July, Fairbanks received almost double the city’s average rainfall—followed by the heaviest rainfall in the recorded history of Fairbanks during August. Floodwaters even rose over emergency sandbag dikes that volunteers built in town. Four people died, and damage was estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The city recovered amazingly—it was even dubbed an “All-America City” by Look Magazine and the National League of Cities in honor of its success in recovering from the flood.
Fairbanks has come a long way from its history as a trading post at the turn of the 20th century. And knowing a little about its history—and funny quirks—will make you sound like a local, even if you just rolled into town.