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Barrow

Barrow is situated on the shores of the Chukchi Sea, 330 miles above the Arctic Circle. To its south is a vast region of undulating treeless plains consisting of black mucky soil with a permanently frozen subsoil, known as tundra, that slopes gradually upward to the Brooks Range, 200 miles south of Barrow. The tundra on the North Slope is dotted by thousands of nameless lakes, lagoons, streams, and ponds that remain frozen most of the year. During a brief period from June to August, the tundra becomes a marsh of soft, lichenous soil. Sea ice is generally tight against shore in winter, and may retreat offshore to considerable distance in summer.  With a population of 4,417 in 2002, Barrow is the only community in the North Slope incorporated as a first class city.  It is also the seat of North Slope Borough.

Some of Barrow's traditional ways echo life of the distant past. Archaeological sites in the area indicate the Inupiat Eskimos lived in the area as far back as 500 A.D. at Ukpeagvik, as Barrow is traditionally known. The name means "place where owls are hunted." Winter dwellings made of sod appear as mounds elevated about six feet above the tundra. Scientists have uncovered five dozen dwelling mounds on the southwestern edge of Barrow, identifying the remains of 16 of them from the Birnirk culture, 500-900 A.D. The 20,000 artifacts found at the site suggest a continuous occupation of the area for the past thousand years.   

Barrow takes its modern name from Point Barrow, named in 1825 by Captain Beechey of the Royal Navy for Sir John Barrow, second secretary of the British Admiralty. Beechey was plotting the Arctic coastline of North America at the time and discovered the headland.  Locally though, the name "Ukpeagvik" continues. 

In 1826, Thomas Elson and William Smythe were the first Europeans to actually encounter Barrow Iņupiat when they landed briefly both at Point Hope and Point Barrow.   Extensive contact between Europeans and the Barrow Iņupiat did not begin until the 1850s, when ships were sent out in search of the lost Northwest Passage expedition of British explorer Sir John Franklin.

By 1854, commercial whaling vessels had begun to stop in Barrow. The whalers brought firearms, ammunition and alcohol to trade for furs, ivory and baleen. The first shore-based commercial whaling operation was established at Barrow in 1884.

In 1886, Charles D. Brower arrived in Barrow as a whaling crew member. Brower established a trading post at Barrow and became its first white settler. Eventually he learned Inupiaq, married two Native women and sired 14 children. To this day, many of the community's leaders, white and Eskimo, bear his surname. By 1893, he and partner Tom Gordon were running their own whaling operation. Their Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading Company established the first store in Barrow in 1893.  Brower's whaling station, store, and home can still be seen in Barrow today.  The residential "suburb" of Barrow was named Browerville in his honor.

Antone Edwardsen, "came on a whaling ship way back" and married a relative of Charles D. Brower.  His original surname was spelled Edvartsen.  Can anyone supply more information on this settler?

In addition to bringing western goods and technology, which forever changed the lives of the Iņupiat, commercial whalers and traders were responsible for the introduction of many diseases. Population decline from disease continued into the 1920s, when western medical care introduced by the Presbyterian mission doctors and hospital began to save lives.  Barrow's first hospital was built in 1920 by the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church. In 1936, the church turned the hospital and medical care over to the United States government.

The first baby to arrive at the newly constructed Presbyterian hospital at Barrow was Eben Hopson, born November 7, 1922. Eben was the son of Alfred "Al" (born Point Barrow December 23, 1898) and Maggie Hopson, and the grandson of Alfred Henley Hopson, a whaler from Liverpool, England, who settled in Barrow in 1886.  From 1972 to 1978, Eben would be elected Borough Mayor of the North Slope Borough.  More on Eben Hopson .

Leander M. Stevenson, Barrow's first Presbyterian missionary and teacher, arrived at Point Barrow in 1890. At age 45, he had contracted to stay only a year, but he ended up staying seven, even though he had a wife and children in the Lower 48. His first school was in the Rescue Station, built to house shipwrecked sailors for the winter. His first class consisted of eight students who couldn’t speak English, and he couldn’t speak Eskimo. Four years later he got lumber from the Presbyterian Mission Board, built the first school and the first mission house.

Dr. and Mrs. Horatio Marsh replaced Leander Stevenson in 1897. It was during Dr. Marsh’s stay at Barrow that the caribou herds diminished and when 300 seamen became stranded in the village, food supplies ran low. Sheldon Jackson sent 400 reindeer from Teller. Dr. Marsh, once everyone was fed, took over the supervision of the remaining herd and trained local Eskimos to take care of them.  Marsh transferred to southeast Alaska in 1903, but not before he formally organized the Presbyterian Church in Barrow.

By 1899, there was a Presbyterian Church here, and in 1901 a post office opened. Eskimo elder Alfred Hopson, recounting those times, said it was at the Presbyterian Church in 1906 that the famed explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson measured the heads of all the people in Barrow. Stefansson, who was thereafter known as "Head Measure," returned again for more exploration in 1914.

In 1934, Percy lpalook was the first Iņupiaq to be ordained into the ministry. Reverend Roy Ahmaogak, who was ordained in 1946, translated the New Testament into the Inupiaq language in the mid-1960s. Prior to this, Iņupiaq had not been a formal written language. In 1970, Reverend Samuel Simmonds became the first Iņupiaq minister to serve as pastor of the Barrow congregation.

The first school was built in Barrow in 1894, when the U.S. government took over education from the church. The Bureau of Indian Affairs took over Native education in the 1930s. Over the years there were many Iņupiat who became teachers and who worked at the school. In the early 1900s, Annie Kullaluk, originally from Wainwright, was one of the first Iņupiat teachers. Marvin Peter and Qinaqtaq were expert baleen basket weavers who taught the children this craft at school in the 1930s and 1940s.

The City was incorporated in 1958.  Formation of the North Slope Borough in 1972, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and construction of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and Trans-Alaska Pipeline have each contributed to the development of Barrow. Today, tax revenues from the North Slope oil fields fund borough-wide services.

A federally recognized tribe is located in the community -- the Native Village of Barrow; Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope. 64% of the population are Alaska Native or part Native.  The majority of residents are Inupiat Eskimos and Barrow is one of the world's largest Eskimo settlements. Traditional marine mammal hunts and other subsistence practices are an active part of the culture. Whale hunting has been a feature of Barrow life, as Inupiat whalers pursued migrating bowhead, gray, killer and beluga whales to feed the community.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whaling vessels from New England arrived, and Barrow helped in those hunts as well.  Continuing an ancient Inupiat tradition, an annual bowhead whale hunt and festival is held every spring.  Though the old ways are heavily present in Barrow, modern conveniences, traditions, and ways of life are entering more and more into the area.

The climate of Barrow is arctic. Precipitation is light, averaging 5 inches, with annual snowfall of 20 inches. Temperatures range from -56 to 78, averaging 40 during summer. The sun does not set between May 10th and August 2nd each summer, and does not rise between Nov. 18th and January 24th each winter. The daily minimum temperature is below freezing 324 days of the year. Prevailing winds are easterly and average 12 MPH. The Chukchi Sea is typically ice free from mid-June through October.

 

City - City of Barrow, P.O. Box 629, Barrow, AK 99723, Phone 907-852-5211, E-mail:  isabel.okpeaha@cityofbarrow.org

Village Council - Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, P.O. Box 934, Barrow, AK 99723, Phone 907-852-4227

Village Council - Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Trad. Gov't., P.O. Box 1130, Barrow, AK 99723, Phone 907-852-4411