6 Places to See World War II History on the Alaska Highway
The U.S. Army constructed the Alaska Highway, then known as ALCAN, during World War II. Although the original road has been replaced over time with a modern highway, you can still find history along its route if you know where to look. Today, we look at six places on or near the Alaska Highway where you can still see its World War II roots. Check out 101 Travel Bits: The Alaska Highway if you are interested in learning even more.
1. Kiskatinaw Bridge - Mile 17
Just a short detour off of the Alaska Highway sits the Kiskatinaw Bridge. This bridge is considered the last original bridge of the Alaska Highway and dates to World War II. However, it was not actually built by the U.S. Army. The road the U.S. Army built was a very rough road. Once the Army built the rough road, civilian contractors followed and replaced it with a less difficult road to traverse. Thus, while it is an original bridge dating to World War II, the Kiskatinaw Bridge is not strictly an "original" bridge of the Alaska Highway.
2. Sikanni Chief River Bridge - Mile 159
Completed on October 28, 1942, the first permanent structure on the Alaska Highway was the Sikanni Chief River Bridge. The bridge, like much of the Alaska Highway, was built by an African-American engineering battalion. Although the Alaska Highway bypassed the bridge before World War II ended, until 1992 the bridge remained standing. Unfortunately, that summer arsonists destroyed the bridge. Today, all that remains of the historic bridge are its metal stanchions.
3. Contact Creek - Mile 568/Historic Mile 588
Construction of the Alaska Highway took place in multiple sections to ensure its quick completion. On September 24, 1942, crews completed the southern half of the road. The Army christened the creek where the bulldozers finished the southern half of the road "Contact Creek" and today is continues to flow beneath the Alaska Highway.
4. Signpost Forest - Mile 613/Historic Mile 635
One of the most famous tourist sites along the Alaska Highway is the Signpost Forest. The Signpost Forest is a "forest" which consists of tens of thousands of signs nailed to posts and trees outside of Watson Lake. The signs point the way to the homes of people who have driven the Alaska Highway and wanted to leave a memento of their journey. While it continues to expand today, the Signpost Forest dates to World War II. Carl Lindley, a soldier working on the Alaska Highway, posted the first sign during the war. The first sign pointed the way to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. Other soldiers followed suit and tourists did the same once they began traveling the road. Today, there are as many as 80,000 signs in the forest.
5. Soldier's Summit - Mile 1,030/Historic Mile 1,061
The official opening of the Alaska Highway took place in November 1942. On a formerly unnamed hill overlooking Kluane Lake the highway was dedicated. Today, you can take a short hike to the summit where that dedication ceremony took place. Hopefully, it will be warmer when you visit than on the day the Alaska Highway opened. It was -15 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 C) that day. The band providing music for the ceremony had to wait inside heated tents before playing because their instruments froze almost immediately after the musicians stepped outside.
6. Beaver Creek - Mile 1,167/Historic Mile 1,202
Beaver Creek is home to what is arguably the most important World War II-era historical sites on the Alaska Highway. It was in Beaver Creek, on October 28, 1942 where the Army completed the final portion of the Alaska Highway. Despite the segregation of the Army during World War II, the two soldiers who were designated to have completed the road were a black soldier from Philadelphia and a white soldier from Texas. Newspapers across the United States put the picture of the two men shaking hands while standing on their bulldozers on their front pages. You can see the picture here.
If you are interested in learning more about the Alaska Highway, pick up a copy of 101 Travel Bits: The Alaska Highway today.