This scarce1/ Map Showing Routes of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company for the 1889 summer tourist season covers San Diego in Southern California and as far north beyond British Possessions to Glacier Bay and Chilcat in Alaska. The map's title block is a vignette showing a large passenger and freight steamship at the pier in Alaska's Thousand Islands with the subtitle "Seen From Sitka". Passengers congregate at the pier and freight is piled ready to be loaded as smoke billows from the two stacks on board, the view northwest out to the Pacific Ocean. Another steamship can be seen in the distance, along with a few sailboats. Gulls circle overhead near the pier.
The map provides a table of distances in Nautical Miles of the route north and south of San Francisco. The map shows two southern routes, "San Fran. and South Coast" and "San Francisco and San Diego". There are multiple northern routes: "San Francisco and Humboldt Bay Route," and a "San Fran. & Mendocino Route," a "Portland Oregon Route," and a "San Francisco, Victoria and Puget Sound Route," from Vancouver Island. The most northern route is the "Alaska Route" from Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington via Vancouver Island and thence to Alaska, stopping at Cape Fox, Fort Wrangel P.O., Sitka, Juneau, Killisnoo, Glacier Bay and Chilcat, the terminus. 2/
On the reverse side of the map, a multi-panel brochure conveys considerable travel information: travel times, fares, east (Montreal) and west coast ticket agent locations, train connections and points of interest along each route.
The "Alaska Excursion" section of the 1889 Pacific Coast Steamship Company brochure is not shy in its promotion of the nearly month-long round trip, quoting a reviewer "During the excursion season of 1888 many thousand tourists visited Alaska. To say they were pleased conveys but a faint impression of their enthusiasm. They were all delighted - charmed...the matchless grandeur of the trip, of the midnight sun, of the placid waters, of the aurora borealis, of the majestic mountains, of the inland seas, of the mighty glaciers, of the thundering iceberg plunging into the sea and floating off in its glory of inimitable splendor, of the wealth of fish, timber and minerals, of the biggest quartz mill ever constructed, of the queer customs of the natives, of novelty and startling incidents that may well make the trip the object of a lifetime." The fare was $130.00, a good value according to the company's brochure as it provided 4,000 miles of transportation and room and board.
The Pacific Coast Steamship Company routes to Alaska from the mid-1880's grew in popularity and contributed to early tourism to visit Native Alaskans. An estimated 500,000 passengers arrived in the summer season and that led to an early 20th c. local industry of Native Alaskan crafts. A gold rush of 1889 also brought tourists and prospectors farther north. 3/
By 1889, the firm was running two steamers to Alaska fortnightly, the large side wheel steamer Ancon and the iron propeller Geo. W. Elder, with additional summer connections. The Ancon was in commercial service from 1875 until August 28, 1889, when it was wrecked in Loring, Alaska . This event was sketched live and then painted by Albert Bierstadt as the "Wreck of the Ancon"4/ Bierstadt was a passenger on the Ancon the day it floated from the pier sideways and became grounded on rocks. When the tide fell, the perilously suspended ship split. All passengers, including Bierstadt were rescued.
All was not idyllic along the Alaska steamship route. The Summer, 1889 brochure pictures the steamer Idaho5/ in Glacier Bay, Alaska gliding safely through floating ice. In the early 1880's the Idaho was stopped by U.S. Customs in Portland, Oregon en route from Alaska with its hold full of undeclared opium. The opium was seized by U.S. Customs, the ship fined for Customs violations and ultimately seized. Thus, from 1887 to 1889, the Alaska route was popular for both tourism, and opium shipped illegally first from the Far East to Victoria, Vancouver and then to Alaska, with rerouting to San Francisco on various maritime vessels.
Four thousand miles of Pacific Coast travel are artfully encompassed by this 14" by 28" doubled sided, printed and illustrated sheet of paper.
1. World Cat describes seven editions of the Pacific Steamship Company map published between 1886 and 1911. The editions located in collections for this research are all from the 1890's or later and have a different cover illustration than the early editions of the 1880's.
2. The Pacific Coast Steamship Company was in business from 1882 to 1936.
3. "Protecting the Arctic: Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Survival", Mark Nuttall, in Studies in Environmental Anthropology, vol. 3, Routledge, 2005.
4. Bierstadt's painting The Wreck of the Ancon is in the collection of the MFA Boston.
5. The ship was built in 1866 in Bath, Maine and had a colorful life.