SKAGWAY, the northern terminal of the southeast ferry route, sprang up overnight in 1897 as a trading post serving Klondike Gold Rush pioneers setting off on the five-hundred-mile ordeal. Having grown from one cabin to a town of twenty thousand in three months, Skagway, rife with disease and desperado violence was reported to be “hell on earth”. It boasted more than seventy bars and hundreds of prostitutes and was controlled by criminals, including Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, notorious for cheating hapless prospectors out of their gold.
By 1899, the Gold Rush was over but the completion in 1900 of the White Pass and Yukon Route railway from Skagway to Whitehorse, the Yukon capital, ensured Skagway’s survival. Today the town’s eight hundred residents have gone to great lengths to maintain (or re-create) the original appearance of their home, much of which lies in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, and in summer as many as five cruise ships a day call in to appreciate the effort.