Frye-Bruhn and Alaska

June 12 – September 6, 2010

In conjunction with the exhibitions Northern Latitudes and On Arctic Ice, the Frye presents historical photographs documenting the entrepreneurial activities of the Museum’s founder, Charles Frye, in Seattle and Alaska. Primarily capturing the rough-and-tumble nature of Alaskan towns at the turn of the century, these photographs demonstrate the pioneering spirit of Frye and other men and women who sought adventure in the North.

Motivated by the opportunities afforded by the Klondike gold rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory, Charles Frye and his business partner, Charles Bruhn, who had founded the Frye-Bruhn Meat Packing Company in Seattle in 1891, expanded their operations into Alaska. They established their first retail outlet in 1897 in Skagway, Alaska—a major supply point to the Klondike region. Stores followed in Juneau, Valdez, Seward, Haines, Ketchikan, and Nome.

Operating into the 1920s and early 1930s, Frye-Bruhn stores sold groceries and canned and fresh meat to commercial clients, residents, and prospectors. The company provided fresh meat products through the cattle ranches it established on several Alaskan islands. Although it was forced to close its Kodiak Island ranch after the 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano, Frye-Bruhn continued to run cattle on Chirikof Island until the late 1930s.

Frye-Bruhn’s cold storage building in Skagway, once used to refrigerate the company’s meat products, has been recognized as historically significant by the National Park Service, which took ownership of the building in 2004. A contributing element of the Skagway and White Pass National Historic Landmark, the building is in the process of being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by the Park Service.

Frye-Bruhn and Alaska is organized by the Frye Art Museum and funded by the Frye Foundation with the generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors.

The Frye is grateful to the National Park Service, especially Historians Karl Gurcke and Robert Lyon and Historical Architect Grant Crosby, and the Baranov Museum on Kodiak Island for generously sharing their research on the history of Frye-Bruhn in Alaska.

Image Credits:
Frye-Bruhn storefront, Seward, Alaska Day, no date. Frye Art Museum Archives.
Product label, no date. Frye Art Museum Archives.
Frye-Bruhn storefront, Seattle, no date. Frye Art Museum Archives.
Hopeful prospectors preparing to hit the trail, Seward, circa 1905. Courtesy of Seward Community Library Association, Seward, Alaska.
Chickens being packed for transport, Valdez, no date. Courtesy of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.