Manley Hot Springs History

The history of Manley Hot Springs can be broken into three main periods:
Part 1: 1894-1913 - GOLD!
Part 2: 1902 - Agriculture
Part 3: 1903 - Present: The Land

Hay Fields- Manley Hot Springs circa 1900
Photo: University of Alaska Archives

The 1950’s
When my aunt and uncle bought the land in Manley Hot Springs it wasn’t called that at all.  It was called “Hot Springs”.  Gus Benson the postmaster made the decision to call it Manley Hot Springs because the mail would get confused with Hot Springs , Arkansas . To the ire of most of the old timers in Hot Springs—Benson was mocked that he should be so brazen to name the town after a horse thief. This however was not the first time the name Manley Hot Spring’s was used.  J.W. Neal’s September 14, 1910 report on his investigation of the available agricultural land in the Tanana Valley referred to it as Manley Hot Spring’s at least twice.  Researching this has determined that names included: Baker Hot Springs, Hot Springs, Magic Hot Springs (Karhsner’s writings) and Manley Hot Springs.  Today those of us who farm call it Manley but would like to just go back to Hot Springs.  I met Gus Benson in 1969 and my uncle Chuck wasn’t to happy with old Gus that day as he took my seat on a bush plane ride to Tanana.  It was an old Platus Porter that Wein Air Alaska flew the mail into Manley Hot Springs.  Never got that ride , but I did get to go to Mac Mcgees mine out in Tofty.  Mcgee as he was known as was the founder of Alaska Airlines via Mcgee’s Airways.


Future plans include a wind turbine to generate power








Part 3: 1903 - Present: The Land

by John Robert Dart


The surrounding hills are silt covered and I have determined by photographs that Karhsner did not practice conservation tillage.  Pictures reveal that he planted on slopes far too steep for equipment.  Also he planted up and down the slope not across it on a contour, however that was probably due to the irrigation system he laid in along the side of the hills just as the miners would do to bring water to their sluice box.  But then again, most of the gardening work was done by hand using hoes, shovels, and forks.  Recently, I found an old fork (handle rotted away of course) used to plant potatoes.

The homestead is an unusual size because forty acres on the other side of the slough was retained for military purposes. The womcats signal corps established a telegraph station there. Click here to view the Plat of U.S. Survey 916 and an unofficial plat made during Karhsner’s tenure.

Manley Hot Springs crops circa 1896 - 1913
Photo: Anchorage Museum of History & Art

The Dart’s own the land John F. Karshner homesteaded over a hundred years ago and have green housed there successfully for over fifty years, far longer than Karhsner did.  What is most interesting to me is the writing of the weather accounts and how it becomes clear that intensive agriculture under cover on this naturally occurring warm soil is the biggest reason for the agricultural success.  It was noted the double cropping was possible with cole crops at Latitude 65 north!!  I will cite from the Alaska Agricultural Experiment Stations from the early 1900’s to give you a better idea of the strange abilities this ground is able to produce outdoors in a good weather year.  And from experience not every year’s weather at Hot Springs is ideal.  So is the plite of the farmer.   Soil temperatures at the surface in many places are barely noticeable to the hand but at depth can reach 90 degrees Farenheight or more!  I installed a bottom heat system in 1987 and found that supplemental heat in the root zone is very advantagoues.  Reseach has proven this correct.

Agriculturally speaking Karhsner was a diversified farmer by necessity.  He raised horses, cattle, pigs, and chickens.  His land clearing was hampered until the arrival of his horses which certainly had to help during grubbing.  Without large draft animals land clearing is slow at best.  With large animals it was necessary to plant forage crops and hay so he could winter over his livestock. And going from 3.5 to 150 acres in such a short time is a testament to his drive.  Although it may have drove him to the grave.

I include here selections of writings from CC Georgesen and Karhsner himself:

It is evident that it would not be profitable to pay hired men $5 or $10 a day to work on a farm." This is in context to farming in general and with labor for mining during the gold rush days was most correct. This however was not the case for the hot springs in Alaska. To have a market you have to have people willing to buy your goods. The war had more to do with the demise of the small gold rush towns than just about anything else.
Surprisingly gold and tin are still mined in Tofty today. So the old timers did not get it all!!
I have a picture of a group of miners from Glen Gulch from 1902 that shows the many faces that needed to be fed. It sure put things in perspective.




















The Manley Roadhouse in the 1980's,

and a proud tomato farmer, John Dart.