Gustavus, Alaska – A Unique Name in a Unique Corner of the World

Everything about Alaska is, well – different. But in a good way.  Alaska is definitely unique and one of the more unusual spots, nestled in a national forest in the southeastern part of the state, is a town called, Gustavus.  When I first heard the name, I thought, “What kind of a name is that?” Gustavus certainly doesn’t sound very “native” to that part of the world. It’s not even remotely close to anything found in the language of the local Tlingit tribe.

Gustavus is a Swedish name. You need to know how to pronounce Gustavus, especially if you’re going to visit there.  So today’s first lesson will be in pronunciation. [guh – stey –vuhs] Got it? Now, how did this remote little paradise at the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park get its name? Anytime I travel, I like to do a little research. I’m always curious how towns or streets get named. There may be other legends, but this seems to be the most reliable – or, at least, the most consistent story.

City of Gustavus Seal

Gustavus, for many years, was known as Strawberry Point.  Once again, another unusual name for Alaska. It was so named because sweet strawberries grew in wild abundance there. Still do, in fact. It was in 1925, when the United States Post Office required a change for its new post office there. Officials switched the name from Strawberry Point to Gustavus because of its close proximity to “Gustavus Point,” located at the mouth of Glacier Bay. Incidentally, many locals didn’t like the change and proceeded to refer to their beloved corner of the world as Strawberry Point for another quarter century.

Alright, so how did “Gustavus Point’ get its name?  Captain George Vancouver in 1793 named an area of the bay Point Adolphus – which today is a well known feeding area for humpback whales – after Adolphus Frederick, seventh son of King George III.  Nearly a hundred years later, in 1878, W.H. Dall, was surveying the coast and saw “Adolphus” on the map and assumed it was for Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus.  The point across Icy Straits from Point Adolphus at the mouth of Glacier Bay was not named on the map, so Dall called it “Gustavus.”

The “founders” of Gustavus Alaska is credited to three honeymoon couples who arrived in 1914 and set up camp along the Salmon River. Today, there are a little more than 400 residents; however, tens of thousands of visitors come every year to revel in this wilderness wonderland. Spectacular scenery, bounteous fishing, invigorating recreational opportunities are what attract tourists, and, of course, the chance to live amongst the Alaskan wildlife.

Gustavus AK has access to it all: glaciers, snow-capped peaks (and I mean peaks; measured at 15-thousand plus feet), fjords, lakes, rivers, national rainforest with a temperate climate, coastline and – are you ready for this – beaches.  Beaches!  Two hundred years ago, Gustavus was primarily a single large beach. Today, Gustavus has a beach surrounded on three sides by Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and on the fourth side by water.

Gustavus is a unique name in a unique corner of the world offering unique experiences to those adventurous enough to visit the “Last Frontier” in all its glory.

Image Source: http://cms.gustavus-ak.gov/

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