The city is named after gold prospector Joe Juneau, though the place was for a time called Rockwell and then Harrisburg (after Juneau's co-prospector, Richard Harris). The Tlingit name of the town is Dzántik'i Héeni ("Base of the Flounder’s River", dzánti ‘flounder’, –kʼi ‘base’, héen ‘river’), and Auke Bay just north of Juneau proper is called Áak'w ("Little lake", áa ‘lake’, -kʼ ‘diminutive’) in Tlingit. The Taku River, just south of Juneau, was named after the cold t'aakh wind, which occasionally blows down from the mountains.
Juneau is rather unusual among U.S. capitals in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska or to the rest of North America (although ferry service is available for cars). The absence of a road network is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city. This in turn makes Juneau a de-facto island city in terms of transportation, since all goods coming in and out must go by plane or boat, in spite of the city being located on the Alaskan mainland. Downtown Juneau sits at sea level, with tides averaging 16 feet (5 m), below steep mountains about 3,500 feet (1,100 m) to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) high. Atop these mountains is the Juneau Icefield, a large ice mass from which about 30 glaciers flow; two of these, the Mendenhall Glacier and the Lemon Creek Glacier, are visible from the local road system. The Mendenhall glacier has been gradually retreating; its front face is declining both in width and height.
The Alaska State Capitol in downtown Juneau was originally built as the Federal and Territorial Building in 1931. Prior to statehood, it housed federal government offices, the federal courthouse and a post office. It also housed the territorial legislature and many other territorial offices, including that of the governor. Today, Juneau remains the home of the state legislature and the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor. Some other executive branch offices have moved elsewhere in the state. Recent discussion has been focused between relocating the seat of state government outside of Juneau and building a new capitol building in Juneau; neither position has advanced very far. The Alaska Committee, a local community advocacy group, has led efforts to keep the capital in Juneau.
Long before European settlement in the Americas, the Gastineau Channel was a favorite fishing ground for local Tlingit Indians, known then as the Auke and Taku tribes, who had inhabited the surrounding area for thousands of years. The native cultures are rich with artistic traditions including carving, weaving, orating, singing and dancing, and Juneau has become a major social center for the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian of Southeast Alaska.
The first European to see the Juneau area was Joseph Whidbey, master of the Discovery during George Vancouver’s 1791-95 expedition, who explored the region in July–August 1794. Early in August he saw the length of Gastineau Channel from the south, noting a small island in mid-channel. He later saw the length of the channel again, this time from the west. He said it was unnavigable, being filled with ice.
In 1880, Sitka mining engineer George Pilz offered a reward to any local chief who could lead him to gold-bearing ore. Chief Kowee (Tlingit Kaawa.ée) arrived with some ore and several prospectors were sent to investigate. On their first trip, to Gold Creek, they found deposits of little interest. However, at Chief Kowee's urging, Pilz sent Joe Juneau and Richard Harris back to the Gastineau Channel, directing them to Snow Slide Gulch (the head of Gold Creek) where they found nuggets "as large as peas and beans", in Harris' words.
Juneau City in 1887
On October 18, 1880, the two men marked a 160-acre (650,000 m2) town site where soon a mining camp appeared. Within a year, the camp became a small town, the first to be founded after Alaska's purchase by the United States. During this time period, prospector and placer minerJohn Lemon operated in what is today the Lemon Creek area. The neighborhood that grew around where he prospected and several other landmarks there have been named after John Lemon.
The town was originally called Harrisburg, after Richard Harris; some time later, its name was changed to Rockwell, after Lt. Com. Charles Rockwell. In 1881, the miners met and renamed the town Juneau, after Joe Juneau. In 1906, after the diminution of the whaling and fur trade, Sitka, the original capital of Alaska, declined in importance and the seat of government was moved to Juneau. Juneau was the largest city in Alaska during the inter-war years, passing Fairbanks in the 1920 census and being displaced by Anchorage in 1950.
In 1911, the United States Congress authorized funds for the building of a capitol building for the Alaska Territory. Because of World War I, construction was delayed, and there were difficulties purchasing the necessary land. Local citizens of Juneau donated some of the required funds, and construction began on September 8, 1929. Construction of the capitol took less than two years, and the building was dedicated as the Federal and Territorial Building on February 14, 1931. The design of the building was drawn up by Treasury Department architects in the Art Deco architectural style. The building was originally used by the federal government to house the federal courthouse and post office. Since Alaska gained statehood in 1959, the building has been used by the state government.
The Alaska Governor's Mansion was commissioned under the Public Building Act in 1910. The mansion was designed by James Knox Taylor in the Federal Style. Construction took two years and was completed in 1912. The territorial governor at that time was the first governor to inhabit the mansion, and he held the first open house to the citizens on January 1, 1913. The area of the mansion is 14,400 square feet (1,340 m2). This is where the governor resides when he or she is in Juneau for official business. The mansion contains ten bathrooms, six bedrooms, and eight fireplaces. In June 1923, President Warren G. Harding became the first president to visit Alaska. Harding visited the Governor's Mansion while Governor Scott Bone, who was appointed by Harding, was in office. Harding spoke from the porch of the Governor's Mansion explaining his policies and meeting the people.
Robert Atwood, then publisher of the Anchorage Times and an Anchorage 'booster,' was an early leader in capital move efforts—efforts which many in Juneau and Fairbanks resisted. One provision required the new capital to be at least 30 miles (48 km) from Anchorage and Fairbanks, to prevent either city from having undue influence; in the end Juneau remained the capital. In the 1970s, voters passed a plan to move the capital to Willow, a town 70 miles (110 km) north of Anchorage. But pro-Juneau people there and in Fairbanks got voters to also approve a measure (the FRANK Initiative) requiring voter approval of all bondable construction costs before building could begin. Alaskans later voted against spending the estimated $900 million. A 1984 "ultimate" capital-move vote also failed, as did a 1996 vote.
Alaskans thus several times voted on moving their capital, but Juneau remains the capital. Once Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, Juneau grew with the growth of state government. Growth accelerated remarkably after the construction of the Alaska Pipeline in 1977, the state budget being flush with oil revenues; Juneau expanded for a time due to growth in state government jobs, but that growth slowed considerably in the 1980s. The state demographer expects the borough to grow very slowly over the next twenty years. Cruise ship tourism rocketed upward from approximately 230,000 passengers in 1990 to nearly 1,000,000 in 2006 as cruise lines built more and larger ships—even 'mega-ships', sailing to Juneau seven days a week instead of six, over a longer season, but this primarily summer industry provides few year-round jobs.
In 2010, the city was recognized as part of the "Playful City USA" initiative by KaBOOM! created to honor cities that ensure that their children have great places to play.
Juneau is larger in area than the state of Delaware and was, for many years, the country's largest city by area. Juneau continues to be the only U.S. state capital located on an international border: it is bordered on the east by Canada. It is the U.S. state capital whose namesake was most recently alive: Joe Juneau died in 1899, a year after Otto von Bismarck (North Dakota).
As is the case throughout Southeast Alaska, the Juneau area is susceptible to damage caused by natural disasters. In 2014, an earthquake caused widespread outages to telecommunications in the area due to damage to a fiber optic cable serving the area. In April 2008, a series of massive avalanches outside Juneau heavily damaged the electrical lines providing Juneau with power, knocking the hydroelectric system offline and forcing the utility to switch to a much more expensive diesel system.
The Juneau area has a cool temperate climateCfb (Köppen) with four months whose average temperature is higher than 50 °F (10 °C) but pretty close to the Subarctic-Maritime climate (KöppenCfc with no more than three months above 50 °F (10 °C)). The city has a climate that is milder than its latitude may suggest, due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean. Winters are moist and long, but only slightly cold by Alaskan standards: the average low temperature is 23 °F (−5 °C) in January, and highs are frequently above freezing. Spring, summer, and fall are cool to mild, with highs peaking in July at 65 °F (18.3 °C). Snowfall averages 87.4 inches (222 cm) and occurs chiefly from November to March. Precipitation falls on an average 230 days per year, averaging 62.27 inches (1,580 mm) at the airport (1981–2010 normals), but ranging from 55 to 92 inches (1,400 to 2,340 mm), depending on location. The spring months are the driest while September and October are the wettest. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Juneau was −22 °F (−30.0 °C) on February 2, 1968 and January 12, 1972. The hottest temperature was 90 °F (32.2 °C) on July 7, 1975.
Records have been officially kept at downtown Juneau from January 1890 to June 1943, and at Juneau International Airport since July 1943; the normals and record temperatures for the downtown station are provided below.
Climate data for Juneau, Alaska (Juneau Int'l, 1981−2010 normals, extremes 1890–present)
There were 11,543 households out of which 36.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.2% were married couples living together, 10.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.8% were non-families. 24.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.10.
The age distribution of Juneau was as follows: 27.4% of the population was under the age of 18, 8.1% were from 18 to 24, 32.8% from 25 to 44, 25.7% from 45 to 64, and 6.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city/borough was $62,034, and the median income for a family was $70,284. Males had a median income of $46,744 versus $33,168 for females. The per capita income for the city/borough was $26,719. 6.0% of the population and 3.7% of families were below the poverty line, including 6.7% of those under the age of 18 and 3.9% of those 65 and older.
The "Welcome to Juneau" sign, located at the cruise port.
As the capital of Alaska, the primary employer in Juneau, by a large margin, is government. This includes the federal government, state government, municipal government (which includes the local airport, hospital, harbors, and school district), as well as the University of Alaska Southeast. State government offices and their indirect economic impact compose approximately one-quarter of Juneau's economy.
Fourth Street in downtown, looking easterly from the front of the Alaska State Capitol. The city's tallest building, the Mendenhall Towers, is partially visible in the background.
Another large contributor to the local economy, at least on a part-time basis, is the tourism industry. In 2005, the cruise ship industry was estimated to bring nearly one million visitors to Juneau for up to 11 hours at a time, between the months of May and September. While cruise ships do provide an economic boost to segments of the economy, not all locals are appreciative. The Juneau Public Library, built atop a parking garage along South Franklin Street near the Red Dog Saloon, was designed to take advantage of the view of and across Gastineau Channel. This view is often blocked by docking cruise ships, which tower over the five-story structure. Bill Ray, who lived in Juneau from 1938 to 2000 and represented the community in the Alaska Legislature from 1965 to 1987, was rather blunt in expressing his disdain when he paid a return visit in 2003: "Juneau doesn't go forward. They've prostituted themselves to tourism. It looks like a poor man's Lahaina".
The fishing industry is still a major part of the Juneau economy, while not the dominant player back in the days of the halibut schooner fleet. Juneau was recently the 49th most lucrative U.S. fisheries port by volume and 45th by value taking in 15 million pounds of fish and shellfish valued at 21.5 million dollars in 2004 according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. While the port of Juneau does comparatively little seafood processing compared to other towns of this size in Alaska, there are hundreds of commercial fishing boats who sell their fish to plants in nearby Sitka, Hoonah, Petersburg and Ketchikan. The largest fleets operating from Juneau are the gillnet and troll salmon fleets. Juneau is also the home to many of the commercial fishing associations in Alaska, as much of the activities of these groups involve lobbying the legislature. These associations include the Alaska Trollers Association, United Fishermen of Alaska, United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association and the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.
Real estate agencies, federally funded highway construction, and mining are apparently still viable non-government local industries.
Juneau's only power utility is Alaska Electric Light & Power (AEL&P). Most of the electricity in the borough is generated at the Snettisham Hydroelectric facility in the southern end of the borough, accessible only by boat or plane. In April 2008, an avalanche destroyed three transmission towers, forcing AEL&P to generate almost all of the borough's electricity with diesel-powered generators.
Wings of Alaska, an airline, has its headquarters in Juneau. As of Census 2010 there were 1,107 businesses with operations in Juneau borough and thus, with a population of 31,275, a per capita of roughly 28 people per business.
The city is home to Perseverance Theatre, Alaska's largest professional theater and the non-profit, Theatre in the Rough. The Juneau Symphony performs regularly. The Juneau Lyric Opera and Opera to Go are the two local opera companies. The JUMP Society hosts screenings of locally made short films two times a year.
Downtown Juneau has many art galleries that participate in the monthly First Friday Art Walk and annual Gallery Walk held in the first week of December. The Juneau Arts & Humanities Council coordinates events and operates the Juneau Arts & Culture Center which features a community center, gallery and lobby shop. The University of Alaska Southeast Campus offers lectures, concerts, and theater performances. Sealaska Heritage, the nonprofit affiliate of the Sealaska Corporation, operates The Walter Soboleff Building which is decorated by carvings and hosts ongoing cultural exhibits.
The City and Borough of Juneau operates under a council–manager form of government. The mayor is the titular head of the city, is the presiding officer (or chair) of the Juneau Assembly, and is one of three members of that body elected areawide. The remaining six members are elected by district: two districts have been defined by the Assembly, as of its last redistricting in 2003:
The districts nearly match those of the 31st and 32nd election districts recognized by the state. The main difference is that the 32nd District includes communities outside of the CBJ: Gustavus, Kupreanof, Petersburg, Skagway and Tenakee Springs. The Juneau Airport precinct is in the 31st district, which is otherwise identical to the 2nd Assembly District. Since Juneau was split into two districts by the state during redistricting in the early 1990s, the districts comprising downtown Juneau, Douglas Island and surrounding areas have exclusively elected Democrats to the Alaska House of Representatives, while the districts comprising Mendenhall Valley and surrounding areas have mostly elected Republicans. The 31st District is currently represented in the House by Republican Cathy Muñoz, who has been in office since 2009. The 32nd District is currently represented by Democrat Sam Kito III, who has been in office since the resignation of Beth Kerttula in 2014. Combined, these two election districts form Alaska Senate District P. That seat is held by Democrat Dennis Egan, a former Juneau mayor who has been in office since 2009. The last Republican to represent Juneau in the Senate was Elton Engstrom, Jr., the father of Cathy Muñoz, who left office in early 1971 following his unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1970.
Presidential Election Results for the City and Borough of Juneau 2004–2008
While more state jobs are currently based in Anchorage than in Juneau, the state government still maintains a substantial presence in Juneau. A number of executive branch departments, as well as the legislature, are based in Juneau. The legislature, in response to repeated pressure from Southcentral Alaska to move either the capital or the legislature, acquired and renovated several buildings in the vicinity of the Alaska State Capitol, which hold committee meeting rooms and administrative offices for the Legislative Affairs Agency. These buildings were named for former legislators Terry Miller and Thomas Stewart. Stewart, a Juneau native and son of early Juneau mayor B. D. Stewart, represented Juneau in the Senate during the 1st Alaska State Legislature, later serving in Juneau's Alaska Superior Court judgeship and noted as an authority on the latter territory/early statehood eras of Alaska's history.
The University of Alaska Southeast is located within the Auke Bay community right along the Auke Lake. The Juneau-Douglas Community College, founded in 1956, and the Southeastern Senior College, established in 1972, were merged in 1980 forming the University of Alaska Juneau. The University was restructured as the University of Alaska Southeast to include the Ketchikan and Sitka campuses. The university offers both degrees in undergraduate and graduate studies. The University of Alaska Southeast is known for its research in regards to the Tongass National Forest and the Juneau Icefield.
Juneau is not directly accessible by road, although there are road connections to several areas immediately adjacent to the city. Primary access to the city is by air and sea. Cars and trucks are transported to and from Juneau by barge or the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system.
An Alaska Marine Highway ferry boat docked in Juneau, Alaska.
The State-owned ferry is called the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). Local government operates a bus service under the name Capital Transit. There are also several taxicab companies, and tour buses used mainly for cruise ship visitors.
Juneau's roads remain separate from other roads in Alaska and in the Lower 48. However, fast car ferries connect Juneau with Haines and Skagway, needing around 5 hours travel time. There have been plans to connect Juneau to Haines and Skagway by road since before 1972, with funding for the first feasibility study acquired in 1987. The State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced in 2005 that the connection was to be provided partly by road, and partly by fast ferry. A 51-mile (82 km) road would be built on east side of Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal at the Katzehin River estuary. A ferry would take cars from the terminal to Haines and Skagway, where the cars could then access the rest of North America. In 2006, the project was estimated to cost $258 million, and in 2007, the estimate was increased to $350 million. Annual costs have been estimated from $2.1 million to $12 million, depending on the length of the road. The Western Federal Lands Center estimates the project will cost $491 million. As of 2009, $25 million has been spent on the project.
Local opinions on constructing a road link to the outside world are mixed. Some residents see such a road as a much-needed link between Juneau and the rest of the world which will also provide great economic benefits to the city, while many other residents are concerned about the project's financial costs along with environmental and social impacts.
Residents walk, hike, or ride bicycles for both recreational purposes and as transportation. The downtown area of Juneau has sidewalks, and the neighborhoods on the hill above downtown are accessible by foot. Some roads in the city also have bike lanes, and there is a bike path parallel to the main highway.
The city and borough is primarily served by Bartlett Regional Hospital located in Juneau's Twin Lakes area. The hospital also serves the nearby remote communities of Hoonah, Haines, and Skagway. Individuals in these communities must be airlifted to the hospital via helicopter or air ambulance (ranging from a 20-minute to a 45-minute flight, depending on location).
Juneau's only daily newspaper, the Juneau Empire, is published Sunday through Friday, no Saturday edition. There is also a regional weekly newspaper, the Capital City Weekly. The University of Alaska Southeast has The Whalesong, a college newspaper.
Public Radio: KTOO 104.3, KXLL "Excellent Radio" 100.7 and KRNN "Rain Country Radio" 102.7 (all 3 operated by KTOO).
Additionally, the studios of CoastAlaska (a regional public radio station consortium), are located in Juneau. AP (the Associated Press), Anchorage news outlets, and other Alaska media entities, send reporters to Juneau during the annual Legislative session.