Gustavus: A Little Bit of Background

Gustavus is a city of approximately 429 people set on the shore of Icy Strait, 36 air miles from Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Located in the northern part of the panhandle of southeast Alaska, the town lies on an outwash plain created by the glacier as it receded back 200 years ago.

As the glacier receded, the land in Gustavus rose quickly with the effect of glacial rebound. Land that once was within the tidal zone is now high and dry and where grasses once predominated, spruce trees now tower. There is a long and colorful history of the evolution of Glacier Bay.

Historically, the area was used only seasonally by the Tlingit people for harvesting and smoking salmon. The first successful homestead patent was issued in 1923, although settlers were present here as early as 1917. Several families successfully homesteaded in Gustavus and their names live on here in their descendants as well as place names. Rink, Parker, Chase, White and Hall were among the families who settled the area.

The gradual population growth up through the 1970’s increased more rapidly with the arrival of electricity and regular barge service in the early 1980’s. Families arrived to purchase land from the original homesteaders, build their homes and seek their livelihood, charmed by the opportunity to live in a remote Alaska town with a strong sense of community.

Today, residents find seasonal and full time work in areas such as tourism, fishing, construction, and related service businesses, in addition to teaching, and government work. Many residents keep busy with gardens, fishing, and hunting that contribute significantly to their subsistence lifestyle.

In building their own homes, some chose the simplicity of living in small cabins without electricity, with others opting for modern homes. In fact, a common story line is that individuals generally started out with simple cabins, had families, and ended up with indoor plumbing. And though everyone who lives here might have a differing opinion on how things should be, Gustavus is strengthened by the diverse mix of folks who have found a common thread in the quality of life afforded by the rich environment and caring community. As one local character, Jon Traibush, was once quoted in a National Geographic article about Gustavus, “We’re all just citizens.”

To learn more about our pioneer history, visit

To learn more about history in the making, visit

Gustavus Dray
Small Cabin