The picturesque town of Seward is, of course, named in honor of William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State during the administrations of Abraham Lincoln and his successor, Andrew Johnson.
Contrary to popular belief, the purchase of Alaska from Russia, which Seward negotiated in 1867 for $7.2 million (a price of less than 2¢ per acre; 35¢ in today’s dollars), was not viewed at the time by most Americans as “Seward’s Folly,” a phrase coined and publicized by newspaper publisher Horace Greeley, a political foe of Seward, in what today would be called “fake news.”
By 1845, most Americans had come to believe in the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States to expand its boundaries to the Pacific and beyond, and after the California Gold Rush in 1848-1855, Alaska would have certainly been a likely target for further exploration and settlement. In fact, it was just that thought that had motivated Russian Tzar Alexander II to send an envoy to America to solicit a buyer for the territory and that minister found a welcome partner in Secretary Seward whose ambition was not limited to the acquisition of Alaska. To understand the motivation of Seward fully, you need to know that he had already attempted to acquire the Danish West Indies (today’s U.S. Virgin Islands) and part of today’s Dominican Republic, and after the purchase of Alaska, Seward briefly considered the acquisition of two other lands of the far north: Greenland and Iceland.
We spent several days in Seward and enjoyed its natural beauty and unhurried feel. Prior to WWII, fewer than 1,000 people lived here, but the population doubled to just over 2,000 souls in the decade of the 1940s. It took another 70 years, however, to add another 1,000 citizens.
Visiting Seward today, you’d never guess that the permanent resident population is less than 3,000 people. That’s probably because Seward, a deepwater port, is now a cruise ship terminal, which adds thousands of tourists to the mix in the summer time.
Seward is also the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad with service to Anchorage and Fairbanks. Besides carrying passengers, the railroad also hauls freight north from the port.
The town maintains a basic public campground on the waterfront, although it’s on a first-come, first-served, basis, which is why we opted not to stay there. Since we had reservations for two excursions, we couldn’t take the chance that there might not be any vacancy upon our arrival.
Seward is also the Gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, which we toured by water on the all-day cruise we went on the day after our arrival. There’s also a land component to the Park, the Harding Icefield, primarily accessible at Exit Glacier, so named because the first party to cross the icefield (in 1968), exited here. We trekked up to the face of the glacier, an easy hike.
In all, we saw most of what there is to see in this part of the Kenai. It’s a beautiful place when it’s not raining.
Now, we’re bound for Homer and Kachemak Bay on the other side of the peninsula.