Point Lena is located on Favorite Channel, between Point Stephens to the north and Point Louisa to the south, and is the site of an infamous historical shipwreck and the present-day Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute, about 63 miles (102 km) south-southeast of Haines and 14 miles (23 km) northwest of Juneau, Alaska. The point was named in 1880 by Commander Lester A. Beardslee of USS Jamestown, reputedly after Lena Vanderbilt, the wife of Captain John M. Vanderbilt, master of the little coastal trading steamer Favorite. Beardslee also named Favorite Channel and Vanderbilt Reef. The Vanderbilts came to Alaska in 1875 and lived at Wrangell, Killisnoo, and Sitka. John Vanderbilt was a partner with Edward DeGroff in the North West Trading Company that established a trading post and whaling station at Killisnoo. Point Lena is formed by bedrock representing the western metamorphic belt of the Coast Plutonic-Metamorphic complex that runs through most of the Southeast Alaska mainland. The bedrock consists of northwest trending, foliated metamorphic rock of the Gravina Island Formation. These metamorphic rocks generally overlie rocks of the Gastineau Volcanic group, which consists of greenstone and tuff. Pleistocene glaciers covered most of the area and ice scouring significantly modified the surface topography. A small portion of Point Lena is covered by glacial deposits consisting of mixed pebble, cobble, or boulder gravel in a sandy matrix generally more than 5 feet (1.5 m) thick.
Point Lena is the traditional territory of Tlingit people of the Aakʼw Kwa’an that had a village about 3 miles (5 km) south at Indian Point, a place known for a large historical herring spawn that attracted other wildlife such as salmon, sea birds and marine mammals. This made Indian Point an excellent subsistence location. The herring spawn was so significant that people came from Klukwan and Taku to share in the bounty. During the Russian occupation of Tlingit territory, the Aak’w people continued living a traditional subsistence lifestyle supplemented by trading. After the Alaska Purchase in 1867, establishment of some of the world’s largest gold mining complexes near present-day Juneau changed the Aak’w Kwa’an lifestyle as the people transitioned to a cash economy and moved away from the village to the mine sites for employment. In 1907, Tongass National Forest was created by presidential proclamation, but the Federal government did not recognize the Aak’w Kwa’an homeland at Indian Point and the area became Federal property. By 1980, herring had stopped spawning at Indian Point because of aggressive commercial fishing, and when the herring spawn was lost, the area became less attractive for subsistence activities. In 1996, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed to build a facility at Indian Point but there was strong opposition from the Aak’w Kwa’an resulting in a land trade for an active rock quarry at Point Lena, which is now the site of the Ted Stevens Marine Reseach Institute and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
SS Princess Kathleen was a passenger and freight steamship built by John Brown & Company at Clydebank, Scotland and launched in 1924. She sailed from Glasgow to Vancouver via the Panama Canal on her maiden voyage in 1925. She was operated by Canadian Pacific Steamships and served the coastal communities of British Columbia, Alaska, and Washington. On September 7, 1952, Princess Kathleen ran aground at Point Lena. The crew tried to reverse off the rocks; however, as the tide rose, the ship’s stern did not have enough buoyancy and flooded. All passengers and crew were transferred to lifeboats and brought to shore as Princess Kathleen slid into deeper water and then sank. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company determined that salvage was too costly and believed the temperature of the water would congeal the fuel oil making leakage unlikely. In the summer of 2009, residents reported oil sheens and even small tar balls near Point Lena, and the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation initiated an assessment of Princess Kathleen to evaluate the vessel’s condition and determine the source of oil. The vessel was found lying on its port side at a depth ranging from 52 feet (16 m) at the bow to 134 feet (41 m) at the stern. Using ship plans obtained from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, two remotely operated underwater vehicles were able to examine the vessel’s exterior and make a cursory assessment of the interior. Bunker fuel was found trapped throughout the starboard side of the vessel and subsequently removed. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point Lena and Favorite Channel here: