Portage, Turnagain Arm

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Portage, Turnagain Arm

by | Oct 29, 2018

Portage is a ghost town at milepost 64.2 on the Alaska Railroad on Turnagain Arm, about 47 miles (76 km) south of Anchorage, Alaska. Portage was once a major station for trains and had 20 buildings and a population of 100 in the early 1960s. The community was almost destroyed by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake when the ground subsided about 8 feet (2.4 m), and subsequent tidal flooding buried the remains of the town with silt. Residents abandoned the area as it was impossible to rebuild. Little remains of the town today but the ruins of a few buildings, abandoned vehicles, and a “ghost forest” of trees that died from saltwater inundation.

The community was named for the Portage Valley, and the Portage Glacier. Portage Glacier was a local name first recorded in 1898 by Thomas Corwin Mendenhall of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, so-called because it is on a historical 14 mile (23 km) portage route between Prince William Sound and Turnagain Arm. The portage was used by Natives, Russian and American explorers, and by prospecting miners. During World War II, the U.S. Army constructed a military facility, complete with port and railroad near the Whittier Glacier on Prince William Sound, and named the facility Camp Sullivan (now called Whittier). A spur of the Alaska Railroad to Camp Sullivan was completed through the Portage Valley in 1943, using a tunnel through the mountains, and the port became the entrance for U.S. soldiers into Alaska.

Today Portage is still an important railroad and highway junction linking the Seward Highway and the Alaska Railroad to Whittier and Prince William Sound through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. Read more here and here. Explore more of Portage and Turnagain Arm here:

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