Dillingham is a community on the south side of Snag Point at the junction of the Wood and Nushagak Rivers, on Bristol Bay, about 360 air miles (581 km) southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy was the first to chart the Bristol Bay region in 1778, but he did not venture into Nushagak Bay. The Russian American Company built a trading post at Nushagak Point across the river from present-day Dillingham in 1818 and a Russian Orthodox mission was built there in 1837.
The village of Dillingham was originally located 6 miles (9.7 km) to the southwest of Snag Point at a site occupied by a Yup’ik Native village recorded as “Kanakanak”. A courthouse was built in Kanakanak in 1903 and named after U.S. Senator William Paul Dillingham of Vermont, whose Senate subcommittee investigated conditions in Alaska following the 1898 gold rush. The post office and community later adopted the name, Dillingham. In 1918 and 1919, the global Spanish influenza pandemic struck Bristol Bay and left no more than 500 survivors. An Indian Health Service hospital and an orphanage were established after the epidemic and today is operated by the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation. In 1944, the name “Dillingham” was transferred to the current site at Snag Point and the old village was renamed “Nelsonville”, but today has reverted to “Kanakanak”.
In 1883, the Arctic Packing Company built the first cannery in Bristol Bay, and by 1903 a total of ten canneries had been built along the Nushagak River. Most of these canneries were closed for a variety of reasons, including coastal erosion, siltation, industry consolidation, and as production shifted to frozen salmon. In 1901, the Alaska-Portland Packers Association built a cannery near Snag Point. This cannery burned down in 1910 and was rebuilt the following year. It was acquired by Pacific American Fisheries in 1929, now known as Peter Pan Seafoods, and is still operational and the center of the Dillingham waterfront. Present-day industries around Dillingham are commercial salmon and herring fishing, seafood processing, sport fishing, government-related jobs, and tourism. Read more here and here. Explore more of Dillingham here: