Portlock, Port Chatham

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Portlock, Port Chatham

by | Dec 2, 2019

Portlock is the site of an abandoned cannery on the southern coast of the Kenai Peninsula, on the southern shore of Port Chatham, about 16 miles (26 km) south of Seldovia, and 9.8 miles (15.8 km) south-southeast of Port Graham, Alaska. Portlock was probably named for Nathaniel Portlock who served as a master’s mate on the third voyage of Captain James Cook from 1776-1780. Furs obtained by the expedition were sold for good prices when the ships stopped at Macao which developed an interest in commercial opportunities. In 1785, Richard Cadman Etches and associates, including Portlock and George Dixon, formed a private partnership called King George’s Sound Company to develop the fur trade in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. In September 1785, Portlock and Dixon sailed from England with Portlock in command of King George and Dixon in command of Queen Charlotte. In the summer of 1786, the ships anchored on what is now Port Chatham.

In 1911, the Seldovia Salmon Company built the first cannery in Lower Cook Inlet located at Seldovia, a town that had been in existence for more than 30 years. In 1912, the Fidalgo Island Packing Company built a cannery at Port Graham, and three years later a cold storage facility for cod and halibut was constructed at Portlock. The Alutiiq village of Port Chatham grew around the Portlock facility and in 1921 a post office was established. The English Bay, Port Graham, and Seldovia canneries obtained their fish either from nearby fish traps or from fishing boats that stayed fairly close to Kachemak Bay. In 1928, a new cannery was built in Portlock, and a larger facility was constructed there in 1930. The new Portlock cannery with more seaworthy fishing vessels resulted in the exploitation of the fisheries in Windy Bay, Rocky Bay, Port Dick, and other outer Kenai Peninsula sites.

Beginning in the late 1930s, villagers in Port Chatham were terrorized by a creature they called Nantiinaq. When several sheep hunters disappeared in the hills around Portlock, and their dismembered bodies reputedly later washed ashore in the lagoon, the residents of the community fled en masse to Port Graham. The Portlock post office officially closed between 1950 and 1951. Read more here and here. Explore more of Portlock here:

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