Craig is a community on the western coast of Prince of Wales Island approximately 56 miles (90 km) northwest of Ketchikan and 220 miles (350 km) south of Juneau, Alaska. This is the largest town on Prince of Wales Island, which is the fourth largest island in the United States. The town was named for Craig Miller who started the fish processing industry here. The site was historically a seasonal fish camp used for millennia by Tlingit to gather herring. The Tlingit name is Shaan Seet, named for the small strait separating Prince of Wales Island from Fish Egg Island. The Haida people also used the site since moving onto Prince of Wales Island from Haida Gwaii (British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands) starting in the 18th century.
With the help of local Haida residents, a fish saltery was built on Fish Egg Island in 1907 by Craig Miller. Between 1908 and 1911, he also constructed the Lyndenburger Packing Company and cold storage plant at the present site of Craig. In 1912, a post office, a school, a sawmill, and a salmon cannery were constructed. Production at the cannery and sawmill peaked during World War I. Seacoast Packing Company purchased the Craig cannery in 1929. The town’s population grew through the 1930s as pink salmon runs hit records. Operations came to an abrupt end in 1957 when the cannery burned down, which was the fate of nearly half of the 135 canneries built between 1878 and 1949 in Southeast Alaska. By 1949, Southeast Alaska had just 37 operating canneries due to fires and the consolidation of the industry. The fires were caused by a number of factors, including crude construction of all wooden buildings, use of flammable heating oil and improper storage of oily waste, boilers that operated at high temperatures and pressures, and inadequate fire suppression equipment. Industry consolidation resulted from declining production due to depleted salmon stocks. In 1998, Ward Cove Packing Company acquired the site for use as a seasonal maintenance facility and in 2007, the city purchased the site for potential future development.
When commercial fishing collapsed, the city signed a 50-year timber contract with the U.S. Forest Service and for several decades the timber industry flourished. In 1972, Ed Head built a large sawmill 6 miles (10 km) from Craig near the village of Klawock, which provided year-round jobs and helped to stabilize the local economy. Head Mill was sold in the early 1990s to Viking Lumber. Craig’s population grew steadily until the late 1990s and 2000s when the timber industry declined dramatically due to concerns about ecological destruction caused by poor forest management practices, one of the 9 planetary boundaries. Without another industry to support the local economy, many people left Craig. Today, the town relies on a balance of subsistence and commercial fishing, fish processing, and the timber industry. Read more here and here. Explore more of Craig and Prince of Wales Island here: