Today many people in the Quincy area visit Alaska at least once to see the mountains, fjords, wildlife, and native culture and history. Few travelers visited Alaska in the 19th century, but Edward Jarvis (E.J.) Parker and his second wife Elizabeth Goodwin (Lizzy) Bull did in the summer of 1895. They traveled on the Queen, one of the earliest Alaska steamers for tourists.
Alaska had first been explored by Captain James Cook in 1778. The territory was settled in the early 19th century by Russians, who came for sea otter fur. When the territory was sold to the United States in 1867, there were few otters left and the Russians were in financial difficulties. The purchase was called “Seward’s Folly,” for William H. Seward, who served as secretary of state for Presidents Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Few Americans saw the value in the $5,700,000 purchase.
The naturalist and explorer John Muir visited Alaska in 1879 and wrote about the beauty and wonder of the region. It is likely, the Parkers read about that well-publicized expedition but few Americans traveled there to see for themselves. The Parkers visited before the famous Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 and the equally famous two-month scientific, artistic, and literary expedition of Edward Harriman in 1899. The Harriman expedition included the photographer Edward Curtis, John Muir, and many other “Easterners.” Their expedition went as far as Siberia.
E. J. Parker was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1842. He came to Quincy in 1863 to work with the banking firm of Lorenzo and Charles H. Bull, known as the L. & C. H. Bull Bank, later to become the State Savings, Loan & Trust Co. He was a successful businessman who was also treasurer of the Quincy, Omaha & Kansas City Railroad Company, director and secretary of the Quincy Paper Company, and a director of the Street Railway Company. Though not a signatory of the Articles of Incorporation, he was on the first Board of Trustees for the Charitable Aid and Hospital Association (Blessing Hospital) in 1877.
In Quincy, Parker is known as one of the founders of the Quincy Park System, which began in July 1888 as the Quincy Boulevard and Park Association. According to Past and Presentof the City of Quincy and Adams County, “…it is particularly fortunate that Quincy should enjoy the benefit of his genius in park development.”
E. J. Parker was first married in 1868 to the daughter of Quincy lawyer Nehemiah Bushnell. Mrs. Parker was active in the community and served on the executive committee of Blessing Hospital in 1878. She remained involved with the hospital until her death in October, 1885. As a widower, Parker traveled west to see Yellowstone National Park, which had been designated the first national park in America in 1872.
Parker remarried in September 1888 to Lizzy Bull (1847-1929), the daughter of Lorenzo Bull. Lizzy Bull was a friend of the family who served on the executive committee of Blessing Hospital with the first Mrs. Parker, who was her aunt. Lizzy was the treasurer of the committee from 1878 to 1881. Later she was president of the executive committee and played a significant role in starting the training school for nurses in 1891.
The Parkers traveled extensively, to the “Pacific slopes,” as stated in the Quincy Daily Journal in 1889 and sometimes to the east coast to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean. But their trip to Alaska in 1895 must have been arduous as that part of the world was not easy to visit.
The Parker’s trip to Alaska began in July on the Canada Pacific Railroad. Along the route, they visited Glacier National Park which was adjacent to the railroad route and was established in 1886. They went on to Victoria, British Columbia, where they boarded the steamer Queen. Most voyages on the Queen took eleven days to sail up and back viewing and visiting the towns on the Alaska coast. Their entire trip lasted five weeks.
The Parkers saw only about 200 miles of the coastline, stopping at Mission Station, Juneau, and the Muir Glacier, among other points of interest. Alaska at that time had very few primitive roads, no railroad, and no National Parks. Most travel was by steamers with winter travel by dogsled. Alaska was not even a US territory. It was designated as a district, had no delegate in Congress, and was ignored by the national government.
One of the other passengers on the Queen was Sheldon Jackson, the U. S. director of education in Alaska. He told of his efforts, the intelligence of the natives, and the lack of support in Washington. The passengers were moved enough to give Mr. Jackson $500 to further his work. Mr. Parker told the Quincy Daily Herald, “…Alaska might have been prosperous and populated a dozen years ago but for governmental neglect. … The church is doing more than the government.” He also stated that the main problems of the natives were “… vicious whites and intoxicants.”
The Presbyterians had been in Alaska since the 1870s, although the first missionaries were from the Russian Orthodox Church. Mr. Parker cites the Presbyterians for doing “excellent work.” Of the glacier, he said, “It is simply indescribable. It must be seen and heard to be appreciated.”
On their way home, the Parkers visited two national parks, Yosemite, which became a National Park in 1890, and Yellowstone. Mr. Parker had previously visited but felt the parks were much improved with the wildlife returning after the government established stricter rules for hunting game. The couple toured Yellowstone by riding 150 miles in a stage coach. Even though the Parkers had been pioneer travelers to Alaska, upon arriving home, Mr. Parker told the newspaper reporter, “… if one can visit but one place, that place should be Yellowstone Park of all the places in the world.”
“Alaska Wonders,” The Quincy Daily Journal, August 23, 1896. (Available: Online via Quincy Public Library)
Collins, William H. and Perry, Cicero F. Past and Present of Adams County.Chicago: S. J.Clarke Publishing Co., 1905. (Available: Online via Library of Congress)
“Death of Mrs. E. J. Parker,” The Quincy Daily Whig, October 22, 1885. (Available: Online via Quincy Public Library)
“Local and General News,” The Quincy Daily Journal, March 15, 1889.
“Local and General News,” Quincy Daily Journal, July 11, 1890.
“Personal,” The Quincy Daily Whig, August 24, 1886.
“Personal,” The Quincy Daily Whig, August 23, 1895.
“Wild and Wooly West,” The Quincy Daily Herald, August 23, 1895.