Barrow is situated on the shores
of the Chukchi Sea, 330 miles above
the Arctic Circle. To its south is a vast region of undulating treeless plains
consisting of black mucky soil with a permanently frozen subsoil, known as
tundra, that slopes gradually upward to the Brooks Range, 200 miles south of
Barrow. The tundra on the North Slope is dotted by thousands of nameless lakes,
lagoons, streams, and ponds that remain frozen most of the year. During a brief period
from June to August, the tundra becomes a marsh of soft, lichenous soil. Sea ice is generally tight against shore in winter, and may
retreat offshore to considerable distance in summer. With a population of 4,417 in 2002,
Barrow is the only community in the North Slope incorporated as a first class
It is also the seat of North Slope Borough.
Some of Barrow's traditional ways echo life of the distant past.
sites in the area indicate the Inupiat Eskimos lived in the area as far back as
500 A.D. at Ukpeagvik, as Barrow is traditionally known.
The name means "place where owls are hunted."
Winter dwellings made of sod appear as mounds elevated about six feet
above the tundra. Scientists have uncovered five dozen dwelling mounds on the
southwestern edge of Barrow, identifying the
remains of 16 of them from the Birnirk culture, 500-900 A.D. The 20,000
artifacts found at the site suggest a continuous occupation of the area for the
past thousand years.
Barrow takes its modern name from Point Barrow, named in 1825
by Captain Beechey of the Royal Navy for Sir John Barrow, second secretary of
the British Admiralty. Beechey was plotting the Arctic coastline of North
America at the time and discovered the headland. Locally though, the name
In 1826, Thomas Elson and William Smythe were
the first Europeans to actually encounter Barrow Iņupiat when they landed
briefly both at Point Hope and Point Barrow. Extensive contact between Europeans
and the Barrow Iņupiat did not begin until the 1850s, when ships were sent out
in search of the lost Northwest Passage expedition of British explorer Sir John
By 1854, commercial
whaling vessels had begun to stop in Barrow. The whalers brought
firearms, ammunition and alcohol to trade for furs, ivory and baleen. The first
shore-based commercial whaling operation was
established at Barrow in 1884.
In 1886, Charles D. Brower arrived in Barrow as a whaling crew
member. Brower established a trading post at Barrow and became its first white settler. Eventually he learned Inupiaq, married
two Native women and sired 14 children. To this day, many of the community's
leaders, white and Eskimo, bear his surname.
By 1893, he and partner Tom Gordon were
running their own whaling operation. Their Cape Smythe Whaling and Trading
Company established the first store in Barrow in 1893.
Brower's whaling station, store, and home can still be seen in Barrow today.
The residential "suburb" of Barrow was named Browerville in his honor.
Antone Edwardsen, "came on a whaling ship way
back" and married a relative of Charles D. Brower. His original surname
was spelled Edvartsen. Can anyone supply more information on this settler?
In addition to bringing western goods and
technology, which forever changed the lives of the Iņupiat, commercial whalers
and traders were responsible for the introduction of many diseases. Population
decline from disease continued into the 1920s, when western medical care
introduced by the Presbyterian mission doctors and hospital began to save lives.
Barrow's first hospital was built in 1920 by the Board of Home Missions of the
Presbyterian Church. In 1936, the church turned the hospital and medical care
over to the United States government.
The first baby to arrive at the newly constructed Presbyterian hospital at Barrow was Eben Hopson, born November 7, 1922. Eben
was the son of Alfred "Al" (born Point Barrow December 23, 1898) and Maggie
Hopson, and the grandson of Alfred Henley Hopson, a whaler from Liverpool,
England, who settled in Barrow in 1886. From 1972 to 1978, Eben would be
elected Borough Mayor of the North Slope Borough. More on Eben Hopson
Leander M. Stevenson,
Barrow's first Presbyterian missionary and teacher, arrived at Point Barrow in 1890. At age 45,
he had contracted to stay only a year, but he ended up staying seven, even
though he had a wife and children in the Lower 48. His first school was in the
Rescue Station, built to house shipwrecked sailors for the winter. His first
class consisted of eight students who couldnt speak English, and he couldnt
speak Eskimo. Four years later he got lumber from the Presbyterian Mission Board, built the first school
and the first mission house.
Dr. and Mrs. Horatio Marsh replaced Leander Stevenson in 1897.
It was during Dr. Marshs stay at Barrow that the caribou herds diminished and
when 300 seamen became stranded in the village, food supplies ran low. Sheldon
Jackson sent 400 reindeer from Teller. Dr. Marsh, once everyone was fed, took
over the supervision of the remaining herd and trained local Eskimos to take
care of them. Marsh transferred to southeast Alaska in 1903, but not
before he formally organized the Presbyterian Church in Barrow.
By 1899, there
was a Presbyterian Church here, and in 1901 a post office opened. Eskimo elder
Alfred Hopson, recounting those times, said it was at the Presbyterian Church in
1906 that the famed explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson measured the heads of all the
people in Barrow. Stefansson, who was thereafter known as "Head Measure,"
returned again for more exploration in 1914.
In 1934, Percy lpalook was the first Iņupiaq to
be ordained into the ministry. Reverend Roy Ahmaogak, who was ordained in 1946,
translated the New Testament into the Inupiaq language in the mid-1960s. Prior
to this, Iņupiaq had not been a formal written language. In 1970, Reverend
Samuel Simmonds became the first Iņupiaq minister to serve as pastor of the
The first school was built in Barrow in 1894,
when the U.S. government took over education from the church. The Bureau of
Indian Affairs took over Native education in the 1930s. Over the years there
were many Iņupiat who became teachers and who worked at the school. In the early
1900s, Annie Kullaluk, originally from Wainwright, was one of the first Iņupiat
teachers. Marvin Peter and Qinaqtaq were expert baleen basket weavers who taught
the children this craft at school in the 1930s and 1940s.
The City was incorporated in 1958.
Formation of the North Slope Borough in 1972, the Arctic Slope Regional
Corporation, and construction of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and Trans-Alaska
Pipeline have each contributed to the development of Barrow. Today, tax revenues
from the North Slope oil fields fund borough-wide services.
A federally recognized tribe is located in the community -- the Native
Village of Barrow; Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope. 64% of the population
are Alaska Native or part Native. The majority of residents are Inupiat Eskimos
and Barrow is one of the world's largest Eskimo settlements. Traditional marine
mammal hunts and other subsistence practices are an active part of the culture.
Whale hunting has been a feature of Barrow life, as Inupiat whalers pursued
migrating bowhead, gray, killer and beluga whales to feed the community.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whaling vessels from New England
arrived, and Barrow helped in those hunts as well. Continuing an ancient
Inupiat tradition, an annual bowhead whale hunt and festival is held every
spring. Though the old ways are heavily present in Barrow, modern
conveniences, traditions, and ways of life are entering more and more into the
The climate of Barrow is arctic. Precipitation is light, averaging 5 inches,
with annual snowfall of 20 inches. Temperatures range from -56 to 78, averaging
40 during summer. The sun does not set between May 10th and August 2nd each
summer, and does not rise between Nov. 18th and January 24th each winter. The
daily minimum temperature is below freezing 324 days of the year. Prevailing
winds are easterly and average 12 MPH. The Chukchi Sea is typically ice free from mid-June through October.
City - City of Barrow, P.O. Box 629, Barrow, AK 99723,
Phone 907-852-5211, E-mail:
Village Council - Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope,
P.O. Box 934, Barrow, AK 99723, Phone 907-852-4227
Village Council - Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Trad. Gov't., P.O. Box
1130, Barrow, AK 99723, Phone 907-852-4411