Nenana is located in Interior Alaska, 55 road miles southwest of
Fairbanks on the George Parks Highway. Nenana is located at mile 412 of
the Alaska Railroad, on the south bank of the Tanana River, just east of
the mouth of the Nenana River. It lies 304 road miles northeast of
Anchorage. It lies at approximately 64░ 34' N Latitude, 149░ 05' W
Longitude (Sec. 14, T004S, R008W, Fairbanks Meridian). The community is
located in the Nenana Recording District. The area encompasses 6 sq.
miles of land and 0 sq. miles of water.
Nenana is in the western-most portion of Tanana Athabascan Indian
territory. It was first known as Tortella, an interpretation of the
Indian word "Toghotthele," which means "mountain that parallels the
river." Early explorers such as Allen, Harper and Bates first entered
the Tanana Valley in 1875 and 1885. However, the Tanana people were
accustomed to contact with Europeans, due to trading journeys to the
Village of Tanana, where Russians bartered Western goods for furs.
discovery of gold in Fairbanks in 1902 brought intense activity to the
region. A trading post/roadhouse was constructed by Jim Duke in 1903, to
supply river travelers and trade with Indians. St. Mark's Episcopal
mission and school was built upriver in 1905. Native children from other
communities, such as Minto, attended school in Nenana. A post office
opened in 1908. By 1909, there were about 12,000 residents in the
Fairbanks area, most drawn by gold mining activities. In 1915,
construction of the Alaska Railroad doubled Nenana's population.
The Nenana Ice Classic
- a popular competition to guess the date and time of the Tanana River
ice break-up each spring - began in 1917 among surveyors for the Alaska
Railroad. The community incorporated as a city in 1921. The Railroad
Depot was completed in 1923, when President Warren Harding drove the
golden spike at the north end of the 700-foot steel bridge over the
Tanana River. Nenana now had a transportation link to Fairbanks and
Seward. According to local records, 5,000 residents lived in Nenana
during this time, however, completion of the railroad was followed by an
economic slump. The population in 1930 was recorded at 291.
In 1961, Clear Air Force Station was constructed 21 miles southwest,
and many civilian contractors commuted from Nenana. A road was
constructed south to Clear, but north, vehicles were ferried across the
Tanana River. In 1967 the community was devastated by one of the largest
floods ever recorded in the Tanana Valley. In 1968, a $6 million bridge
was completed across the Tanana River, which gave the city a road link
to Fairbanks and replaced the River ferry. The George Parks Highway was
completed in 1971, which provided a shorter, direct route to Anchorage.