The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
Q - The women of Gustavus have always seemed to participate in quilt making whether an individual effort or a community-wide project. Does GHAA have any information or examples of early quilt making from the pioneering Gustavus settler days?
A - Yes we do! And what a beautiful example from the earliest possible days! It is doubtful that an earlier sample will ever be identified or found, as it would be impossible to “go back” further than Verne and Janet Henry and The Honeymoon Ranch.
Here’s the story. In May 1914, Verne Henry and his friends, Bill Taggert and Jack Davis found their way to Strawberry Point via a steamer to Juneau and cannery tender to the Point. They rowed their way a couple of hundred yards up Salmon River on a high tide and in pouring rain and their history in Gustavus began. (See Hope and Hard Work by Jim Mackovjak, Chapter 1 for detailed descriptions of their lives in Gustavus from tents, to log cabin, agricultural endeavors and loss of their homestead dreams.)
Fast forward to the sixties. After Verne Henry’s death in 1965, Phil Henry (grandson of Verne and Janie) was the first of the Henry family to return to Gustavus. He was able to locate the ruins of The Honeymoon Ranch, and walk in some of the steps of his enterprising ancestors. Locals were thrilled to meet him and were very interested to find that Janie was still alive. In late fall 1966 at the age of 74, Janie accepted an invitation to return to Gustavus (her first visit since their arrival more than 50 years ago) and reportedly was treated like a celebrity. She impressed the locals by her still-young, indomitable spirit and expressed her pleasure by writing that her trip was a beautiful, perfect dream come true, marred by not a single unpleasant experience. Since that time other Henry family members have come to explore and have always been welcomed with open arms. Verne and Janie’s granddaughter purchased a piece of land in Gustavus to keep the historical connection of her grandparents homestead dreams and love of Strawberry Point alive. Although it was sold in 2005, the family expressed to GHAA a strong desire to return once again to the land of their ancestors. We will let everyone know when a visit is planned!
On October 30, 2006, Sally Lesh received a letter from Vern and Janie’s daughter telling of a quilt top her mother had pieced together during the 4+ years she was at Strawberry Point 1914 to late 1918. Nothing had ever been done with the quilt so it had languished all these years as an unfinished project. Granddaughter Lisa had a group of Pennsylvania Mennonites finish the hand-quilting for a donation and the story of the Henry’s early experiences in Alaska. A photo of the finished quilt was forwarded to GHAA and that is how we can bring this beautiful part of Strawberry Point history into your home.
Janie Henry, before her death, told daughter Judy that the pattern of this wonderful piece of early Gustavus work was called “Garden Path”. Did the short summers of experimental plantings and oft-times discouraging work tending their gardens (a positive outcome an absolute necessity if there would be food for the table come long, harsh winters) influence her choice of pattern? Though it’s fun to contemplate, we’ll never really know.
Quilt lovers enjoy!
GHAA Note: Go to www.GustavusHistory.org and click on artifacts to see a photo of the Henry quilt.