The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
www.GustavusHistory.org - by Lee & Linda Parker
Letter submitted July 17, 2012 from GHAA, to the Gustavus City Council & Road Committee, regarding the renaming of Tong Road:
Gustavus Historical Archives and Antiquities, a 501(c)3 nonprofit group since 2006 has dedicated itself to the mission of preserving the history of Strawberry Point/Gustavus for permanent record of historic fact.
We believe that the historic record is the sum of the fabric that over time has woven together the very heart and soul of this community and creates an identity that belongs to all of us.
It is for this reason that Gustavus History is taking a position against the renaming of Tong Road. The road was named at a time when the very mention of its name informed the listener where it was you were going and who you were going to visit—the Tongs. It will soon be 40 years since this has been so.
The Tongs were among the first wave of a small group of modern pioneers willing to move to Gustavus and brave hardship and few amenities to contribute to what it has now become. Upon their arrival in 1974, summer residents numbered about 250, and winter population dwindled to 60 or 70—give or take. The Tongs came with little more than a “how-to” house building book, a pile of lumber and a hand saw, a 5 yr. old son (Joe), and 1 yr. old daughter (Laura aka ”Pep”). Early contributions of Larry Tong included operating an 1899 printing press venture called “Homestead Press” in a little workshop beside his house with no electricity. He was an early Gustavus employee of the telephone company and Alaska Airlines, and was our second volunteer Fire Chief that serviced the flats by organizing a volunteer team. Mrs. Tong served early on as the dispatcher for local emergencies. Five years after they settled in (and the kids were 10 and 6) there was still only a one-room schoolhouse (kindergarten through eight grades) with six children enrolled. Daughter Pep (Tong) Scott, who as a child did her homework at home on an original Strawberry Point schoolhouse desk, is a current business owner and Assistant Fire Captain serving our community today. When the Tongs moved away in 1993, the fire hall was dedicated as “Tong Hall” in commemoration of service to the community. There is, in other words, an entire historical story woven behind the Tong Road name and family that deserves to remain preserved for all time.
The location of Tong Road is well known and understood by the entire community. The Tong Road curves sharply to the south as it always has before the Unreins built their little offshoot access road to Glacier Bay Country Inn. But if it is true (as we have heard suggested) that the curved southern portion technically requires a new name, then the name Tong should be preserved in the form of Tong Lane, Tong Street, etc.—but the name Tong should remain. However, it is our belief in keeping with the historical record of Gustavus that the entire road beginning to end should undergo no change at all.
In addition, there is a question raised whether or not the petition signed by several Tong Road residents was presented in any other light than the requirement to rename the road as a “done deal”—with signatures in basic acknowledgement of that fact and therefore in agreement. It has come to our attention that there may now be regret on the part of some in signing a petition without the advantage of fair and unbiased representation, discussion, or options. Whether or not that is true, or to what extent communications or persuasions among some of the neighbors may have been defective is not within our scope to substantiate. In any case, the historical roots of Gustavus belong not only to residents currently living on Tong Road (who may or may not sign a petition and be gone tomorrow) but to the entire community—preserved for the duration of time.
Gustavus History asks those who are responsible in making these decisions to not take lightly the historical record of this community. In the renaming of a nearly 40 year landmark road, history should not be erased to satisfy the creative desires of a few who might wish (for whatever reason) to do so. Thank you.
Author’s update: GHAA has been advised as of July 23 that the effort to rename Tong Road has been dropped for now—but with a possibility it may resurface at a future date. GHAA maintains that the history of Tong Road should be preserved over any new policy or reorganized attempt that might pave the way for the deconstruction of our historical roots.