1899 edifice traces Skagway's history

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SKAGWAY, Alaska -- As Alaska's first incorporated city, Skagway has a storied tradition.

Much of that story centers around the gold rush and the McCabe College building.

Built in 1899, the granite structure functioned as a college for only one year because of the much greater interest in the gold rush.

Skagway was the port of choice to begin the journey to the Yukon gold fields. The town was then Alaska's most populated spot, fluctuating between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

In 1901 the federal government took over the McCabe Building and made it a federal courthouse, an appropriate move as the town had become infamous for its lawlessness.

"The Canadian Mounties called it 'the roughest place on earth,' " said Buckwheat Donohue, executive director of the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The building functioned as a courthouse until 1961, when the city converted it into a city hall and added a museum. Recently, it underwent a $2.6 million renovation and expansion, quadrupling its overall size and enlarging the museum to attract more tourists, according to Donohue. Skagway depends heavily on tourism.

"Ninety-five percent of total yearly revenue comes from the tourist industry," he said.

With the expanded museum, the town hopes its gilded past, on display there, will draw more tourists and their dollars.

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