Taku Lodge in 1923
The Taku Lodge may just be a 100-year-old building, but the people who have owned it are what truly make it fascinating. One of its most intriguing owners was Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne, who had a childhood any adventure-seeker would envy. As a Cuban orphan loose on the streets of New York, he spent his youth hopping freight trains and smuggling weapons, among other daring feats. But his life took a unique turn, eventually leading him to Alaska where he became a well-respected frontier doctor. As Alaska’s first Commissioner of Health and chief surgeon at the Alaska-Juneau and Treadwell mines, he left a profound impact on the state’s medical practices. Dr. DeVighne even had the opportunity to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the Governors mansion, solidifying his place among the most fascinating figures.
The Glacier in the 1920’s
A century ago, amidst the vibrant era of the Roaring Twenties, Dr. De Vighne built a private log lodge named Twin Glacier Camp, a mere 30 miles from Juneau. With this, he created something truly remarkable: a destination that would forever remain a place of gathering for generations to come. With the stunning glaciers and breathtaking surroundings of Alaska, Twin Glacier Camp became an ideal spot for visitors looking to indulge in the beauty of nature while escaping the hustle and bustle of city life. Now, a hundred years later, the legacy of Dr. De Vighne lives on, and the now Taku Glacier Lodge continues to be an enchanting and unforgettable spot for visitors seeking adventure and tranquility.
Taku Lodge Ownership in 1931
Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith was a multimillionaire at age nine thanks to his grandfather, Michigan lumber baron Charles Hackley. A French Foreign Legion/World War I veteran with shrapnel wounds, Hack found relief in alcohol, hunting, and the outdoors. A tall, good-looking fellow, he traveled widely, married twice, but fell in love with the Taku Lodge which he discovered cruising aboard his 62-foot yacht, the Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). Hack leased the lodge for $1,200 annually as a year-round home for himself and nurse/companion Mary Joyce. Hack’s mother, Erie L. Smith, was an indentured servant who became a multimillionaire heiress. After the 1929 stock market crash, she bought the lodge and Hack’s yacht, using it to bring visitors, supplies, and a Guernsey cow named Myra. Myra devoured Taku River salmon carcasses and made newspaper headlines for its strange salmon-flavored milk.
Upgrades to Taku Lodge in 1934
In three years at Taku Lodge, Hack and Mary built or commissioned a new outhouse, 5 new cabins, water system, electric generator, lodge fireplace, gardens, and Mary J, a 75-hp boat that cut their Juneau trip to three hours. They raised three Guernsey cows and bred and trained 15 Taku Husky sled dogs. Their guests included the rich and famous, outdoorsmen, and pilots. Everything changed in 1934. Hunting the Stikine River, Hack died of a heart attack in Wrangell. He was 38. Hack’s mother bequeathed Mary the Taku Lodge, $2,400 a year for life, and visited Mary each summer.
Invited to participate in the March 1936 Fairbanks Ice Carnival, the always adventurous Mary Joyce decided to make the 1,000-mile trip by dog sled. Setting out from the lodge just before Christmas in 1935 with five dogs and an overloaded sled, Mary spent three months on uncharted trails averaging twenty miles a day during 52 days of travel despite temperatures to fifty degrees below zero and few hours of daylight. A petite nurse, she became a national hero for thousands of downtrodden people during the Great Depression. “I just wanted to see if I could do it,” the spunky nurse told reporters. “Most Alaskan women can take care of themselves.” The sled and harness she used on the trip are on display at the Taku Lodge. Later Mary became a movie star in Tundra, a film shot at the lodge with imported bear cubs Tom and Jerry. In Orphans of the North, she played “Taku Mary.” She learned to fly, was a flight attendant for Pacific Alaska Airways, gave moonlit dogsled rides at Sun Valley, provided defense lessons for WWII soldiers, and was a consultant for construction of the Alaska Canada (AlCan) highway.
1942-1976: Becoming Taku Glacier Lodge
When the Japanese invaded Alaska’s Attu and Kiska islands in 1942, Mary sold the lodge to Juneau entertainers, Mr. and Mrs. Royal O’Reilly. In Juneau, Mary worked as a nurse at St. Ann’s Hospital, led the 1959 statehood parade, cut ribbons for the 1973 Iditarod race, and opened the Top Hat and Lucky Lady bars on South Franklin Street. Before her death in 1976, Mary told reporters, “I love Alaska. I never really lived until I came up here.” At her funeral someone commented, “Mary Joyce was one hell of a woman and lived a life that any man could envy.” The Taku Lodge became Taku Glacier Lodge in 1949.
From 1963-1968, the Alan Bixby family rescued and raised Nerf-Nerf, a baby moose that frequently got tangled in the laundry hanging outside to dry. Ron Maas purchased the lodge in 1971, married Kathy in front of the fireplace in 1972, raised their two children there, and spent six years restoring the lodge during winters, working in Juneau during the summer. In 1979, they offered a Wilderness Salmon Bake & Scenic Flight. Their vision of a day trip to the lodge secured the lodge’s success. Scarface, a local black bear, often slept on the Killisnoo cabin porch and delighted guests for 14 years.
Current owners Ken and Michelle Ward bought the lodge from the Maas family in 1993. Raised in Ketchikan, Ken moved to Juneau in 1967, served in the US Navy in Vietnam, and started Ward Air, an air taxi business he owned and operated for 20 years. Born in Seattle and raised at the Usibelli Coal Mine (Healy) and Fairbanks, Mic worked for Alaska Airlines 1973-2020 and married Ken in 1985. Eight years and three children later, they balanced selling Ward Air, updating the lodge, raising a family, and Mic’s job for Alaska Air. Their five children summered at the lodge. Nestled in the heart of Alaska’s wilderness, Taku Lodge offers a unique and unforgettable experience to all those who visit. Ken and Mic’s son Mike, his wife Jessalyn, and their three young sons, Otis, Ellis, and Calix, to this special place. But Taku Lodge is more than just a summer retreat for the Ward family – it’s a home to many who work there each season. Nine employees live in small cabins surrounding the lodge, making it their home away from home as they welcome guests from all over the world. As the longest caretakers of Taku Lodge, the Ward family takes great pride in offering visitors a true Alaskan experience they’ll never forget.
Taku Glacier Lodge Today
The history of the Taku Glacier Lodge continues to thrive today. This magical place has touched the hearts of so many people over the years, with a wide range of visitors and locals all contributing to its unique identity. From those who have worked at the lodge, to the world-traveling adventurers who come to experience the magic for themselves, there’s a sense of community and connection that’s hard to find anywhere else. The love for Taku Lodge is palpable, and it’s clear to see how the many individuals who have been touched by this place have all left their lasting mark on its history. This is a testament to the power of Alaska, and the unique spirit that continues to be embodied by Taku Glacier Lodge today.