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Mamie Jensen
Mamie Jensen

Mamie Jensen talks about growing up in Douglas, Alaska, her father's store there, and all the community organizations she was associated with that made Juneau and Douglas a unique place to live.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-06

Project: Juneau Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Nov 17, 1995
Narrator(s): Mamie Jensen
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
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Her father's store in Douglas

Stores in Douglas

Social activities and growing up in Douglas

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MAMIE JENSON: Well I'll tell you, my memory isn't as good as his is but I'm going to try and tell you some things about growing up in Douglas. I was born in 1906 so you'll know how old I am.

My mother, my, I'll read you this I think this, I think this is ok. There were three of us girls in our family. We were all born upstairs of my dad's hardware store on Front Street in Douglas.

A news item from the Douglas Island News March 7th, 1900. "Mr. John Feusi and Miss Mary, Anna Mary Ott were united in holy bonds of matrimony yesterday morning March 6th, 7 o'clock at the Catholic Church in Juneau,

the ceremony was witnessed by only a few intimate friends of the contracting parties. The bride lived for some time with the family of Mr. Duncan at Treadwell and is well and favorably known in the city where kindliness and disposition has won her many friends.

The groom is one of the rustling energetic young businessmen of Douglas city and has friends galore who wish him much joy. Before coming to Alaska he lived for six years in California.

The newlywed pair will immediately go to house keeping in a cottage on 5th Street."

The news extends congratulations and best wishes to the couple and hopes that their journey through life may be a continual honeymoon.

My father he built this store on Front Street in Douglas and it was on the beach between C and D Street if you know were C and D Street is.

Of course, it's all burned out now but, Douglas was thriving at that time. A mining town and there was a good-sized native population and many businesses.

Our store was flanked on one side by a saloon and on the other side by general merchandise grocery store and a jewelry store.

My father was a great fixer, who could repair anything and his shop was a haven for anyone looking for repair parts from anything, from machinery to umbrellas.

And that's were he found, Mark found his piece of stuff from the, from the boat that my dad had bought. He had a great stock of native handiwork.

I remember a drawer about twice the size of an apple crate that was full of, of little skeins of beads that the native ladies bought, to make to decorate their moccasins.

The, the totem poles by the dozens were lined up in my dad's den to be touched up before he sent them down south.

to be shipped to to be shipped to Seattle where we used to trade with the Ye Old Curiosity shop in Seattle down on, I think it was on Yester Way, probably not a lot of you know where that is.

But my dad built living quarters above the store and it was our home for 28 years. Six extra rooms allowed my roomer, my mother to take in roomers.

And she was very kind hearted and many of these miners from their, who were far away from home. Why she'd give them homemade cookies and, kind of, kind of look after them.

When we were kids my sisters and I, she always had birthday parties for us. Halloween parties, valentine parties, she was great for that and was always making cookies and just, just a wonderful being, so kind to people.

A good portion of the Douglas streets, Douglas streets were pav--, were plank streets. I've got a sheet here that's not bound up like that.

I put two staples in it where I shouldn't have. A good portion of Douglas streets were wide planks and in those days there was little in the way of snow removal equipment.

So either the snow piled up in the winter or it, or people just had to shovel.

And one winter that I remember, I was just a little kid and from our place we could, we had to go across the, the tunnel, a tunnel right across the street to Stubbins' clothing and shoe store.

And you know, it was just wide enough, just about as wide as this table maybe, and we had to get across that way in the different businesses.

And winter delivery those years was by Yukon sleds pulled by husky dogs or one of the, I remember a big Saint Bernard. Laundry, groceries, coal and liquor.

Coal was brought to Douglas by steamboats docking at either of the two docks, delivered to homes in hundred pound sacks on the backs of the draymen.

And I always felt sorry for the men that had to deliver coal to our place because we were on the second floor and they had to carry these sacks up on their backs, you know

and they'd come in puffing and my mother always felt sorry for them so she would make them stop and have a glass of wine and a cookie maybe, great for that.

75% of the business on the channel was done on credit in those days.

And since the miners got paid only twice, maybe once or twice a month, the merchants gave credit, gave credit to the customers they trusted so they had to, they trusted them to come in and pay their bills and cash their...

In the early days the tread, the Treadwell Mine I remember paid in gold, and but then when there got to be checks by then they'd have to cash the checks.

In the town of Douglas there were many organizations. When there were social events, you know whole, whole families went. And, and towns people were included too.

Thanksgiving, Odd Fellows and Rebecca's and Eagles Auxiliary, and Masons of the Eastern Star, Douglas Sound Women's Club, Parent-Teacher's Association, we had a good one, Fire Department, and churches.

Sometimes the lodges would plan picnics in the early, early days, Marmion Island or Limestone or Grindstone or Doty Cove or Young's Bay, would be the place where they'd take them on picnics.

And they'd go on, they'd maybe hire the ferry boat or maybe men, fellas who had boats would take them down there.

We'd have the, I remember one, one was on the Lone Fisherman which was one of the ferry boats that went between Douglas and Juneau and Treadwell. And the Teddy, and The Alma was the biggest one.

In the early days, as a small, as a small as a girl I remember the, the Chautauqua groups. Have you ever heard of those? Ever heard of a Chautauqua group?

Well they were always welcome to Douglas and always put on wonderful performances for us. You know recitations and singing and acting and stuff like that.

At one time there were two theatres in Douglas. Silent movies, to be sure, and since my cousin Bill Ott, who ran one, ran these for Mr. Gross who owned the Coliseum in Juneau, I was inveigled into playing the piano more times than, than I like to remember. They were all silent movies.

On the 4th of July we celebrated, first with a program and a theatre and, usually in the mornings, late mornings.

And then there would be patriotic speeches by a celebrity.

Recitations and singing, and then a children's parade in the afternoon followed by races and thin horse and tug of war and hose races and ball game which we, they still do of course.

A picnic by the end of the day. The ballpark was the area where the department of transportation building is now and the post office, where the post office is located in Douglas.

My older sister Anna died when I was six ,so I never really did know her. My sister Elizabeth and I went through the grade schools and high school, in Douglas and in 1924 I graduated as valedictorian, in a class of eight.

As I look back, I recall those severe winters with lots of snow and blowing Taku.

That was especially disagreeable when, when one had to run down the dock, slide down the gangplank and hop, excuse me, hop on the ferry to Juneau.

When we had merchandise stores, Douglas doctors and hospitals, we had a hospital in Douglas.

In fact, we had the St. Ann's Hospital up St. Ann's Avenue, which handled the miners, and then there was the Wirehorse (phonetic), Wirehouser, (phonetic) no Dr. Wirehorse had a hospital in Douglas and it was right across the street it's from, where Mike's Parking Place is now.

There was a big hospital there. He was a little German and a real good friend of my folks.

After the cave-in in 1917 and as the businesses closed up, then going to Juneau for necessities was a regular occurrence.

And the winters disagreeable but, oh the summers. If you had a friend with a small boat and an inboard motor you considered yourself lucky indeed to be invited to cruise around the channel in this boat.

There were no outboards in those days so these were the inboard motors. There was a lovely park like place a little way up, ways up Lawson Creek.

I'm sorry that I think we've, we've lost that. We've followed a small ra--, road to, we went past the cemetery on the upper side of the hill there, past the, the cemetery which was a Masonic cemetery, I think, maybe in there and then curved around.

It was called Crystal Falls Park and the beautiful, the Crystal Falls came, I don't know whether they call it Crystal Falls or not yet but, there was beautiful pavilion there, a nice pavilion there.

And I have one old picture that shows the people all dressed up, the women with big hats and gussied up and the men are all gussied up and some of the band members in their uniforms.

And this big picture of this group at Crystal Falls Park, standing around having, just having a nice time. All dolled up too.

The women wore big hats and stuff. This area is all overgrown through the years and, of course, I think the creek has changed, too.

As a young adult enjoying recreation consisted of hikes to and along tread, Treadwell Ditch out the road to Cowee Creek picnics, baseball games, boating and dancing.

With many young work, men working in the mines the young ladies never lacked for good dancing partners and weekly dances in Juneau and Douglas were well attended.

Following my marriage to Mark and the birth of my son John Marcus, stand up John.

The 1937 fire, time was filled with many activities.

The 15 years as a book keeper and stenographer at the Juneau Coal Storage followed by 10 years in the Feusi-Jensen grocery store

and during all that time and since civic activities included Douglas Library, Girl Scouts, Teenage Board, Douglas Sound Women's Club, St. Ann's Hospital Guild, Catholic Church activities and Alters' Society.

Toastmaster's Club in the 1958 to '60 was a learning experience rated number one. Many years and pioneers and I was president in 1958.

In 197 -- 79 I was invited with five other old timers to take part in an oral drama of Juneau-Douglas' past. This play was the first production of the Perseverance Theatre.

In 1989 we did the 10th anniversary performance in the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium to a full house. 1995 almost 89 and still going good.