Halibut Cove

59.5975° N, 151.2347° W
Halibut Cove is a community of
artists and fisherman dedicated to living 
the peaceful life. Although the cove welcomes visitors
from all over the world, it is kept clean and is generally a quiet place.
Some words by Diana Tillion

     Scandinavian fisherman found the tremendous herring spawning area in the Halibut Cove Lagoon in 1911 - a lagoon shaped like a balloon with extreme depths, inside mountainous hills with a narrow and shallow entrance. For the herring to gather and spawn, the lagoon habitat was perfect. Scandinavians came in substantial numbers to build 32 saltries, and harvest and preserve the herring roe. Many European men and women came to the winter fishery to work and Scottish ladies were praised for their skills. They came in the spring and left when the production was finished. Ishmailof Island, just west of the entrance, provided a place for housing and warehouses. Halibut Cove grew to considerable numbers. Professor Morgan Sherwood, a historian, found a letter in the archives of Washington, D.C, asking the government to stop the saltries from dumping their waste in the lagoon, for fear that pollution would harm the herring spawning grounds. The letter in reply said, “On a huge coastline like that?! You have to be kidding!” The fisheries ended in 1928 when the herring failed to return. The herring fishermen left empty warehouses and a vacated village except for a few Scandinavian fishermen who were already fishing salmon and halibut for the canneries developing in Seldovia.

 

     The influx of ranchers being offered homesteads by the government on the Kenai Peninsula drastically escalated in the 1930’s. Kachemak Bay had been of interest to coal mining companies because of the rich coal veins that were on the north side. A dock and warehouse were built at the end of Homer Spit to accommodate the ships that came for coal to deliver to markets, as well as coal for boat fuel. The port was a valuable asset for the homesteaders too. The community slowly grew with fisherman and homesteaders. New fisheries were developed, and canneries were built on the Homer Spit.

 

     When I married Clem Tillion in 1952, and moved to Halibut Cove, there were 6 old bachelors left over from the herring days. I had worked for the Homer radio communication station, and my husband and I started KXC34, the only radio station in Halibut Cove. Because of my affiliation with the system, I often had to row around delivering messages in the community. Sam Pratt had provided Homer with the first crank telephone system, and Clem suggested one for Halibut Cove. No one agreed, but he bought the roll of wire and 17 telephones, and shoved them in his backpack. When he hiked around the Cove stringing the wire from tree to tree, no one tried to help him – but no one tried to stop him. If a squirrel chewed on a line, or a limb fell on a wire however, there would be a loud knock on the door, “Hey Red! Come fix the line!”

 

Homer Electric established a system with 9 miles of wire crossing the bottom of the bay to be strung across the land and around the community in 1969 – we were no longer isolated. I had the first post office, with mail delivered by boat once a week. The population was expanding with fishing families, artists, and others attracted to the beauty of the Cove.

 

     Now, Halibut Cove, Alaska is a beautiful place for those who live and enjoy its splendor. There are approximately 150 summer time residents who enjoy the local restaurant, boardwalks, and galleries that culminate on one end of the island. In the winter, the community shrinks to 25 hardy souls who live on the island year around.

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