UA Journey

History of the Rainey-Skarland Cabin

In 1935, Dr. Froelich G. Rainey became the first professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska. In 1936, Dr. and Mrs. Rainey commissioned a three-room log cabin to be built on the ridge overlooking the school. They paid $5,600 for the cabin that was contracted by T. S. Batchelder and is now located between the Natural Sciences Facility and the Moore-Bartlett-Skarland Residence Complex.

Because the cabin was to be built on school property, the board of regents made decisions regarding its use. The board was reluctant to set a precedent they might later regret and set a stringent list of conditions that included submitting the cost of construction to them and asking permission from the board for any renovations, additions, or leasing of the structure. They decided when the Raineys wanted to sell the cabin, the first offer would go to the board. When the Raineys left Alaska in 1942, they sold the cabin to the university for $3,750. It was then designated as housing for faculty and staff.

Early residents included Stuart Seaton and his wife as well as Harry Cheeks and Nick Eidem. Ivar Skarland, a former student of Rainey’s who later became the head of the anthropology department, moved in during the late 1940s and for many years the cabin became the special preserve of the department. For several years, university librarian John Mehler shared the cabin with Skarland and, later, anthropologist Otto Geist moved in. All three men occupied the cabin for several years.

Skarland, a native of Norway and ski champion of the 1934 Fairbanks Winter Sports Carnival, did much to popularize Nordic skiing in Alaska. He was one of the best-loved and most respected faculty on campus, and students appreciated his Fourth of July parties. He painted the cabin red and it became a favorite warmup spot for skiers and hikers who used the university’s 30 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails north of the cabin.

The cabin has been renovated and repaired several times, including roof repair and exterior paint in 1956. The coal- and wood-burning stove was replaced with an oil model in the mid-1960s. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and a major renovation in 1982 included roof replacement, insulation and installation of an alarm system among other things.

When Skarland died suddenly in 1965, university students requested the cabin, ski trails and a residence hall be named in his memory.

Today a permanent faculty member lives in the cabin, which is open to the public for a tour one day each summer during Fairbanks’ Golden Days Festival.

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