Manley Hot Springs: Saint Joseph Church

manley

Manley Hot Springs is about 5 miles north of the Tanana River on Hot Springs Slough, near the end of the Elliott Highway, 160 road miles west of Fairbanks. The Elliott is the only road leading to Manley Hot Springs, and it runs through the town to the Tanana River boat landing, three miles southwest.

Settlement in the area began around 1902 when mining prospector John Karshner claimed several hot springs and began a homestead and vegetable farm on 278 acres. Around the same time a U.S. Army telegraph station and a trading post were built. The area became a supply point for miners and was known as Baker's Hot Springs, after nearby Baker Creek. In 1907, miner Frank Manley built the Hot Springs Resort Hotel, which included a restaurant and bar, plus a bowling alley, billiard room, barber shop and, most popular of all, an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool using water from the hot springs. Between the resort and mining, the town of "Hot Springs" prospered and soon supported a general store, a bakery, a local newspaper and other businesses.

But in 1913 the thriving resort burned to the ground. Mining was also declining, and by 1920 only 29 residents lived in Hot Springs. The name was changed to Manley Hot Springs in 1957. A small school opened in 1958, and in 1959 completion of the Elliott Highway gave Manley a road link with Fairbanks during the summer. A new resort opened in the 1980's but later closed. The Manley Roadhouse, however, built in 1906, still opens during summer months. In 2011, according to Alaska Department of Labor Estimates, the population was 91. Native residents are Athabaskan. Gardening, hunting, and fishing provide food sources, with salmon and moose providing the primary meat sources. It is likely that Catholic missionaries who came through the region with gold seekers might have stopped at Hot Springs during the early 1900's, but it not known exactly when a Catholic presence began there.

Manley never had a resident priest. For the most part the mission, dedicated to Saint Joseph, was served by visiting priests from Fairbanks. A deacon also visited from North Pole from 1991 to 2003.

St. Joseph Mission was closed in 2003 because there were no more active Catholics in the area. The church building was transferred to the city for a token fee, with the stipulation that it be used for religious purposes only; and that if used for other purposes, it could be taken back by the Diocese of Fairbanks.