In 1898, Sunrise was briefly the largest city in Alaska. Today the gold rush town is just a memory, a ghost of the days when the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush brought prospectors north to seek their fortunes.Springing up along the banks of Sixmile Creek in 1895, the town was organized and platted as Sunrise City in May 1896.
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Miners arrived by shallow-draft boats from Turnagain Arm and worked the Canyon, East Fork, Mills, and Lynx Creeks. A tram road built in 1899 linked the townsite with the docks and warehouses at the mouth of Sixmile Creek. During the peak of the gold rush the town’s population surged to 2,000 people.
As Sunrise grew crowded, latecomers were forced to build cabins and pitch tents on the hillsides west and east of town. A commercial ferry operation carried people by boat between the Sunrise townsite on the west bank of Sixmile Creek and the cabins on the east bank.
When the Turnagain Arm Gold Rush began to die down, Sunrise continued to be an important waypoint for the Iditarod Trail system that linked Seward with other mining camps to the north such as Knik, Iditarod, and Nome. During summers, packers carried supplies from milepost 34 of the Alaska Northern Railway over Johnson Pass to Sunrise where supplies were transferred to boats and then ferried across Cook Inlet to Knik. During the winter, supplies were transported by dog team along the railroad route to Kern – where the rails ended – and then overland across Crow Creek Pass and on to Knik. When railroad construction extended the rails to the Matanuska and Knik area in 1916, the summer traffic on the wagon road over Johnson Pass to Sunrise all but ended. This new rail link contributed to Sunrise’s decline. By the 1930s only one resident, Mike Connolly, lived in the area.
Today, all that remains of the bustling community of Sunrise is a cemetery. The Point Hope Cemetery is located off an unmarked dirt road at approximately milepost 8.5 of the Hope Highway. The cemetery was recently restored by the Hope and Sunrise Historical Society, Dennis Sammut, private owner of the old Sunrise townsite, historian Rolfe Buzzell, and other volunteers. New grave markers were replaced with replicas of the originals. Workers constructed a cedar fence around the cemetery, and the white picket fence around the “Baby Smith” gravesite was restored.
Of the 16-18 people buried at Point Comfort, five were miners killed in an avalanche on Lynx Creek during spring of 1901. Three infants are also buried there. A. W. “Jack” Morgan, in his book Memories of Old Sunrise, remembers helping dig the grave for the baby of Jack and Nellie Frost. “I believe everyone in town came down when we buried the little fellow. . . . I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the whole crowd.”
Morgan also pointed out the cemetery’s peaceful quality. “The point was covered with white snow during the winters and lovely wild flowers during the spring and summer. If I had to be buried I think it is where I would want to be.” What he failed to mention is that he and his wife had already buried an infant at the cemetery – the year before he’d helped dig a grave for the Frost child.