The Port of Pelican is located on Lisianski Inlet on the northwest shores of Chichagof Island in southeast Alaska. The Port of Pelican is a little over 100 nautical miles west-southwest of the Port of Juneau (102 kilometers or 63 miles by air) and about 116 nautical miles (112 kilometers or 70 miles by air) north-northwest of Alaska's Port of Sitka. The Port of Pelican is home to over 160 people, almost three-quarters of whom are white. Native Americans represent a little over 20% of the Port of Pelican's population.
The economy of the Port of Pelican relies on commercial fishing, and the city is home to a small seafood processing plant. There are also several businesses that provide services to tourists. The Port of Pelican can be reached by air or sea. Air taxis provide daily service from Juneau, and the Port of Pelican also has a seaplane dock and a terminal for the state ferry (with two departures each summer month and one departure each winter month).
Port of Pelican locals tell the story of a Russian ship that foundered in Cross Sound and the survivors that rowed up Lisianski Inlet to find a sheltered cove. The story tells of a settlement where the survivors grew food and hunted game.
According to the story, they built a shipyard and a ship that made it possible for the survivors to go home. After they left, the story goes, the settlement that would become the Port of Pelican reverted to wilderness. Later trappers and hunters found the clearing with copper and iron tools and sunken graves.
By the late 1930s, gold miners had made Lisianski Inlet and the Port of Pelican home. They established several mines, including the Mork, the Apex, and the Lucky Strike. When Charley Raatikainen arrived to build a town, he found the small settlement on Lisianski Inlet that eventually became the modern Port of Pelican.
During the fishing season, Charley Raatikainen bought fish from local Port of Pelican catches and delivered them to Sitka. Seeking to improve services to both buyers and fishermen, he planned a cold storage plant to be located near the fishing grounds at the Port of Pelican. His friend, Hjalmor Mork, took Charley to a place near his mine that offered a deep-water harbor, plenty of land, and a lake with a waterfall.
At first, a couple of fishing scows served as the new town's buildings. One of them was a mess and quarters for the workers. The other scow was a warehouse with living quarters. Port of Pelican neighbors lent their effort and equipment to clear rock from the site. Soon, the SS Tongass, a steam schooner, brought tons of lumber. A sawmill was brought to the site on a raft.
The first building in the Port of Pelican had a store and offices on one side and a Finnish steam bath on the other. Soon, Raatikainen and others built homes there, and Arthur Silverman showed up with beer and a license for a beer parlor.
Expenses for the new Port of Pelican cold storage facility frequently left Charley's company short of funds, and even though he went to Seattle to raise money, there was never enough. Despite this, the Port of Pelican continued to grow. The Great Depression brought workers who would take stock, tobacco, and food in exchange for their labor.
A bathhouse fire brought new problems to the young Port of Pelican. The only fire equipment was buckets and salt water. The building was soon replaced and later became the site of the Port of Pelican's first school.
Another major building appeared in the Port of Pelican with a kitchen, mess hall, store, office, and post office on the first floor. The second floor was a bunkhouse then, as it is today.
Early residents, the Paddock brothers, built a wharf and a fish house and started work on a boardwalk for the Port of Pelican. Gus Savela undertook the building of a dam. During the summer fishing seasons, everyone left to fish or pursue other work.
In 1939, the US Navy started a base on Japonski Island near Sitka, attracting many of the Port of Pelican's workers. Also in 1939, Bob DeArmond was made the first postmaster at the Port of Pelican. The school opened, and a new sawmill began producing lumber for new homes. That year, the census identified 48 people living in the Port of Pelican.
In 1940, A.R. Breuger of the Port of Wrangell brought a floating cannery to the Port of Pelican, mooring it at the dock. By the next year, the Port of Pelican had a second salmon cannery. The new Cape Cross Salmon Company installed canning machinery and packed over 17 thousand cases. They would later build another cannery near Raatikainen's cold storage.
After getting help from Alaska's former attorney general, Henry Roden, the cold storage plant finally opened for business in the Port of Pelican. Refrigeration machinery was installed, and the hydroelectric power plant was finished. In late summer of 1942, the first fish was loaded in the freezer.
In July 2008, Pelican Seafoods closed, and the Port of Pelican foreclosed on the plant in 2010.