Gateway to the Interior
Located in central Alaska along the Yukon River, 270 air miles west of Fairbanks, 350 miles north of Anchorage and 1,000 miles northwest of Juneau, the village was established in 1918 as a supply and transport station for lead, or “galena,” mined from prospects on the south Yukon River. According to the 1880 census map, the location was once a former camping site. Traditionally, the Koyukon Athabascans had spring, summer, fall and winter camps, and moved as the wild game migrated. In the summer many families would float on rafts to the Yukon to fish for salmon. Galena was one of the 12 summer fish camps located on the Yukon River between the Koyukuk River and the Nowitna River.
In 1920, Athabascans living 14 miles upriver at Louden began moving to Galena to sell wood to steamboats and to work hauling freight for the mines. A school was established in the mid-1920s, and a post office opened in 1932.
An airport was built in 1941 by the Civil Aeronautics Authority to assist with logistics and was designed to be part of a civilian airport construction program. However, after the entry of the US into WWII, the location became an important auxiliary airfield and refueling location for aircraft in the Lend Lease Program, from 1943 to 1945. At the conclusion of WWII, the airfield was returned to civilian control. The airfield was active once again during the cold war, where the “Galena Air Station” served as a training location for fighter interceptions of Soviet aircraft.
By the end of the cold war, the military withdrew and returned the majority of the facilities and land to the City of Galena in 2008. It is now the site of the Edward G. Pitka Sr. Airport. With a paved runway of over 8,000 feet, it is the largest public, state-maintained airport in the Interior of Alaska. The Airport is also the home of the "Yukon Squadron" of the AK Wing, Civil Air Patrol (CAP), which covers much of the interior from this strategic location.
In 1945, the community suffered a major flood that destroyed much of the infrastructure. During the 1950s, military facilities at the Galena and Campion Air Force Stations, airport and road developments, sparked growth in the community. Due to another severe flood in 1971, a new community site was developed at Alexander Lake, about 1 1/2 miles east of the original town site. City offices, the health clinic, schools, washeteria, store, and more than 150 homes were constructed at “New Town,” and a City government was formed.
Galena is also home to the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge, a 3.5 million acre site which serves as an educational hub for wildlife education and a refuge for local wildlife. The site is home to black and grizzly bears, wolves and smaller game such as snowshoe hares, grouse and ptarmigan. It is also a stop on the famed Iditarod Dog Sled Races.
In 2013, a massive flood occurred when an ice jam on the Yukon River backed the water up into the village, causing near total destruction. Nearly 90% of the residents were evacuated and many buildings were either completely destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Rebuilding efforts continue to this day.
Galena serves as the transportation, government and commercial center for the western Interior. Federal, state, city, school and village government jobs dominate, but Galena has other employment in air transportation and retail businesses. Over 30 residents hold commercial fishing permits. Other seasonal employment, such as construction work and BLM fire fighting, provide income as well.