If archaeologists are correct, Interior Alaska was the corridor through which the rest of the continent was peopled, as waves of hunter-gatherers migrated across the Bering land bridge to points south. Ancestors of the region’s present Alaska Native group, the Athabascans, are thought to have been here at least 6000 years.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that the first white people began to trickle in. The newcomers were mainly traders: Russians, who established posts along the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers; and Britons, who began trading at Fort Yukon, on the upper Yukon River, in the 1840s. Later came prospectors, whose discoveries transformed this region, beginning with the first major gold rush in the Fortymile district in the 1880s. Similar rushes, for gold and also copper, subsequently gave rise to many Interior communities.
Transportation projects brought the next wave of growth. In 1914 Congress agreed to fund the building of the USA’s northernmost railroad, from Seward to Fairbanks. At the peak of construction, 4500 workers labored along the route, and their base camps became boom towns.
Three decades later, during WWII, the building of the Alcan had the same effect on the eastern Interior. Tok and Delta Junction got their starts as highway construction camps, while Fairbanks saw a second boom in its economy and population. Another three decades after that came the biggest undertaking the Interior has ever seen: the laying of the $8 billion Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which transects Alaska, running from Valdez to the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay.