Ester, Alaska

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Ester, Alaska
Census-designated place
One of the old mining camp buildings
One of the old mining camp buildings
Location within Fairbanks North Star Borough and the state of Alaska
Location within Fairbanks North Star Borough and the state of Alaska
Coordinates: 64°51′21″N 147°58′42″W / 64.85583°N 147.97833°W / 64.85583; -147.97833Coordinates: 64°51′21″N 147°58′42″W / 64.85583°N 147.97833°W / 64.85583; -147.97833
Country United States
State Alaska
Borough Fairbanks North Star
 • Borough mayor Karl Kassel
 • State senators Click Bishop (R)
John Coghill (R)
 • State reps. David Guttenberg (D)
Adam Wool (D)
 • Total 64.3 sq mi (166.5 km2)
 • Land 64.2 sq mi (166.4 km2)
 • Water 0.04 sq mi (0.1 km2)
Elevation 722 ft (220 m)
Population (2010)[1]
 • Total 2,422
 • Density 38/sq mi (14.6/km2)
Time zone Alaska (AKST) (UTC-9)
 • Summer (DST) AKDT (UTC-8)
ZIP code 99725
Area code(s) 907
FIPS code 02-23460
GNIS feature ID 1397658
Ester Camp Historic District
Alaska Heritage Resources Survey
Ester Camp Historic District, Fairbanks, AK.png
Boundaries of Ester Camp Historic District
Location Off AK 3, Ester, Alaska
Coordinates 64°50′48″N 148°1′10″W / 64.84667°N 148.01944°W / 64.84667; -148.01944
Area 11.4 acres (4.6 ha)
Built 1906 (1906)
Architect Fairbanks Exploration Company
NRHP reference # 87000703[2]
AHRS # FAI-204
Significant dates
Added to NRHP May 6, 1987
Designated AHRS 1984

Ester is a census-designated place (CDP) in Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska, United States. It is part of the Fairbanks, Alaska Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 2,422 at the 2010 census.[3] The Ester Camp Historic District is a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ester was founded as a gold mining camp in the early 1900s, and the economy has focused on mining and services for miners. The Ester Community Association was founded in 1941, and continues to work for the welfare of the community, e.g. establishing and maintaining the Ester Community Park. There are several small businesses in Ester, including two saloons, a convenience store, a publishing house, and local artisans. The Ester Volunteer Fire Department, John Trigg Ester Library, and Ester Post Office serve residents in Ester and beyond. There are many artists, writers, and musicians who reside in Ester, and the local art and music scene has thrived for many years.


Early history and founding[edit]

Ester was originally a gold mining camp on Ester Creek, with the first claim staked in February 1903 by Latham A. Jones. Jones worked with the Eagle Mining Company, the biggest claimholder on Glen Gulch in the Rampart mining district, but it was an independent miner, John "Jack" Mihalcik, a Czechoslovakian immigrant born in 1866, who was the first person to actually discover gold on Ester Creek. Mihalcik staked his claim in November 1903 but the news of the discovery of gold did not become public until the following February. By 1907, Ester City had a population of around 200 people, with a thriving mining industry. A social hall was completed in 1907, and was well known throughout the mining district for its dance floor. The hall was used for religious services as well as dances, movies, card games, parties, and other entertainment. The town had five saloons and a couple of hotels. In 1908 and 1910, the hall was the site of campaign speeches by candidates for the seat of Territorial Delegate. (Labor won in 1908, but Judge James Wickersham won the Ester precinct in 1910.) By 1909 Ester City had a baseball field, a doctor, a mine workers' union local, and a teacher, but gold production was beginning to decline.

The Berry Post Office moved in 1910 from near the Berry brothers' claim about two miles downstream from Ester City into J.C. Kinney's general store in Ester. (The post office retained the name of Berry until 1965, when it was finally changed to that of the town it had been in for 55 years.)[4] In the mid-1920s, the Fairbanks Exploration Company began buying claims on Ester Creek, started operations in 1929, and in 1933 built a mess hall for their camp in Ester (now a historic landmark used until 2008 as a tourist attraction and hotel). The F.E. Company revitalized the town, but they also literally reshaped it, doing large-scale open-pit mining using enormous floating dredges and draglines, removing in the process much of the original sites of Berry and Ester.

Since 1940[edit]

In 1941, the Ester Community Association was founded. In 1958 The F.E. Company sold their Ester camp, and it reopened under new management as a historic resort. The Cripple Creek Resort, which later became the Ester Gold Camp, featured a musical variety show including Robert W. Service's poetry, held at a sawdust-strewn bar known as the Malemute Saloon, after Service's poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", until the resort closed in 2007. The Malemute Saloon continues to operate on selected weekends during the summer, and often features live music by local bands. In 1974, the Ester Volunteer Fire Department was officially founded (bucket brigades had existed since the 19-aughts). Gold mining continued on a small scale. In 1986, the Ester Community Association, working with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, built the Ester Community Park, which became a local center of social activity. In 2017, the Ester Community Association purchased the park from a local resident, holding chili feeds, music festivals, and other fundraising events. In the 1980s, the community also earned its nickname, the People's Republic of Ester, during a zoning battle with Joe Ryan, a member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. Mr. Ryan used this epithet against the village, as much of the population of Ester opposed his proposed zoning changes, but the village took it on as a badge of pride, and now refer to their community by this name.

In 1987, the eleven surviving buildings of the F.E. Company's camp were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[2][5]

In 1988, Mushing magazine began publication in Ester and continued to be produced and published there until it was sold in 2005. The town became the site of a sled dog stage race between Ester and Nenana and back again, the Fireplug Sled Dog Race, which was held for ten years, from 1990 to 2001, and in which many famous mushers participated, including Dean Seibold and Jeff King. In January 1999, the town's first newspaper, The Ester Republic, was founded; it was published regularly until 2015, and now is published sporadically. In August 1999 the John Trigg Ester Library opened, a membership library named after a local resident who had started a book exchange in a nearby bar. In 2012, the JTEL received a donation of a local log cabin built in the 1940s, and relocated many of its holdings to the new space. Today the town features two saloons, five publishers, a library, a fire station, a small store, a community hall, a secular chapel, post office with its own zip code, silversmiths and other artisans, numerous art studios, about two dozen homes, most of which were built by their owners, and three active gold mines.


Ester is located at 64°51′21″N 147°58′42″W / 64.85583°N 147.97833°W / 64.85583; -147.97833 (64.855700, -147.978434).[6]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 64.3 square miles (166.5 km2), of which 64.2 square miles (166.4 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2), or 0.08%, is water.[3]

photograph of a band playing at a folk festival in Ester, Alaska.
Dead Calm, a local band, performs at the 2017 Fairbanks Summer Folk Fest at the Ester Community Park.

Ester Community Park[edit]

Ester has one well-used park, maintained and improved by the Ester Community Association's Park Committee and other volunteers from the community. The park has an ice rink that doubles as a basketball court in the summer, a children's playground, a picnic pavilion, a stage, and a soccer field. The park, situated next to the Ester Volunteer Fire Department, is the site of numerous soccer games, Ester Football League games, broomball, the Fourth of July picnic, musical gatherings, and other events throughout the year. The Park is now owned by the Ester Community Association.

The village square[edit]

Ester village wraps around a square at the foot of Ester Lump. This "town square" is actually the parking lot of the Golden Eagle Saloon, divided in two sections by Main Street, but functions as a focal point and central gathering place during celebrations such as the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve. Private residences, the library, and the Golden Eagle surround the square.


The local saw has it that "Ester is still around because there is a McDonald's in Fairbanks." This is true both culturally and economically. Many Ester residents are employed in Fairbanks or at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, although there are many small Ester-area businesses and self-employed people. The largest Ester employers are seasonal, with Judie Gumm Designs, and the local mines as the businesses with the most employees. Fairbanks provides a market for Ester products and services and thus helps to keep the small Ester economy alive. Because Fairbanks acts as a draw (due to its larger market and resources) for such things as big-box stores and fast food chains, Ester has been able to retain its mining village feel. This is important to Ester's tourist economy, which capitalizes on the status of the gold camp buildings as a historic landmark. In fall 2007, the owners of the Ester Gold Camp (Malemute, Inc.) announced that they would not reopen the resort in 2008,[7] but do open the camp bar (the Malemute Saloon) for a 30-day period each summer to retain the liquor license. This has had an effect on Ester's summer economy, and resulted in the closure of at least two shops, in anticipation of the dearth of tourists.

In response to the closure of the Gold Camp, a group of local business owners have formed the EMCE (or Ester Ministry of Community Enterprise), which has been accepted as an ad-hoc committee of the Ester Community Association, to support Ester-area businesses and craftspeople. The EMCE occasionally sponsors a local open-air farmers' market, and a Planting Day to beautify the village.


Historical population
Census Pop.
U.S. Decennial Census[8]

Ester first appeared on the 1910 U.S. Census as an unincorporated village (erroneously as "Esther"). It did not appear again until 1940 and has reported on each successive census. In 1980, it was made a census-designated place (CDP).

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[9] of 2000, there were 1,680 people, 727 households, and 386 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 26.0 people per square mile (10.0/km²). There were 814 housing units at an average density of 12.6/sq mi (4.9/km²). The racial/ethnic makeup of the CDP was 87.44% White, 0.89% Black or African American, 4.58% Alaska Native or Native American, 0.71% Asian, 0.30% Pacific Islander, 0.95% from other races, and 5.12% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.50% of the population.

There were 727 households out of which 28.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.1% were married couples living together, 6.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.9% were non-families. 35.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 1.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.91.

In the CDP the population was spread out with 22.7% under the age of 18, 8.2% from 18 to 24, 40.8% from 25 to 44, 25.8% from 45 to 64, and 2.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 119.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 116.3 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $50,461, and the median income for a family was $73,750. Males had a median income of $41,713 versus $24,850 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $29,155. About 4.9% of families and 8.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.8% of those under age 18 and none of those age 65 or over.

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[10] of 2010, there were 2,422 people, 727 households, and 534 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 34.7 people per square mile (14.5/km²). There were 1,229 housing units at an average density of 19.1/sq mi (7.3/km²). The racial/ethnic makeup of the CDP was 84.6% White, 2.1% Black or African American, 6.7% Alaska Native or Native American, 1.2% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 0.6% from other races, and 4.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.3% of the population.

There were 1,069 households out of which 22.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.1% were married couples living together, 6.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.0% were non-families. 39.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.14 and the average family size was 2.90.

In the CDP the population was spread out with 18.8% under the age of 18, 12.1% from 18 to 24, 33.2% from 25 to 44, 29.0% from 45 to 64, and 6.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females, there were 119.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 122.2 males.

People of Ester[edit]

Ester residents are referred to either as Esterites or Esteroids. The latter term is more commonly applied to those living in the vicinity, rather than the village proper, or to newly arrived residents. A term for the village itself is The People's Republic of Ester, which may be used either as an affectionate or derogatory nickname for the community (it was originally an insult used in a letter to the editor, but is now frequently used with pride by residents to indicate the village's independent mindset).[11]

Photograph of Deirdre Helfferich
Deirdre Helfferich is an artist, writer, and noted bibliophile. She was the editor and publisher of The Ester Republic for over 14 years and was the key player in the founding of the John Trigg Ester Library, a non-profit, membership-based community library.

Notable people[edit]

Clarence Berry was a successful miner who lived in the immediate vicinity of Ester, at No. 8 Below Discovery Claim.

Richard A. Fineberg is an investigative journalist living in Ester who specializes in petroleum development and environment-related issues. He has lived in Alaska since 1969 and works as a freelance writer and consultant.

Deirdre Helfferich is a noted bibliophile, artist, and writer. She was the publisher and editor of the Ester Republic, a local community newspaper for over 14 years until her retirement. She was also the key player in the establishment of the John Trigg Ester Library.

Painter Magnus Colcord "Rusty" Heurlin, 1895-1986. Rusty was born in Christanstad, Sweden, to American parents and raised in Wakefield, Massachusetts. He attended art classes at the Fenway School of Illustration in Boston. He first came to Alaska in 1916, to Valdez, but left the state during World War I. He returned to Alaska in 1924, and moved to Ester, where he remained until his death. Heurlin was known for his pastel palette and luminous skies, and influenced many later Alaska artists.

Ruth Jasper was a beloved postmistress for Ester for more than thirty years. She died in 2012 after living in Ester for four decades.

Eleanor Loback Garwood (1919-1989) better known as Ida Laine Clausen, was for years a main attraction for the variety show at the Malemute Saloon. Originally born in Georgia, she played rag time piano, sang, danced and acted on stage, published a cookbook that continues to be distributed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Agency, and wrote columns for the Fairbanks News-Miner.


Because the village is surrounded by boreal forests, moose, snowshoe hare, foxes, lynx, American red squirrel, porcupine, and other northern mammals are commonly seen in Ester. Coyotes and black bears are seasonal visitors. Wolves are occasionally spotted.[12] Many bird species thrive in the area such as black capped chickadee, boreal chickadee, hawk owl, cliff swallow, hairy woodpecker, spruce grouse, ruffed grouse, trumpeter swan, grey jay, raven, and pine grosbeak. Owls include great horned owl, boreal owl, and great grey owl.[13]

Ester culture[edit]

Photograph of a greenhouse at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center
Greenhouse at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, in winter

Agriculture and subsistence[edit]

Fishing, hunting, and food gathering are important aspects of Alaskan living in general, both for sport and for subsistence, and Ester is no exception. The community is zoned as rural, despite its proximity to the state's second-largest city. The great majority of Ester residents fish and/or hunt, and berry- and mushroom-picking are regular seasonal activities. Gardening has long been a part of Ester's culture, and farming has been growing in popularity since 2000, which saw the establishment of Calypso Farm & Ecology Center. Calypso provides community-supported agriculture shares for over 80 families, with other CSAs starting up in the area. The Ester library has a seed library program.


Ester has a strong art community, including painters, photographers, collagistes, sculptors, metals smiths, and woodworkers. It has hosted an annual intercontinental simultaneous art exhibit since 2000, the BiPolar Art Show, with the MAAG (the Mechanical Equipment Center Alternative Art Gallery) in McMurdo, Antarctica. Three commercial galleries and several private studios provide sales venues for local and other artists.

An informal mixed-media 'school of assemblage' may be said to exist in Ester: several local artists rely on dumpster finds, printed materials, and historically significant items in their artwork, with themes relating to religious iconography, local history, and political satire.


Mines, having been the central reason for the village's existence for most of its history, are still important in Ester culture. Old dredge parts and mining equipment can be found in the forest that has grown up around the village since major dredging ended in the 1960s, some of which have been incorporated into artistic works. The Malemute Saloon's variety show capitalizes on the town's mining history, particularly the influence of Clarence Berry, whose mine at 8 Below Discovery Claim was the largest and most successful in the Ester area during its early history. Ester Dome continues to attract large mining concerns, and several small-scale gold mines provide residents with income.

photograph of Lost Dog String Band
Lost Dog String Band playing on the porch at Hartung Hall in beautiful downtown Ester, Alaska.


Ester has a vibrant local music culture, and is the site of three annual music festivals: Angry Young & Poor (also known as AYP), a free all-day concert oriented toward area youth; the Fairbanks Summer Folk Fest, a 35-year old folk festival; and the LiBerry Music Festival & Pie Throwdown, a fundraiser for the John Trigg Ester Library. Ester Fest, a musical fundraiser for the John Trigg Ester Library, happened in 2017, and there are plans for it to happen again in summer, 2018. An old time string band gathering, the Ester Jelly Jam,[14] has an open jam occasionally on Sunday afternoons at Hartung Hall. A local group, the Lost Dog Old-Time String Band, hosts a monthly square/contra dance there. Impromptu music jams occur nightly on the saloon porches in the summer, and every Sunday in the winter (inside, of course). Sundays at the Golden Eagle are smoke free. Area venues and events regularly feature local, live music.


Ester has a reputation as a liberal and Democratic-leaning area within the Fairbanks North Star Borough. In the 2008 presidential election, the Ester precinct gave Barack Obama 379 votes (50.9% of the total) compared with 320 votes (43.0%) for John McCain.[15] In the 2010 gubernatorial election, Democrat Ethan Berkowitz received 419 votes (54.8%) to Republican Sean Parnell's 321 votes (42.0%). In the 2010 Senate election, Democrat Scott McAdams received 335 votes (43.7%) compared with 211 votes each (27.5%) for Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller. Statewide, McAdams came in third with only 23% of the vote.[16]

The Ester voting precinct also boasts relatively high voter turnout (~30% or more) in municipal elections (precinct 130 in District 08). The fire station serves as the precinct's polling place; in years past polling took place in the community center, Hartung Hall. Party affiliation tends strongly toward the Democrats, followed by the Republicans, with Greens and Alaska Independence Party voters in a rough tie for third. Most Esteroids are unaffiliated or not declared, however.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2015-11-25. 
  2. ^ a b National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  3. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Census Summary File 1 (G001): Ester CDP, Alaska". American Factfinder. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved April 13, 2016. 
  4. ^ "1.10 Berry Post Office on Ester Creek". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  5. ^ Wendy H. Arundale (1986). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Ester Camp Historic District / Cripple Creek Resort". National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-01-26.  with 21 photos
  6. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  7. ^ [1] Archived September 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  10. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2015-12-18. 
  11. ^ "A Little History," Deirdre Helfferich, The Ester Republic.
  12. ^ National Audubon Society (1996). Field Guide to Mammals. Albert F. Knopf, Inc. 
  13. ^ Tekiela, Stan (2005). Birds of Alaska. Adventure Publications, inc. 
  14. ^ "esterjellyjam". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Alaska Voter Registration by Party/Precinct

External links[edit]

Ester's newspaper and community association provide more information on the village:

Other community organizations: