Fairbanks Museums & Cultural Centers
Fairbanks is a young city where the people who made history are often still alive to tell it. Local museums are prized community gems that quietly share remarkable stories of Fairbanks’ uncanny ability to “beat the odds” (as a local historian puts it in the title of his book) rather than die out like so many other gold rush towns. These stories are told through historic exhibits, black-and-white photos, oral histories, and living legends on staff at the Fairbanks Community Museum, Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, and Pioneer Air Museum. This is what people are referring to when they say Fairbanks has “character.”
The UAF Museum of the North is consistently ranked as one of the top museums in the state and is a “must” for first time visitors or repeat guests who want to brush up on their trivia of the last frontier. The Gallery of Alaska walks you through relevant cultural touchstones from regions around the state, providing a solid overview for new arrivals to get their footing in Alaskan history.
History and culture also “comes alive” at several venues in Fairbanks with shows and demonstrations at Pioneer Park, Fairbanks Ice Museum, and Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. Look for opportunities to live it, instead of just reading about it. The machinery of the frontier days still runs full throttle at Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum for a noisy, clinkety, gas-fueled blast into the pioneer past.
Though it’s easy to stroll through these facilities on your own, many of the best stories remain in the minds of museum staff. Don’t be shy—say hi, and ask for a favorite story or memory from their time in the Golden Heart City.
Museums, Cultural Centers
Experience the Alaska of 100 years ago! Pioneer Park is an historic village that features original buildings moved from downtown Fairbanks, as well as museums and a Gold Rush town street. But it’s also a theme park with a carousel and train that runs the perimeter, shops, and restaurants. Stay a few hours or spend a full day; Pioneer Park offers fun for the whole family.
The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks has brochures, maps, free WiFi and telephone, daily lodging availability, and local walking and driving tours. Serving as the regional visitor facility, the friendly and knowledgeable staff have answers to all your questions.
Alaska’s road to modernization a century ago was a dramatic journey, and the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum explores that journey in fun, vivid detail. On the grounds of Wedgewood Resort — a member of the city’s premier, locally owned hotel group — the museum showcases dozens of historically significant pre-World War II automobiles, and offers visitors a trip back to Alaska’s rugged and exciting formative years.
The gold rush that started Fairbanks relied heavily on an early railroad to quickly and efficiently move people and valuable goods along a string of mines and supporting communities. The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum illustrates the role of this railroad in Fairbanks’ first industry through historical exhibits, interpretive train rides, and on-site restoration.
Devoted to all things ice, this museum will put you in a winter mood no matter what the summer temperatures are like. You’ll see several large ice displays, a freezer you can go in to feel like it’s 20 degrees below zero, a huge-screen slide show with the annual World Ice Art championships, and freezers with huge ice tableaux.
From Alaska native art to polar dinosaurs, you’ll find something interesting on exhibit here. Head to the centerpiece of this museum, the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery, to see the full spectrum of Alaskan art, from ancient Eskimo ivory carvings to contemporary paintings and sculptures.
You can’t miss it — the museum looks like a round golden airplane hangar with a model aircraft from Air North mounted on beams outside in a simulated take-off. Inside, you’ll find a few of the earliest aircraft in the state from the 1930s and 1940s used in military, commercial, and bush flights. All this is interpreted for visitors by local experts, who have lived and breathed the aviation industry for decades in Fairbanks, and shared it here ...more