Our Community: Hughes, Alaska

Hughes is located on a 500-foot bluff on the south bank of the Koyukuk River, about 115 air miles northeast of Galena, Alaska and 210 air miles northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska. It lies at approximately 66° 03′ N Latitude, 154° 15′ W Longitude (Sec. 33, T008N, R022E, Kateel River Meridian). The community is located in the Ft. Gibbon Recording District. The area encompasses 3 sq. miles of land. The current population is approximately 96 residents.

The Koyukon Athabascan’s have lived in the region for thousands of years, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle. They lived in several camps throughout the year, moving as the seasons changed, following the wild game and fish.

Around the early 1900’s gold was discovered by a local Alaska Native named Alfred Isaac. Subsequently the mountain and river were named Indian Mountain and Indian River. Hughes served as a riverboat landing and supply port for the Indian River gold fields, located 20 miles away. The town quickly developed into a large scale mining camp which included stores and a saloon, which continued until approximately 1915 when the local mining industry declined. The town was formally founded and named in 1910 after New York Gov. Charles Hughes. Placer gold mining operations continued at Indian Mountain until 1962. The local Alaska Natives continued to live at the townsite and a post office was established in 1942. An airstrip was built in the 1950s, a school in 1956, a clinic in 1968, and local roads in 1974. A community-wide electric system was developed in 1981.

In 1951 the U.S. Air Force constructed the Indian Mountain Air Force Station (AFS) a continental defense radar station serving as an early warning system against an attack from the Soviet Union. The location is approximately 20 miles from Hughes, at the top of Indian Mountain. The site is still in operation today as the Indian Mountain Long-Range Radar Site (LRRS), although there is little to no contact between the site personal and community residents.

In the past 25 years the community has faced several natural disasters. In September 1994, flood waters destroyed or swept away nearly all of the community’s buildings, homes, and food caches for the winter. Residents endured and in following years, most all homes and facilities were rebuilt or rehabilitated. In summer 2015 Hughes was again threated this time by wildfire. A series of three major wildfires surrounded Hughes, burning an estimated 275,000 acres. Miraculously no homes, facilities or camps were lost – thanks in part to a heroic effort from community residents and the state and federal wildland firefighting community.