Valdez Museum & Historical Archive – Valdez, Alaska - Atlas Obscura
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Valdez, Alaska

Valdez Museum & Historical Archive

Permanent exhibit reminds visitors of the Exxon Valdez. 

The small town of Valdez in Alaska (it is home to only about 4,000 people) is perhaps best known for the Valdez Marine Terminal, an oil port situated at the southern end of the Alaska Pipeline. The Valdez Marine Terminal served as the point of departure for the Exxon Valdez just prior to the ship’s massive oil spill that occurred in Prince William Sound. When the the Exxon Valdez struck the Bligh Reed, it spilled more than 260,000 barrels of oil into the Sound in an accident that is considered one of the most devastating environmental disasters in history.

That disaster is remembered in the halls of the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive, where an entire exhibit has been constructed around the Exxon Valdez. This museum, which was established more than 100 years ago by prospector Joseph Bourke, who was known for his small collection of curiosities, features many other exhibits in addition to the one about the oil spill. Among those exhibits are a fully operational 1886 hand-pumped fire engine, prisms from the Fresnel lighthouse lens, and photographs from 1898 of the first gold-hunting trip across the Valdez Glacier.

Bourke’s collection of curiosities was damaged in 1964 when a massive earthquake destroyed many structures within the community. The earthquake, which lasted for more then five minutes and measured 9.2 on the Richter scale, was the most powerful ever recorded in America. After Valdez relocated to its present site, concerned residents saved what they could from the museum’s collection, which has continued to grow ever since. One particularly fascinating piece on display in the museum is a 30 x 40-inch scale model of the town as it looked before the 1964 earthquake.

Know Before You Go

The museum is located on Egan Dr. between Tatilek and Chenega Avenues.