Brennan: An Oly for Nellie Brown

By Tom Brennan |

“Myrt, give Nellie another Oly and put it on my tab.”

Those were the operative words at Club 25 in the late 1960s when we young reporters at The Anchorage Times gathered after work for a drink and a bite.

Myrt was Myrtle Stalnaker, owner and bartender of the historic bar and restaurant on Fourth Avenue near the Captain Cook Hotel and a block up from the old Times’ office, which is now a court building. Nellie was Nellie Brown, wife of Jack Brown. The two were Anchorage pioneers.

Nellie and Jack came to Anchorage before there was any community here. They arrived in 1912 and were living in a cabin on Ship Creek when the crews arrived in 1915 to finish building the Alaska Railroad, which started in Seward and then ended at Ship Creek. The workmen were here to extend the tracks all the way to Fairbanks. Jack Brown had once been the area forester and had recently been hauling freight on the trails north and south of Ship Creek.

Most of the work crews came here after completing construction of the Panama Canal and its adjacent rail system. One of the first things they noticed was that a hill on the north side of Ship Creek looked a lot like a place in Panama that they called Government Hill. So the hill overlooking Ship Creek became known as Government Hill, a name that has stuck through the years. And Government Hill has a place named Brown’s Point, named for Nellie and Jack.

What all young reporters soon learned after being hired at The Times was that Nellie Brown loved the Club 25 and held forth most evenings from an alcove table in the popular restaurant. If you bought Nellie an Olympia beer she would hold forth with fascinating tales of the early days in Anchorage, her home then for about 55 years.

Nellie and Jack Brown lived in and around Anchorage for a long time; one of their friends was the artist Sydney Laurence, who traveled Alaska and recorded many of its more notable scenes in his artwork.

Jack was still alive when my wife and I arrived to work for The Anchorage Times, though I don’t remember much about him. I don’t think he usually came to Club 25 with his wife. But Nellie was a very memorable character and we delighted in keeping her supplied with Oly in exchange for her talking about the early days in Anchorage and the colorful characters who pioneered our city.

On our own way to Alaska we drove across the North American continent from Massachusetts, where we both had newspaper jobs. Reporting the news is a field where you tend to meet great characters, people like Nellie Brown.

We’ve met a lot of them over the last 50-something years in Alaska and I’ve had a number of jobs. And, as you can probably tell, I’m back in the newspaper business. It is a great pleasure to get back where I started.

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