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Tenakee Springs Bathhouse

 

March 2019


In the colorful history of Tenakee Springs nothing has been more central or constant than the hot springs and bathhouse.

Stained glass window in dressing room by Sue and Paul Scriber. Photo by Cynthia Meyer, reproduced with permission.The Tenakee hot springs and bathhouse are well known throughout Southeast Alaska. One of the highlights for boaters cruising these waters is a good hot bath and restorative soak.

Many Tenakee residents do not have showers or bathtubs in their cabins and rely entirely on the bathhouse hot spring for bathing. For residents, while the bathhouse is a pleasure, it is even more valued as an essential part of staying clean and comfortable in this remote Alaska location. Rules for bathing are posted and are taken seriously.

Even people living in newer houses with bath tubs or showers often prefer the bathhouse for the pleasure of a hot soak. Floating alone in the pool or visiting with other bathers are both special pleasures. Important personal, social and town information is passed along in the comfort of the steaming tub. Especially during the cold winter months, the bathhouse provides a warm and welcome place to meet with friends in a town that has few public amenities or other opportunities for entertainment.

The mineral water flows at a constant rate of about 7 gallons per minute and a temperature of about 107F. It bubbles up into a cement and stone tub that is about six feet by nine feet by five feet deep, set into the cement floor of the tub room. The overflow from the low lip of the tub drains through a small hole in one corner of the room. Even in deep winter, the tub room stays warm from the heat of the spring.

"Hotspring Dressing Room" 2003 Lithograph by Rie Munoz, reproduced with permission.

The changing room is separated from the tub room by a door and has benches and hooks for clothes and towels. Some years ago Sue Scriber and her late husband Paul, local artists, made and donated replacement stained glass windows for this room. (The older ones - though cracked and in generally poor shape - now live on in a local's outhouse!)

Bathhouse History

The hot spring was originally an open pool draining into the tideland. In 1900 it was enlarged and a log cabin was constructed over the pool area which was enclosed by a cement apron at about the same time. In 1920 or so a separate changing room was added.

The present tub room was constructed in 1939 by crew (many local) working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. It features a skylight cupola mounted on a flat-roof supported by poured concrete walls. Volunteers formed a bathhouse committee in the 1930s to maintain the facility, a service still provided by volunteers. The bathhouse is now owned by the city, but the bathhouse committee continues as an independent governing organization. 

For More Information:

The Bathhouse Through the Years

 

2012 Restoration & Geothermal Heating Project

In the summer of 2011 Tenakee resident Kevin Allred, at the behest of the Bathhouse Committee, replaced some of the pilings under the wood-frame portion of the structure (the “changing room”). In excavating for the pilings, he identified a number of hot water seeps that had been buried for decades.

Stained glass window in dressing room by Sue and Paul Scriber. Photo by Cynthia Meyer, reproduced with permission.

Seeing potential and gleefully putting his back to the task, Kevin traced each seep to its source, removing tons of fill in the process. Once he had each seep isolated, he designed and built an insulated collection system and heat transfer box under the building. Most who soaked in the tub and rested in the changing room had no idea of the work underway underneath. If Kevin was to have his way, the changing room, which for decades had been heated with fossil fuels, would soon be heated by a geothermal supplied in-floor radiant heating system.

During 2012, with Kevin's energy behind it, the project grew into a community backed restoration effort known as the Tenakee Bathhouse Restoration and Geothermal Heating Project.  A “Stripping Party” was advertised around town, and volunteers gathered to clean, sand, and refurbish the three-inch tongue-in-groove wall boards.  (Those who had come to the party expecting... well… something else, simply didn’t fess up!)  Once the floor, walls and ceiling had been thoroughly insulated and a tight vapor barrier placed, the finished boards were reinstalled with the former useen surface now facing the interior of the room. The old oil furnace is gone, as is the 304 gallon fuel tank. Concurrently, the Tenakee Historical Collection proposed and formed a partnership with the Bathhouse Committee and began a major fund-raising effort.

With an astounding total in monetary donations from nearly everyone who lives in and/or loves Tenakee, as well as valuable in-kind supplies and services and countless hours of volunteer effort as evidence of community support, the Historical Collection put together an application for a Rasmuson Foundation Tier 1 Community Grant.  

In late September, we received the good news. We got the funds.

The Tenakee Bathhouse Prior to Renovations

By mid-October, the heating system was installed and working well. In typical fall temperatures with the pump turned off (the system thermosyphoning on its own) the changing room temperature holds steady at about 60. With the pump turned on, the room maintains a steady 70. And that’s with the windows partly open!  In early November, the cement steps in the bath itself were carefully resurfaced.  A privacy wall at the entrance and two closets (one for the heating system and one for cleaning supplies) were built, and the telephone booth outside the buidling was moved. 

The final components of the 2012 Restoration & Geothermal Heating Project occured in 2013 with repairs/restoration of both the bath and the changing room roofs, as well as restoration of the exterior siding now fully completed.  

For More Information:
The 2012 Restoration & Geothermal Heating Project Slide Show

The link below opens a 20 min documentary on YouTube created by Carlene and Kevin Allred about the project.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79eEjANlRuQ

Bathhouse Finances

Use of the bathhouse is free. Four times a year the tub is pumped out and cleaned. Maintenance, cleaning supplies and labor are paid for by donations to the bathhouse committee.  These may be made at Snyder Mercantile or mailed to Tenakee Bathhouse Committee, Box 642, Tenakee Springs, AK 99841.

Until 2012 the expense of heating the changing room with an oil furnace was also paid with donations. By replacing the oil furnace with a geothermal heat source for in-floor radiant heat, the cost of heating has now been reduced to that of pumping the hot spring water through the in-floor heating tubes.

Bathhouse mural designed and painted by Pete Bogart, Robin Hiersche, and Carlene Allred. Photo by Cynthia Meyer, reproduced with permission

The Tenakee Bathhouse Restoration and Geothermal Heating Project fund-raising effort netted a total of $47,000  ~$22,000 in community  donations, ~$9,000 in in-kind contributions and ~$16,000 in grant funds (Rasmuson Foundation).

All phases of the project are complete. The Bathhouse is available for all to enjoy (per our rules and gender specific bath hours). Tenakee only asks that users respect the space and donate towards maintenance and cleaning as able.

Donations should be made directly to the Bathhouse Committee. There is an old cigar box labled for donations under the counter at the Tenakee Marker (aka "Snyder Mercantile"). Just ask the clerk!). All donations support the continued operation and maintenance of the facility.  

We in (and beyond) Tenakee are proud of this project and our  restored Bathhouse!  Thank you everyone!

 

For More Information:
  Bathhouse Images       


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