St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is a cornerstone in the quaint town of Nenana, Alaska. Nenana is a small, historic town with a population of less than 500 residents and is located 60 miles southwest of Fairbanks. The little town was known in the early 20th century as a station on the Alaska Railway and a port on the Tanana River. The church was once the home of a Native American boarding school on the site of an Episcopal mission. Since the United States gave little money for education in the Alaskan territory, the churches ran most of the schools for native people. St. Mark’s opened its native boarding school in 1907. The boarding school, which could house about 40 students, attracted children from all over the interior parts of Alaska.
Events such as the arrival of the railroad and the 1920 influenza epidemic changed the nature of Nenana and led to a gradual decline in the native Alaskan population. The boarding school was forced to close in 1955.
St. Mark’s Episcopal is a log-cabin-style church measuring 22 ft. by 28 ft. and was originally constructed in 1905. The church was moved in 1955 to a site about a mile from the original location and was rebuilt using many of the original construction materials. This was the same year the boarding school closed, and the original site has sadly been lost to river erosion.
The log construction, gable front and bell tower were preserved during the move. The gable-roofed church is constructed of flat logs on top and bottom, notched at the corners with the ends projecting. The Gothic-style stained-glass windows provide an ornate touch to the understated architecture of St. Mark’s. The front of the building features a shake-covered roof. The log construction and bell tower were standard designs among Episcopal mission churches in Alaska at the time. Inside, the wooden pews are simple, yet the altar is intricate with Native American beadwork.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is located at Front Street in Nenana, Alaska. For more information, visit www.onlyinyourstate.com/alaska/st-marks-episcopal-church-pretty-place-worship-ak/.