Ports Of Call | Elfin Cove | Alaska’s Mystical “Gunk Hole”

Since 2007, Elfin Cove has been one of those rare southeast Alaska destinations that live vividly in my mind. We managed to lose our anchor on the F/V Rose Lee that summer, which somehow leads us to the port of Elfin Cove. Nestled into a southern little gunkhole in Icy Strait, Elfin Cove is home to some of the best views of the awe-inspiring Fairweather Range. Oh yeah, just across the strait is a little bay you may have heard of, known as Glacier Bay! It only took me a few moments to roam the harbor and traverse the various boardwalks, but it seems like it has taken an eternity for me to get back to Elfin Cove. Another summer of salmon searching is just around the corner and you never know what ports you may call home for the summer.

The history of Elfin Cove is just as peculiar as the destination. Here’s the lowdown according to Fairweatherfish.com

Ernie Swanson was a visionary who saw the need for a community in Elfin Cove. He witnessed the fish camps the natives established each season. The fish were here and all else could bebuilt to support this industry. He recruited different people with skills needed to develop a healthy community. Ernie had a large floathouse he used for his fox farm on Three Hill island which he brought to the cove to live on while he was buying salmon at what’s now called Mikes Island. In those days the fish had to be split and down (Mild-Curing) and packed in heavy wooden boxes which were made of planks 2′ x 4′ x 1′ deep. These boxes were made out of 2″ planks with rope handles in each end. These boxes soon became called totes as they were then loaded onto the “packer” which was simply a boat to haul them to thecannery. The boxes would be emptied and food stores brought back in them. Ernie had all the “ships stores” in his float house. Ernie came to Alaska on a sailing vessel as a “cabin boy”. To clean the bottom of these ships required a sandy beach to lay them on, fair weather and two tides to get both sides. Because of the combination, cleanings were erratic. He used to raiserutabagas at Glacier Bay; went broke, then tried fox farming on Three Hill. The main part of Cove Lodge (Next to Mourants) was originally another fox farm building, and was floated to the cove and winched up the beach to where it stands today.

In 1942 Thelma (later to be Peterson) and Fred Folette (Louise Mourant’s folks) came to the Cove for fishing. Bob and Louise Mourant came in 1957 to runthe Oil Dock. Rose and Hazel had a sewing bee on top of the. Ruth Swanson had a bunch of wine they got into. Bessie was all dressed up (as usual). On her way home, she fell off the boardwalk and got muddy. When she walked in the house, Roy thought she’d been to a “smoker” rather than a “sewing party”. Bessie Elliott was a “working woman” and Roy Elliott was her bouncer. Ernie was impressed with her energy & convinced them of the opportunities available here to get out of her line of work as she was a mature woman. There was a need for a restaurant in his new town. So the first cafe’ wasbuilt on pilings between Patti’s smoke house and the creek. A little shack was put up a little above the walk next to the creek and water from the creek was piped thru and this was Elliotts’ meat storage. They operated this cafe’ until the early 50s. Ruth Swanson had all the qualities Ernie needed in a woman. Ruth had been reared on the east coast with the advantages of the upper class but was considered an old maid for she was 30 yrs old and unmarried. Ruth was very tolerant of people and did well in theCove. She arrived here the same year as Bessie and at that time they were the only two women around. A post office was established in 1935 with RuthSwanson as Postmaster. She didn’t want it called “Gunk Hole“. One morning as Ruth was sitting having her morning coffee and looking at the head of the cove she commented to Ernie how mystical the morning was: “With all the mist in the trees you can almost see little Elves dancing about.” He agreed and Ruth said we should call it the Elfin Cove qpost office and so the village got its name.


  1. This is fantastic, Dave – thanks for this one! I didn’t know any of this history, and just like your Tenakee post, it brought back some good memories… When my folks first started hand trolling, Elfin Cove was a regular stop for us – I still remember the smell of the “library,” the shed with the sagging floor and sawhorse tables piled high with paperbacks. Haven’t been back in for years, but still think of it as one of Southeast’s hidden treasures.

  2. Not sure how accurate this info is. I’ve lived in Elfin Cove my entire life so not sure who made some of this stuff up. I would be interested to see who gave you these facts about Elfin Cove. It would be nice if you would poset on your web page who/what you got your information from so others could see it also. I must have missed you when you came to do the filming, I wold have liked to spend sometime talking with you before you decided to represent the community to the world in this way. It is very cute how you picture it however, I think you would have gotten better pictures and scenery if you had come during the summer when things are blooming and a little more picturesque. I was watching your video and thinking wow, didn’t realize our town looked so trashy. It might have just been the areas you picked to film and photograph. Just some food for thought.

  3. I cited where I got the info. I have just pieced together parts of the Internet. I did not do the filming, I just thought it showed a decent perspective of Elfin Cove. There really isn’t much data on the web for this. Some of the photos are from my visit to Elfin Cove, the rest are of the source I cited. The piece was meant to show Elfin Cove in a good light, I’m sorry your harbors are trashy. I havent been there in years. I hope the community takes pride in what a special place they live in. Maybe some of those fancy lodges can help repair the harbor infrastructure. Thanks for your input. I would love to hear your version of the history sometime.

  4. Hello, searching for some history on a boat Good Partners which fished out of that area. My Great Grandfather owned such a boat.Wondering if its the same boat?
    Thanks Ann Dragich Belson

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