Golden Heart History: Fairbanks' First Mayor E.T. Barnette

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) In this week's Golden Heart History we take a look at Fairbanks' first mayor, Elbridge Truman Barnette.

UAF-1989-12-101 Portrait photograph of E.T. Barnette. Identification was provided by Virginia M. Cunningham, the grand-niece of Barnette.

In 1903, Fairbanks held their first mayoral election. Barnette lost by six votes to John L. Long; but according to American historian and author of 'Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land', Walter Borneman, says that Barnette pressured the city council until they named him the first mayor.

"Well I guess Barnette was kind of always on the shady side of things," said Borneman. "I think the thing that in my mind that stands out about Barnette is that -- whether it was the original location there, or the mayoral election, [or] later the kind of things that he does with banks."

According to Steven Levi's book, 'Boom or Bust in the Alaska Goldfields', Barnette saw his Washington-Alaska Bank go bankrupt in 1911, and in the aftermath he fled Alaska with $500,000 which is roughly $13.4 million in 2020. He was brought back to Alaska to face trial, but was found not guilty except for a misdemeanor.

After all that, shady politics, bad business deals and numerous run-ins with the court system, he is still remembered in Fairbanks. Borneman attributes that to time healing wounds. "And suddenly a decade or two goes by [and] there's now a town, despite the bank scandal that we're talking about. There's now a town, and suddenly things are pretty civilized," said Borneman. "I think the fact that both the street in Fairbanks and the elementary school shows that Barnette has been rehabilitated to a certain extent."

Barnette died in 1933, but his legacy lives on in Fairbanks, as a founding father and the first mayor.

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