This picture was taken when the Seward to Anchorage train stopped at Nellie Lawing's in the 1940's. When I was leaving Alaska July of 1949, the train stopped there and she gave us a tour. It was so much fun and so interesting to me. (I was 12). I still remember her story about the automatic fish catching and cooking rig she had set up.
-- Mona Painter
Alaska Nellie Lawing is featured in the Cooper Landing Museum in pictures, a model of her home, and newspaper articles, but the exhibit is evolving to capture the spirit of this unique woman. Nellie Neal came to Alaska in 1915 and worked for the railroad feeding workers and travelers, mined, trapped, drove dog teams, hunted big game, and eventually settled in Roosevelt on Kenai Lake east of Moose Pass. The community was renamed Lawing after Nellie became the postmaster. She married William Lawing, known as Billie, on the stage of the Liberty Theater in Seward in the fall of 1923.
The Lawings were captain and crew of a boat that provided transportation on Kenai Lake before the highway went much beyond Mile 18 out of Seward. Nick Lean recalls the launch as being the only boat on the lake with a bathroom.
Betty Bryson, left, Nellie and Betty's father-in-law, Roy Bryson. (Roy and Elnor Bryson built the place in Cooper Landing now evolved to Sunrise Inn) are shown in the doorway at Nellie's place on Kenai Lake in the late 1940s, probably 1947.
Nellie and her husband operated a lodge and a museum filled with Alaska game animal mounts, birds, an African lion, a piano with bullet holes and other trophies and curiosities. More than 15 thousand people signed her guest books over the years including President Warren G. Harding, cabinet member Herbert Hoover before his presidency, Will Rogers and Wily Post, boxer Jim Jeffries, movie star Alice Calhoun, General Billy Mitchell, and the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, England.
In her autobiography, Alaska Nellie, she wrote: “After the completion of the government railroad a great many new tourists were coming into the country for the first time. Billie and I were kept busy caring for the many travelers during the tourist season which started June first and continued until September first. During this time, the trains were stopped ten minutes for travelers to see and hear of the wildlife of Alaska, which I explained to them in detail, in the Trophy Room.” She continued Lawing Roadhouse and Museum after Billie died in 1936.
A three-reel Alaska drama, “Alaska’s Neillie, was filmed on location by MGM Studios under the direction of J. Fitzpatrick in 1939 with Nellie starring as herself. One of the scenes shows Nellie answering the fish bell, a popular and much written about attraction in her kitchen. The bell fastened on a trout set line out of her window would have Nellie hauling in fish in no time. Jane Behlke remembers seeing this occurance as a child and remarking loudly to her mother that the trout looked dead before it came over the window sill.
Nellie died at her home in Lawing on May 10, 1956 while feeding Sis, her pet rabbit.
This article was written by Mona Painter with the Kenai Historical Society.
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