A top attraction in Ketchikan, Creek Street is a wooden boardwalk of brightly painted buildings resting on pilings perched over Ketchikan Creek. Though it’s best known for its history as a Red Light District, Ketchikan Creek has a rich and fascinating history. Scroll through this page to learn more about what makes this area so remarkable.
Ketchikan Creek was formed around 15,000 years ago when glaciers eroded from the area. With a mix of fresh and salt water at the basin—the waters of the Creek became an ideal location for spawning salmon. And so it began for millenia: the continuous cycle of a rich and abundant food source.
Salmon are at the heart the various fauna surrounding Ketchikan Creek. Migrating from the ocean starting in late July through September, salmon truly are what makes the Creek so special, attracting animals—humans included—for thousands of years.
One of the more exciting sights is watching the happy seals come into the Creek to indulge in this late summer feast. Equally dramatic, the seagulls will noisily fill their bellies on the carcases when the water line lowers. It's a remarkable experience that varies with each tide, all created by the incredible life cycle of the salmon.
The first occupants in the area were the Tlingit people (pronouced KLING-kit) who settled in the in on the island for untold centuries, capitalizing on the area's rich food source.
The name "Ketchikan" is derived from these first residents. While there are many opinions regarding its exact meaning, the most widely accepted translation of Ketchikan is "thundering wings of an eagle.”
European settlers were attracted to the Creek as they could easily trade with the Tlingits. They began immigrating to the area in the late 1800s. During this time, Ketchikan began to grow as a result of its location as the first, U.S. port on the route to northern Alaska. The Creek served to provide a food source and trading post for the people of area. In 1890 Ketchikan had a population of 40, 26 of whom were Native Alaskans.
Red light district
By the 1900s, Ketchikan had earned a reputation for housing certain “indecent” businesses sprouting from the mostly single, working-male trades. To contain these “less-than-reputable” enterprises, the City Council designated they remain east of Ketchikan Creek in "Indian Town.” This began Creek Street’s notorious distinction as a “Red Light District.” These businesses complemented the prohibition era well, and the area thrived with its infamous happenings.
Ran mostly by independent, business-savvy women, Creek Street brothels provided female entrepreneurs an opportunity to purchase land and run businesses in a time when there were few opportunities for women to do so.
Today Creek Street is a vibrant destination attracting a sizable portion of Ketchikan's cruise passengers. Perched over the Creek on pilings, the colorful buildings of Creek Street are one of the most photographed sites in the community. The Creek Street Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of Ketchikan's finest gems.