Kimberly and Tom Huddleston, grew up in the Copper River Valley. From Lodge and Restaurant-owning families themselves, they’ve enjoyed serving guests and visitors at Old Town Copper Center since 2002.
Old Town Copper Center and the Huddleston family have separate roots reaching back to Alaska’s famous Gold Rush. Tom’s great-great-uncle Jack Ingram came to Alaska with the 1898 Abercrombie expedition that established the route to Alaska’s gold fields over Valdez Glacier. Ingrams and Ashbys participated in the rise of Valdez City with its colorful history, railroad wars and all.
The first roadhouse at Copper Center was a temporary tent hotel established in 1898 by Andrew Holman at the confluence of the Klutina and Copper Rivers. The tent camp soon grew into permanent log structures that housed a hotel, trading post, post office, and other facilities for the horse and dog transportation of the early 1900s. A saloon was added in 1906. Holman also published an important guide for the territory, the 1902 “A Guide for Alaska Miners, Settlers and Tourists.”
In 1948, Tom Huddleston’s family history converged with the lodge when it was purchased by his grandparents, George and Katherine Ashby. George and Katherine, later joined by Tom’s great-grandmother Kathryn, renamed the establishment Copper Center Lodge.
The Lodge was an important wayside and support for the development of highways and airfields in Alaska in the WWII years. George and Katherine operated the lodge through Alaska’s transformation from territory to statehood in 1959 and into the 1970s. A dedicated community leader, George Ashby also organized phone communications from Valdez and the Copper River Valley and was one of the founders of what is now Copper Valley Telecom and its sister member-owned cooperative, Copper Valley Electric Association.
Tom’s mother, Jean Ashby Huddleston, and husband Pete Huddleston raised their family at the lodge. Jean, a beloved local storyteller and teacher as well as a great cook, was associated with the lodge until 1988.
Copper Center Lodge owners survived the great 1964 Alaska earthquake, which Kathy Ashby remembered as “a veil of crashing crockery,” and an epic flood the following winter. They also endured through human disasters in the form of economic slumps and disastrous fires.
In 1928, a fire destroyed the front half of the Copper Center Roadhouse, which was rebuilt in 1932 and saw many renovations during the Ashby years . In 2012, a fire completely destroyed the Copper Center Lodge building. A reconstruction of the hotel is still underway. Luckily, other historic log structures were spared from the fire and comprise the heart of Old Town Copper Center.
The legacy of good food and hospitality passed down from Ashby and Huddleston families is still enjoyed by visitors and local guests at Old Town Copper Center Inn and Restaurant, with Kim and Tom Huddleston as owners and hosts.
George Ashby’s favorite old Irish blessing is still apt: “May you live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.”
Historical information from The Trail (Marsh, 2008) and the memoirs of Jean Ashby Huddleston.