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Photos: Anvik church bells and Iditarod 2013

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  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published March 8, 2013

The Alaska village of Anvik, population 82, is the first Iditarod Trail checkpoint on the mighty Yukon River. The town originally was located on the northeast side of the river, but its residents moved across the Yukon with the establishment of an Episcopal mission and school in 1887, according to the state's community profile.

The town's church bell signals the arrival of the first musher during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. An unknown village resident started the tradition, but it's been around since the Iditarod's beginnings, says Anvik Tribal Council second chief Robert Walker.

"It was started by the locals. They wanted some kind of tradition for the mushers," Walker says. "That was one of the reasons for ringing the bell. At that time, there were no phones or radio in the village, so (the bell) let people know what was going on."

And it's a privilege to ring the bell. As mushers traverse the banks of the Yukon and approach the church, a watchful eye sounds the alarm. Residents gather to greet the first musher.

The same year the church was established, Rev. John W. Chapman became the Episcopal church's second Alaska ambassador. He remained there for 43 years of service. The University of Alaska Fairbanks digital archives include two albums related to Chapman's work in Anvik. The photos depict a town growing around the church: a clearing with building materials strewn about the banks of the Yukon River, and the church is the lone building in the background; a large group of Alaska Native kids standing outside the church; a dog sled team mushing past the building.

The church was used as an orphanage for more than 60 years, Walker said.

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