The small Alaskan town of Whittier is only 19.7 square miles, it has a population of around 218 residents and nearly all of them live under one roof. A large 14 story building is called Begich Tower was built as an army barracks but now houses nearly everyone in the town. If you’re thinking that the remote town’s residents are a little different, you’ll find the location and access to the town just as unusual.
The town is only accessible from the sea or a one way tunnel that is the longest in North America at two and a half miles long. The tunnel operators alternate the direction of the tunnel traffic every 30 minutes which can be inconvenient if you want to catch a movie in the nearest city, Anchorage. They also have a train service through the tunnel if you don’t want to drive.
The tunnel closes at 11pm so if you haven’t made it home by then, you’re going to have to spend the night in your car as it won’t open again until 5:30 am. The only exception to this rule is for emergency vehicles.
The building does not just house over 70% of the towns people but also the police station, the school, an indoor playground, two convenience stores, a B&B, a laundrymart and a post office. There is also a church in the basement that uses the children’s indoor inflatable pool to carry out baptisms.
The town is so remote that it only functions if everyone living there does their bit. It requires the people there to step up and do their part, whether it be as the police officer, a snow clearer, an EMT or the tunnel operator. The town relies on it’s residents to keep going. In the summer many of the cruise ships pull up in the harbour and seasonal workers help in the harbour with all of the tourists.
Winter months in Whittier can be harsh with tempratures dropping to as low as 22.9ºF in the winter and be buried under more than 47.6 inches of snow. Wether in the summer only reaches 62.5ºF but is the most popular time to visit.
The reasons for people moving to such a remote area are all different. Many don’t see the difference from living in a large tower building in New York where there are people everywhere, the only difference in this town is that they all know each other. There is the story of one woman who moved to the remote town to escape an abusive husband. She was able to ask the people on the tunnel entrance not to leave her ex into the town and it became her safe haven. There are many children that live in the town who all enjoy a happy life with a close relationship with their teacher and each other.