Jeff and Michelle Cobble, the new owners of the Brown & Hawkins building, on the balcony with previous owners Hugh and Iris Darling. Photo courtesy Jeff and Michelle Cobble.

A prominent Fourth Avenue building that dates from Seward’s early days as a pioneer town sold this week, marking the end of over a century of ownership by members of the original family. The third generation of the Hawkins family, represented by Hugh and Iris Darling, found what they call the perfect buyers in Jeff and Michelle Cobble, a pair of photographers with a yen for the Alaskan outdoors.

The Darlings were already working through offers from other buyers when they heard that the Cobbles had expressed interest, said Iris Darling. But the Cobbles wanted to keep the building as it is, a fact which Iris said was “key” to closing with them instead.

“I think the Good Lord looked after us – we have the perfect person,” Iris said.

“We have felt like that, too,” said Michelle Cobble. “It is one of those meant-to-be type of feelings since the beginning, just because we are all about history.”

The Brown & Hawkins building in downtown Seward – actually three separate buildings joined by a false front and internal walkways – served for years in the early 20th century as a commercial hub in the budding town, at various times hosting a bank and a telegraph office in addition to the dry goods store with which original proprietors Thomas William Hawkins, also known as T. W., and Charles E. Brown got their start.

Hawkins and Brown had between them around ten years of experience in Alaska by the time they joined forces in Seward. The two men, lured to Alaska at the end of the 19th century by the discovery of gold, met in Nome. In March of 1903, they opened a general store together in Valdez. Later that year, Hawkins followed news of the founding of Seward, arriving in August aboard the Santa Ana, the first steamship to drop settlers at the town site.

The pair’s first building in Seward went up that year, according to the building’s entry in the National Register of Historic Places. Little more than a timber box with tar paper siding, this humble frontier store was replaced the next year with a two-story frame store a hundred feet deep. That structure still stands as the center of today’s Brown & Hawkins building.

Nearly 116 years after T. W. Hawkins broke ground on his new commercial venture in Seward, his grandson, Hugh Darling, and Hugh’s wife, Iris, hand the building on to new owners.

“Brown and Hawkins has touched the lives of almost everybody in Alaska,” Iris said. “The rafters at the Jesse Lee Home are stamped Brown & Hawkins. We were the telegraph office for a while. We were the newspaper for a time.” 

It’s been a lot of things to a lot of people, and now it’s being put in new hands.”