The History of Halibut Cove
The community of Halibut Cove, on the Kenai Peninsula, lies in a protected stretch of waterway called the narrows, which runs between hourglass-shaped Ismailof Island and the south shore of Kachemak Bay. Many of the houses sit on pilings, and the only transportation is by boat- there are no cars. The surrounding water of Kachemak Bay provides the livelihood of many residents. Local men and women fish commercially for salmon, halibut, or cod, and others maintain the three active oyster farms. There are also a number of artist in the Cove, and it’s not unusual for a resident to be both artist and commercial fisher.
The area is rich with history. Archaeological research of midden sites shows signs of a large settlement during prehistoric times. Artifacts found locally suggest three waves of native habitation, likely forced to leave because of a catastrophic event, such as a volcanic eruption.
From 1911 to 1928, a rich herring run in Halibut Cove led to a population boom. The herring fishery employed as many as 1,000 people during the height of the season. A town and herring salteries sprang up, and docks were built to accommodate the steamers that came to load kegs of salted fish. Thus became the future inspiration and namesake of The Saltry restaurant.
By 1927, pollution from processing the spawning grounds had caused a marked decline in the stocks, and by 1928 the herring were gone and the boom was over. Halibut Cove became a ghost town with only a few tenacious old-timers remaining. Buildings were torn down for material to build the growing village of Homer.
In 1948, Clem Tillion came to Halibut Cove. In 1952, he married Diana Rutzebeck, and they stayed to raise their children Will, Marian, Martha, and Vince. The Tillions helped foster the developing community. Clem started the ferry run to Homer in 1966, and Diana’s Cove Gallery, featuring her paintings in octopus ink, opened in 1968. Their combined focus on business and art attracted a new generation of settlers. Halibut Cove began to rebuild. It was in this spirit, and the support of the Halibut Cove community that The Saltry came to be.
The History of The saltry
On an overcast day in the fall of 1983 the Saltry, jacked up and teetering on three foot wooden stilts, floated slowly down the Halibut Cove channel, flanked by skiffs bearing "no wake" signs. Rising over all was the Saltry's steeply peaked roof line-attributes that had earlier caused the locals to dub it "The Flying Nun."
When the perfect building to house an island eatery presented itself, Marian and Dave Beck acted instantly to acquire the unique structure that became the Saltry Restaurant. A U-shaped dock was constructed in preparation for the Saltry's arrival. Moving day was chosen for its twenty-three foot tide, the highest of the season. When the tide was at its highest point, the barge was eased into the U-shaped opening. As the tide dropped, the empty barge eased down and away with the tide. Pilings were erected from the beach at low tide to brace the Saltry from underneath. If you look at the dock around the Saltry now, it's possible to see how it sits not quite square, how its final settling place is slightly caddywhompus.
The Saltry first opened it's doors in April 1984. Eighty people arrived for the celebratory potluck, despite the howling blizzard of rain and snow. At its inception, the Saltry provided simply fare: drinks at the bar, hot chowder, fresh bread and cold appetizers-such as pickled fishthat are still on the menu today.
Today, the Saltry serves about 100 people everyday during the summer season, dishing out gourmet food from a kitchen decidedly more sophisticated than in 1984. What hasn't changed is the incredibly beautiful setting of the Saltry, with its view of the mountains and glaciers from its perch above the water.