When Con and Nellie Miller arrived in Fairbanks in 1949, they had $1.40 in cash and two hungry kids. Determined to carve out a living in the territory of Alaska, Con soon became a merchant and fur buyer in the surrounding villages. Donning an old, red Santa suit each Christmas, Con earned celebrity status as Santa Claus in the eyes of the village children – the first St. Nick many had ever seen.
By 1952, the Millers had decided to build a trading post 13 miles south of Fairbanks in an area newly dubbed “North Pole.” One day, while hard at work on the new store, a young boy recognized Con and asked, “Hello, Santa Claus! Are you building a new house?”
Inspiration clicked and the new store would be called “Santa Claus House!” In those early days, the shop offered more basic necessities than it did Christmas treasures. Situated between two military installations and right in the middle of developing North Pole, Santa Claus House became an impromptu gathering place for area residents.
In addition to purchasing their groceries, locals could mingle at the soda fountain or pick up their mail, as Santa Claus House, under the direction of Postmistress Nellie Miller, was a mail contract station and served as North Pole’s first Post Office for almost 20 years.
As the community grew and changed over the following years, so did Santa Claus House. In 1974, the state rerouted the Richardson Highway, bypassing the store’s location. Undaunted, the Millers built a new storefront on the new four-lane highway, which is the store’s location to this day.
Inside, the store’s emphasis on Christmas delights slowly replaced well-stocked aisles of canned goods.
Although Santa Claus House changed, the Miller family commitment, to the community of North Pole did not. Con served as the mayor of North Pole for 19 years (the city’s longest-serving mayor) while Nellie acted as marriage commissioner for the community, marrying thousands of couples inside Santa Claus House.
Santa Claus House is one of the top attractions in Interior Alaska and has welcomed millions of visitors from all over the world. It has also received international recognition and publicity from writers, newspapers and television programs.
Santa Claus House has continued to spread the spirit of Christmas in recent years, opening Christmas in Alaska in Ketchikan.