View from top of Tillion Homestead with Halibut Cove below
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 artists 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 bought his homestead in 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.