The northernmost community in the United States, Barrow sits 1,300 miles south of the North Pole. The village is 10 miles south of the Beaufort Sea and Point Barrow, from which it takes its name. Point Barrow, in turn, was named in 1825 by British captain Frederick William Beechey, who'd been ordered by the British Navy to map the continent's northern coastline. Beechey wished to honor Sir John Barrow, a member of the
British Admiralty and a major force in Arctic exploration. The region's Inupiaq Eskimos knew the site as Ukpeagvik, or "place where owls are hunted." Even today, many snowy owls nest in the tundra outside Barrow each summer, though they're now protected by federal law and no longer hunted.
About 4,400 people inhabit Barrow today, making it easily the largest community on the North Slope. Nearly two-thirds of the residents are Inupiaq Eskimos. Though they remain deeply rooted in their Inupiaq heritage, Barrow's residents have adopted a modern lifestyle. Homes are heated by natural gas taken from nearby gas fields, and the community is served by most modern conveniences, including a public radio station, cable TV, and Internet access. The community recreation center has a gymnasium, racquetball courts, weight room, and sauna, and hosts a variety of social events, from dances to basketball tournaments. In Barrow, as in much of Bush Alaska, basketball is the favored sport, played year-round by people of all ages.
Barrow is the economic and administrative center of the North Slope Borough, which encompasses more than 88,000 square miles, making it the world's largest municipal government (in terms of area). The village is also headquarters of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, formed in 1971 through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), as well as the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation, which economically and politically represents the community of Barrow. Several village councils are also headquartered in the town.