Athabascans have lived in the area around Chitina for centuries as evidenced by the archaeological sites south and east of Chitina. Before 1900, Chitina was the site of large village whose population was slowly decimated by the influx of people, disease and conflicts.
Copper ore was discovered in about 1900 along the northern edge of the Chitina River valley. This brought a rush of prospectors and homesteaders to the area. The Copper River and Northwestern Railway enabled Chitina to develop into a thriving community by 1914. It had a general store, a clothing store, a meat market, stables, a tinsmith, five hotels, several rooming houses, a pool hall, bars, restaurants, dance halls and a movie theater. The mines closed in 1938 and the remaining support activities moved to what is now the Glennallen area. Chitina became a virtual ghost town. Otto Adrian Nelson, a surveying engineer for the Kennecott Mines, eventually bought up much of the town. He built a unique hydroelectric system that supplied electric power to all his buildings. He also supplied much of the town center with hot and cold running water.
Current activity in Chitina revolves around the dipnet fishing for salmon that occurs every summer. Alaskans are allowed to dip a large number of salmon during their spawning runs and Chitina is an accessible and popular place for this activity.
In late 1977, jeweler Art Koeninger purchased the "Chitina Tin Shop” with the intention of turning it into a residence. In 1979, the site, formerly known as “Fred’s Place” and “Schaupp’s,” was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and has won two historic preservation grants. It currently houses the Spirit Mountain Artworks.