Anchorage Alaska Facts

Interesting Anchorage Alaska facts from becoming a tent city to growing into modern day Anchorage.

By Michael R Dougherty, Anchorage Memories

Anchorage began as a "Tent City"

? What Happened in 1914 That Started it All?

A railroad construction port was created at the mouth of Ship Creek.

That construction took place between 1915 and 1923 and the site was named "Ship Creek Landing". A tent city soon began springing up.

And the world would soon welcome a new town.

? When Did Anchorage's Tent City Begin?

From it's humble beginnings as a tent city in 1915 at the mouth of Ship Creek, Anchorage has had many firsts along the way.

To begin with, the tent city that sprang up at the mouth of ship creek was very hard to maintain. There was mud everywhere and tents had to be moved up along what is now Government Hill.

And Cook Inlet became home for lots of off-shore businesses including lumber and hardware and other supplies.

Mary J Dougherty at the Tent City Celebration 1990

Anchorage Remembers "Tent City"

Check out this fun Anchorage Alaska Fact - Back in the early 1990s (or there abouts) Anchorage decided to remember and celebrate it's humble beginings -

A new Tent City was constructed near Ship Creek where visitors walked over sawdust covered streets and shopped at their favorite Anchorage stores.

Visitors to this new "Tent City" enjoyed their day and imagined what it might have been like for those brave souls who helped carve out what would become the modern city of Anchorage, Alaska.

? Where Did Anchorage Get it's Name?

At first, the tent city was called "Ship Creek." But the founding fathers decided to rename it "Alaska City."

Another name that was considered was "Lane" after Secretary of the Interior, Franklin D. Lane. "Matanuska" was considered as well.

Then the U.S. Post Office made the final choice of "Anchorage" - although some say it was named after a hardwood store called the Anchorage that was operating out of a boat anchored just off shore near the tent city. Anyway, "Anchorage" it was.

Anchorage Alaska Facts

You'll love these -

The Empress Movie Theater, 4th Avenue

? What was the First Movie Theater in Anchorage?

Much has been written about the 4th Avenue theater in downtown Anchorage, but it wasn't the first movie theater in Anchorage.

Way back in 1916,  Captain (Cap) Austin E. Lathrup opened the Empress movie theater opened on 4th avenue, just down the street from where the 4th Avenue theater would eventually be constructed.

The Lathrup movie empire included the production of at least one movie, "The Cheechakos", shot in 1924 on location in Denali Park and Girdwood, Alaska. The Cheechakos was of course a silent movie and is still shown in Anchorage from time-to-time.

U.S. President Warren G. Harding

? Who was the First U.S. President to Visit Anchorage?

An interesting Anchorage Alaska Fact is that the first president of the United States to visit Anchorage was our 29th President,

Warren G. Harding who visited back in 1923.

And here's an historic video about President Nixon meeting Japanese Emperor Hirohito in Anchorage.

The first Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska

? Who was the First Mayor of Anchorage?

As far as Anchorage Alaska Facts, this one is not commonly known.

Serving from November 29, 1920 to 1923, the first Mayor of Anchorage, Alaska

was Leopold David.

John J. Stringis

? Who was the First Chief of Police for Anchorage?

Some Anchorage Alaska Facts are long forgotten by most people. Here's one.

Anchor Town has always been a place where "rugged individuals" come to explore Alaska. With that in mind, "keeping the peace" has always been an adventure for Law Enforcement.

Back in 1921, Anchorage elected it's first Chief of Police, Mr. John J. Stringis.

Joe Spenard and his "City Express"

? Who was Joe Spenard?

In 1910, Joe Spenard first came to Alaska from Ottawa, Canada.

In 1916 he came to Anchorage. Joe is credited with bringing the first automobile to Anchorage. He also began a hauling business called "City Express." His slogan was "Time and tide will not wait, but City Express is never late."

Joe Spenard also built a logging road from Anchorage to "Jeter Lake". The logging road became known as "Spenard Road" and the lake became "Spenard Lake."

Today, Spenard is one of the more colorful suburbs of Anchorage.

Anchorage Alaska Facts

How many of these do you know?

Anchorage's First Hockey Team, 1935

? When did Anchorage get it's First Hockey Team?

Anchorage had it's first hockey team in 1935.

The outdoor rink's advertisers included The Frisco Cafe, Elkmann's Furniture and Piggly Wiggly Market.

Both Elkmann/s and Piggly Wiggly were located in the Anchorage Commercial building at 4th avenue and H street.

First Piggly Wiggly in Anchorage

? What was Anchorage's First Grocery Store Chain?

If you're an Anchorage Alaska Fact checker, here's one - Today, with so many stores where you can easily shop, Anchorage Alaska Facts includes Anchorage's first chain grocery store. You may have shopped in one, and they're still around in many places in the United States.

The first chain grocery store in Anchorage was the Piggly Wiggly Market which opened in 1947 at 4th and H street in the Anchorage Commercial Company building.

The "Park Strip"

? Did You Know this About the Park Strip?

Anchorage's "Delaney Park" was originally Anchorage's first landing strip for airplanes?

It was later replaced by Merrill Field.

For many, growing up in Anchorage includes fun memories of summers playing in the Park Strip's kiddy wading pool, exploring the train engine, or going to the park strip to enjoy a day at a visiting circus.

The Merrill Field Tower

? What Year was Merrill Field Established?

Named after Alaska aviation pioneer, Russel Merrill, Merrill Field was established on the eastern end of 5th avenue,

The airfield was opened for business in 1930. And for the next 21 years, Merrill Field was the only airport in Anchorage. When the parents of website owner Michael R (Mike) Dougherty first came to Anchorage in 1949, they landed at Merrill Field and their first impression of Alaska happened when they stood in the airplane's doorway, ready to walk down the stairway and on-to Merrill Field.

Check out Mike's Mother's first impression of what she saw. She called it My Beautiful Alaska and wrote this post.

As an interesting side note, the very first Aviation Beacon in what was then, the Territory of Alaska, was located at Merrill Field.

Anchorage Alaska Facts

Even if you live in Alaska or used to live there - you may not know all these facts -

"Air Crossroads of the World"

? When did Anchorage International Airport First Open?

Now Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (renamed after Alaska Senator Ted Stevens), Anchorage International Airport first opened on December 10th in 1951.

Anchorage's new airport replaced Merrill Field and soon became known as the "Air Crossroads of the World".

Merrill field remains in service for small aircraft to this day.

Elmendorf Air Force Base

? When were Elmendorf and Fort Richardson Built?

World War II had a lot to do with both Elmendorf Air Force Base and the Fort Richardson Army Base being built in Anchorage.  Both were constructed in the 1940s.

For kids attending school in Anchorage, having friends who had a parent in the military meant that when the military rotated your friends parents to their next assignment, you had to say goodbye to your friends.

During World War II, my father, Ray Dougherty, was in the Army and landed at the Anchorage base on his way to the Aleutian Islands with an anti-aircraft gun crew. Dad was so impressed with what he saw, that 1950, he moved our family from California to Anchorage, where we lived for many years.

Because of Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army Base, Anchorage is also the location of the headquarters of the Alaska Defense Command.

Anchorage in the early days

? What was Anchorage's Population in the 1940s to About 1951?

It all began in 1914, but by the 1940s to around 1951, Anchorage's population had grown from around 3,000 to around 47,000.

And because Anchorage's population responds to "boom or bust" situations like the oil pipeline days, citizens of Anchorage have been through many population changes - both up and down.

Check out these fun Anchorage Memories -

Modern Anchorage Skyline

? When and Where was Anchorage's First Traffic Light Installed?

If you could name one street in Anchorage that citizens of Anchor town think of as the most down town street, it would likely be 4th Avenue.

Back in 1951, 4th Avenue became the home of Anchorage's very first traffic light.

Today, Anchorage is a modern city with many more street and lots and lots of traffic lights.

Anchorage Alaska Facts

Amazing facts about an amazing place -

The modern Seward Highway

? When was the Seward Highway Completed?

The Seward Highway was completed in 1951.

My father, Ray Dougherty, was a heavy equipment operator on the section of the road from Anchorage to Girdwood. It was his first job in Alaska.

The Seward Highway runs 125 miles from Anchorage to Seward through beautiful forests, and along mountains and waterfalls.

Alaska was purchased from Russia for 7.2 million dollars. The purchase was negotiated and signed by Secretary of State William Seward. This popular Alaska highway is his name sake.

A Statehood commemorative stamp

? When did Alaska Become a State and What State Number is it?

On January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state.

Since I was only 3 years old when we first moved to Anchorage and Alaska was still a territory, I became upset when we were visiting family in Texas and I was told Alaska wasn't a state (it was still a territory at the time).

I couldn't understand why my parents would move us "outside" the United States.

But when statehood did come to Alaska, it also brought a sudden increase in Anchorage's population. So much so that it caused what was described as a "severe" housing shortage.

To celebrate it's new found statehood, residents of Anchorage put together a huge celebration, including a large bonfire - attended by Mary J Dougherty (author of this Anchorage Memories website).

Anchorage Alaska Facts wouldn't be complete without a look back at Anchorage radio and television history -

KFQD Radio station

? What was the First Radio Station in Anchorage, Alaska?

KFQD wasn't just the first radio station in Anchorage - it was the first radio station in Alaska.

Back on May 17, 1924, KFQD radio signed on the air.

And while that was a bunch of years ago, KFQD radio is still broadcasting to this day.

Past KFQD radio personalities include Herb Shaindlin and Marcus in the Morning as well as many others.

KTVA's first home

? What was the First Television Station in Anchorage?

Here's a fun Anchorage Alaska Fact - Take a look at the picture to the right, of this iconic building on Anchorage's famed 4th Avenue -

The building was known as the McKinley building before the 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake. On top of the building is the broadcast tower of KTVA channel 11, Anchorage, Alaska's first television station.

Started by Augie Hiebert, KTVA first began broadcasting on December 11, 1953 and broadcast from 2:00pm to 11:30pm from the first floor of the McKinley building (now the McKinely Tower Apartments at 337 E. 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage).

Check out these fun Anchorage Alaska videos right now

? Would you like to Learn More Anchorage Alaska Facts?

What year did you first arrive in "Anchor town?"

The largest city in Alaska has a colorful history and more than it's share of colorful characters like Joe Spenard and many others who came to this last frontier to build a life for themselves.

Like to discover more?

Learn more by visiting the Anchorage Museum right now.

Wonderful Anchorage Alaska memories that fill your heart and feed your soul -

Return to the Home page from this "Interesting Facts about Alaska" page

Contact Us