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Interesting Facts About Anchorage Alaska that take you from those humble beginnings as a rugged tent city, to today's modern town.
Even if you live or have lived in Alaska's largest city, you're about to discover facts that you may not know.
Anchorage began with the creation of a railroad construction port at the mouth of Ship Creek.
Yes, it all started as a “company town” for the railroad.
Construction took place between 1914 and 1923 at what was called, “Ship Creek Landing”. Since there was no place to stay, a very basic city of tents soon sprang up. It was crude, rugged, and unsanitary. Can you imagine living in a tent during Alaska winters?
Some came to the area to work for the railroad. Others set up businesses like “Two Girls Waffles”, much needed grocery stores and even a newspaper that was operated out of a tent.
And from all of that, the world would soon welcome a new town.
From its humble beginnings Anchorage has had many firsts along the way.
To begin with, the city of tents was very hard to maintain. It was a muddy mess. The only water came from Ship Creek and eventually, tents had to be moved from out of the muck and mire along the creek to the side of what is now Government Hill.
Soon the waters of Cook Inlet became home for many offshore businesses including lumber, hardware and other supplies. Yep, instead of getting in your car to go shopping, you got in a boat and headed out into the inlet for the nearest barge.
In this edition of the Anchorage Memories VIP Club, you'll meet the Kimuras, a pioneer family who first came to town when it was still a tent city and went on to build one of Anchorage's most loved restaurants.
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After first calling it – “Ship Creek”, (an obvious choice, given its location), the population came together to vote on an official name.
Those considered were Winalaska, Matanuska, Homestead, Gateway, Terminal, Alaska City, and yes, Ship Creek.
Another name that was considered was “Lane” after Secretary of the Interior, Franklin D. Lane.
Alaska City received the most votes. Lane came in second.
But the townsfolk were overruled by the U.S. Post Office who stepped in to make the final decision on the name of this new town.
They chose “Anchorage”.
Soon, the town of Anchorage was included on maps and official documents.
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This was the first school house in Anchorage, Alaska.
It was built in 1915 when the settlement was still just a tent city.
Students used oil lamps for light. The building was not painted back then and it had no indoor restrooms. The outdoor toilets did not even meet the minimum standards of the new town site. And there was no heating system.
However, the one and only school was the beginning of public education in what would become the town of Anchorage.
The Alaska Railroad brought many firsts to town.
One was the first hospital.
In the picture above, the two log buildings that are under construction comprised the Alaska Railroad Hospital.
By the way, this was only for railroad workers.
Established by the Sisters of Providence, this hospital served all of Anchorage – not just railroad workers.
Many local residents contributed funds, furniture and other items to help the hospital get started. Alaskan artist Sydney Laurence even contributed a painting of Mount McKinley.
The hospital opened in 1939.
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Anchorage was incorporated on November 23, 1970.
First, put these Facts About Anchorage Alaska in perspective
When it comes to population, Anchorage is home to about 44 percent of all the people living in Alaska.
That translated to an Anchorage population of 294,356 people in 2017 – or about the same population that you'd find in the state of Delaware.
Over the years, Anchorage has been a boom town many times. In the 1970s for instance, the discovery of North Slope oil created a boom that resulted in a large spurt of growth.
According to Kiplinger magazine, Anchorage is the most tax-friendly city in the U.S.A.
As a boy, Mike of Anchorage Memories recalls a trip from Anchorage to Texas where he visited a local burger stand. After Mike ordered a soda, the clerk told him how much he owed, “with sales tax”. But being from Alaska, Mike had never heard of a sales tax, so he said, “what's a sales tax?”
The clerk was amused by the question and was thrilled to meet someone from Alaska.
First, Hans and Gerry Kirschner tried farming their Spenard property on McRae road… but they were not successful.Then, in 1951, they opened the Garden of Eatin’ and the rest is Anchorage history.
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Here's a question that everyone asks.
“how cold does it get?”
The average low in Anchor town is 30.3 degrees.
But way back in February 1947, temperatures plunged to a minus 38 degrees. That's right, 38 below.
And yes, that's cold, even by Anchorage standards.
What's The Temperature Right Now?
And while we're looking at these Facts About Anchorage Alaska.
How many times Alaskans been asked by folks in the “lower 48” about whether it's dark all the time in the winter, or light all the time in the summer way up there in Anchorage?
Here's “an answer”
During the shortest day in the winter (winter Solstice) the sun doesn't come up until around 10:15 am. And it sets at around 3:30pm. That means the sun only shines for a little over 6 hours on the shortest day of the year.
Alaska's largest city actually enjoys more daylight hours than anyplace in the “lower 49” (the rest of the United States) with more than 19 hours of daylight during summer Solstice (the longest day of the year).
And celebrations on that day in Anchorage include late night baseball games and golf T-times as late as 10:00pm.
Much has been written about the 4th Avenue Theatre, but it wasn't the first movie theater in Anchor town.
Facts About Anchorage Alaska Facts include this gem.
Way back in 1916, Captain (Cap) Austin E. Lathrop opened the Empress Movie Theater on 4th avenue. It was the first movie theatre in Anchorage, and it was located just down the street from where the 4th Avenue theater would eventually be constructed.
A Kimball organ was added the the Empress in 1917 to accompany the silent movies.
The Lathrop movie empire included the production of at least one movie, “The Chechakos”, shot in 1922 on location in Denali Park and Girdwood, Alaska. Interiors were filmed in a 7,000 square foot movie studio constructed in downtown Anchorage. Many local residents were used as actors in crowd scenes.
Notice in the ad above that adult tickets to the world premier movie were .40 cents, with tickets for children under 11 years were .15 cents.
The Cheechakos was of course a silent movie. It was the first and last movie produced by Lathrop.
You might get to see the movie as it's still shown in Anchorage at special screenings from time-to-time.
So, who was the first President of the United States to visit Anchorage?
He was our 29th President.
Warren G. Harding visited back in 1923. He also became the first U.S. President to visit Spenard Lake.
Leopold David was the first Mayor, serving from November 29, 1920, to 1923.
Anchorage must have been unique back then with many new mayors along the way.
You can still see the residence where Leopold David and his family lived at 605 Second Avenue near downtown.
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.
In 1921, Anchorage elected its first Chief of Police, Mr. John J. Sturgus. He was a one-person police department and his salary was $200 a month. In today's dollars that would be around $2,900.
Fighting crime in the new town had its own unique challenges.
Later on, when the police department grew, officers had to go to respond to crimes on foot, take a taxi or borrow a car from a citizen.
Joe first came to Alaska in 1910 from Ottawa, Canada.
By 1916 he made his way to the tent city on Ship Creel Flats..
A colorful character, Joe brought the first automobile to the town and began a hauling business with his truck called “City
Express.” His slogan was “Time and tide will not wait, but City Express
is never late.” He also started the town's first taxi service.
Joe Spenard also built a logging road from Anchorage to “Jeter Lake”. The logging road became known as “Spenard Road” and the lake became known as “Spenard Lake.”
Today, Spenard, possibly as a tribute to its founder, is one of the more colorful suburbs in Anchor Town.
You'll love this edition of the Anchorage Memories VIP Club as it looks at Joe Spenard.
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Facts About Anchorage Alaska include this one for all you Hockey fans.
When did Anchorage get it's first hockey team?
The outdoor rink's advertisers included The Frisco Cafe, Elkmann's Furniture and Piggly Wiggly Market.
Both Elkmanns and Piggly Wiggly were located in the Anchorage Commercial building at 4th avenue and H street.
If you're an Anchorage Alaska Facts checker, here's one.
Today, with so many grocery stores where you can easily shop, do you know what grocery chain was first in town? You may have shopped in one, and they're still around in many places in the United States.
The first chain grocery store was the Piggly Wiggly Market which opened in 1947 at 4th and H street in the Anchorage Commercial Company building.
Look in the lower right of the picture above to see the store.
Delaney Park opened as Anchorage's first air strip in the summer of 1924. At one time, a Golf Course shared the field. Golfers were instructed to give the planes the right of way.
This early airstrip was later replaced by Merrill Field.
The Park Strip brings back fun memories of summers playing in the kiddy wading pool, exploring the train engine, or going to the park to enjoy a day at a visiting circus.
Named after Alaska aviation pioneer, Russel Merrill, Merrill Field was established on the eastern end of 5th avenue in 1930.
And for the next 21 years, Merrill Field was the only airport in Anchorage, bringing people and much needed supplies to town.
Merrill Field remains open to this day,
When the parents of Anchorage Memories.com website owner Michael R (Mike) Dougherty first came to town in 1949, they landed at Merrill Field.
The very first Aviation Beacon in what was then, the Territory of Alaska, was located at Merrill Field.
Now Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (renamed after Alaska Senator Ted Stevens), it first opened on December 10th in 1951.
It is now the 3rd busiest cargo airport in the world.
This new airport replaced Merrill Field and soon became known as the “Air Crossroads of the World”.
It could be the cold climate, but did you know that there are more espresso coffee stands in the city of Anchorage than there are anywhere else in the United States? Next order, please.
World War II had a lot to do with the building of both Elmendorf Air Force Base and the Fort Richardson Army Base. 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 base on his way to the Aleutian Islands with an anti-aircraft gun crew. Dad liked with what he saw, and in 1950, he moved our family from California to Anchor Town, 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.
In 2005, both bases formed Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson.
In the photo above is 4th Avenue – notice the 4th Avenue Theater sign in the center of the picture.
If you ask someone who lives in Anchorage where the “main downtown street” is, they will tell you that it's 4th Avenue.
Did you know these Facts About Anchorage Alaska?
It all began in 1914, but by the 1940s to around 1951, the population had grown from about 3,000 to around 47,000.
And because the 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.
Those early pioneers who first came to join the men and women living in the tent city set up on Ship Creek Flats to build the railroad, would scarcely recognize the town now.
Facts About Anchorage Alaska include this.
If you could name one street in town that citizens think of as the most downtown street, it would likely be 4th Avenue.
Back in 1951, 4th Avenue became the home of the town's very first traffic light.
Today, it's a modern city with many more streets and lots and lots of traffic lights.
According to the 2010 census, Anchorage's Mountain View community is the most diverse community in the United States.
There are 105 miles of groomed cross country ski trails for Anchorage residents to enjoy in the winter time.
In summer, they become welcome walking and jogging trails.
Along with all of our Facts About Anchorage Alaska, we came across this one.
The town's port receives 95% of all the freight coming into Alaska.
And while it's hard to believe now, prior to 1915, Knik, just across Cook Inlet, was where most of the freight in Alaska was received. By the way, when the Railroad came to Anchorage, Knik became a ghost town.
There are no snakes that are native to Anchor town or Alaska.
Take a look at these Facts About Anchorage Alaska.
Around 250 black bear and 60 grizzly bears live right within the city limits. Not to mention the many moose who call the area home.
And speaking of moose, many Anchorage residents have stories to tell about moose encounters. Some have even had to call work to say, “I'll be late because there is a moose at my door.”
There are also wolves, beavers, and foxes within the city limits.
In the summer, you can fish for Silver Salmon and King Salmon in Ship Creek, located in a small valley between downtown and Government Hill.
That area of Ship Creek is also where the town began and where the original “tent City” stood back in 1914.
Other creeks and lakes in town are regularly stocked with fish.
It's official… The American Water Works tells us that Anchorage enjoys some of the best tasting drinking water in America. And that's a fact.
Mike of Anchorage Memories recalls a trip to Texas one summer when he opened the refrigerator at his grandmother's house and was surprised to see a pitcher of water.
“Why do you have a pitcher of water in the refrigerator?” ask Mike.
After his grandmother answered his question, she asked Mike, “Don't you keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator in Alaska?”
Mike answered by saying, “No Grandma, it comes out of the faucet cold.”
Photo by Zdenek Svoboda
Are you ready for some Glacier viewing?
Within just 50 miles of town, there are 60 glaciers.
Anchorage is nearly as far west as the sun baked, ocean breeze kissed city of Honolulu, Hawaii.
in the picture above
Grant Fritz in the Anchorage High School Rendezvous race
on 4th Avenue in 1950
Have a look at these Facts About Anchorage Alaska.
From its beginnings as a small gathering in 1935, when homesteaders and trappers came into town for a few days of fun after a long Alaska winter, the Fur Rendezvous is now, officially the world's largest Winter Carnival.
Visitors from all over the world, now come to Anchorage for this grand celebration.
McDonald's was the first fast food restaurant chain in town.
It opened in July 1970 on the corner of Northern Lights and Arctic to a very excited crowd.
Completed in 1951, The Seward Highway begins in Anchorage.
Ray Dougherty, the father of Mike Dougherty of Anchorage Memories, was a heavy equipment operator on the section of the road from Anchor town to Girdwood. It was his first job in Alaska.
The Seward Highway runs 125 miles from Anchor Town 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 namesake.
Photo by Frank K
From Anchorage, you can see 6 mountain ranges.
The Chugach (pictured above), Talkeetna, Tordrillo, Kenai, Alaska and the Aleutian ranges.
On clear days, residents can see Mount Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.
Photo by N727RH
Facts about Anchorage Alaska include this one.
Just about 3 miles from downtown, you'll discover Lake Hood. It has an average of 190 small aircraft flights in and out each day.
In the summer, planes take off and land on the lake using “pontoons”. In the winter they use snow skis.
Important Facts About Anchorage Alaska include this.
On January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state.
Mike of Anchorage Memories was only 3 years old when his first moved to Anchorage. But Alaska was still a territory, and Mike became upset when we were visiting family in Texas, where Mike was told Alaska wasn't a state (it was still a territory at the time).
Mike couldn't understand why his parents would move the family “outside” the United States.
But when statehood did come to Alaska, it also brought a sudden increase in population. So much so that it caused what was described as a “severe” housing shortage.
To celebrate it's new-found statehood, Anchorage residents put together a considerable celebration, including a large bonfire – attended by Mary J Dougherty of Anchorage Memories.
In this edition of the Anchorage Memories VIP Club, you'll enjoy remembering how Anchorage celebrated Alaska statehood.
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Facts About Anchorage Alaska include a look at the biggest earthquake to ever hit Alaska.
The quake struck on Good Friday, March 27, 1964.
The quake measured 9.2 on the Richter earthquake scale and shook for 5-minutes.
When the shaking was finally over, the destruction was unimaginable.
Facts About Anchorage Alaska wouldn't be complete
without a look back at
Local Radio and Television
KFQD wasn't just the first radio station in Anchorage – it was the first radio station in Alaska.
On May 17, 1924, KFQD radio first signed on the air.
And while that was a bunch of years ago, KFQD radio is still broadcasting today.
Past KFQD radio personalities include Herb Shaindlin, Marcus in the Morning, Ron Moore and many others.
Do you enjoy Facts About Anchorage Alaska?
Take a look at the picture above, of this iconic McKinley building (the building's first name) on famed 4th Avenue.
On top of the building is the broadcast tower of KTVA channel 11, Anchorage's first television station.
Started by Augie Hiebert, KTVA began broadcasting on December 11, 1953, and broadcast from 2:00pm to 11:30pm from the first floor of the McKinley building (now the McKinley Tower Apartments at 337 E. 4th Avenue).
On September 19, 1966, KENI-TV channel 2 (now KTUU) broadcast the first color TV show to Anchor town audiences.
The show was an episode of the ABC Television Network's popular sitcom, “That Girl” starring Marlo Thomas in an episode titled “Don't Just Do Something. Stand There!”
While these facts have barely scratched the surface, you probably did learn a thing or two about Alaska's largest city that you didn't know before.
The largest city in the Great Land, as it's often called, has a colorful history. And it claims more than its share of colorful characters like Joe Spenard, Russian Jack and many others who came to this last frontier to build a life for themselves.
You can learn more in the following publication you're about to discover.
“I’ve learned a lot about my hometown of Anchorage, and you’ve jogged memories of things I haven’t thought about for years. I can only say YAY!” Juanita.
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