History of
Anchorage Alaska

How much do you know about the History of Anchorage Alaska? Enjoy this look at Anchortown's unique past.


BONUS


While they did not live on Ship Creek Flats, the area that would become Anchorage, the Dena’ina, a tribe of Athabascan Indians, lived around the area for over 1000 years.

Captain James Cook, an English explorer, first entered the Anchorage area by what would become known as Cook Inlet in 1778.

On May 25, 1778, Captain Cook sailed into the inlet. His Sailing Master on the HMS Resolution was William Bligh. The two argued about the inlet. Bligh insisted it was a river. The ship explored the inlet for nearly two weeks.

Turnagain Arm is so named because they kept having to “turn again” while sailing the inlet.


Spring - 1915

anchorage tents 1915The beginning of what would become Anchorage Alaska

It didn't get started because someone discovered gold, although gold was discovered along Turnagain Arm (Cook Inlet) in 1888.

Anchorage got its start in 1915 when a construction camp was needed for the Alaska Railroad.

More than 2000 people from all over the world began arriving at the mouth of Ship Creek, seeking employment. Some were merchants who would set up shops and other services. So, a kind of “tent city” was cobbled together at the mouth of Ship Creek and later along what became known as Government Hill.

It was the beginning of what would become the largest city in Alaska.


April 1915


Naming the Town


As the population grew, the new town needed a name.

Those living in the tents had already begun calling it by names like “Ship Creek”.

But an official name was needed, so they had everyone vote for their favorite.

Those included Alaska City, Gateway, Ship Creek, Lane (after the U.S. Secretary of Interior from 1913 to 1920, Franklin K. Lane), Matanuska, Winalaska, Homestead, Terminal and Gateway.

The winner was Alaska City with Lane a close second.

Then shortly after the vote, the United States Post Office had another idea. They decided the name for the town would be “Anchorage”.




April 1915


She Drove the First

Railroad Spike


first alaska railroad spike in anchorageDriving the first railroad spike

A lady named Martha “Babe” White was given the honor of driving the first spike in the Alaska Railroad at Ship Creek. Martha was born in Tyonek in the Cook Inlet area on either July 21, 1894, or July 22, 1895.

She was also the first non-native born in or around Cook Inlet.




1915


The First Home

in Anchorage


oscar anderson houseFirst house in Anchorage

The History of Anchorage Alaska includes this:

Oscar Anderson claimed to be the 18th person to set foot on Ship Creek Flats.

He built the first home in Anchorage in the area now known as Elderberry Park near downtown. Anderson lived in the house until his passing in 1974.

Today, the Oscar Anderson House is open to the public.




June 1915


Anchorage's First

Newspaper


cook inlet pioneer newspaperAn early Anchorage paper

History was being made, and a town had just been born, so to capture all the latest happenings, the Cook Inlet Pioneer began publishing a weekly newspaper. And as with all the other businesses on Ship Creek at that time, the newspaper's office was in a modest tent.

Then on May 29, 1917, the Cook Inlet Pioneer was replaced by the Anchorage Daily Times.




History of Anchorage Alaska


November 1915


Time to Get Ready

for School


anchorage pioneer schoolAn Anchorage first

The History of Anchorage Alaska looks back at Anchorage's first school, made from left over material from the Alaska Railroad.

Ora Dee Clark was hired as the first school Superintendent and a teacher, along with three other teachers.

Things in the first school building were crude. They used wood-burning stoves for heat, there was no electricity, so they used oil lamps for light in the dark of winter and there was no running water. The students and teachers also used an outhouse.

There were about 100 students in the first school.




1915


One of the First


kimballs dry goodsUpstairs is where they lived

There was an auction for land in the new town.

Irving L. Kimball and his wife Della purchased a lot at 500 West 5th Avenue where they built a store with an apartment for them and their family upstairs.

Opening in November 1915, it sold a mixture of general merchandise, hardware, and groceries.

After Irving passed away, his wife Della operated the store, but stopped selling groceries.

Then, in 1958, following the death of Della, the Kimball's daughter, Decema Kimball Andresen Slawson kept the store in operation, but also began selling paint. Decema passed away in 2002.

The store was in operation from 1915 to 2002, making Kimball's Dry Goods the oldest continuously operating business in Anchorage during that time.

Kimball's Dry Goods was in operation for 87 years and the building still sits on its original location.




July 1916


Anchorage's First

Movie Theatre


empress movie theatreOn 4th Avenue

Built by Austin Eugene “Cap” Lathrop, the Empress Theatre first opened on July 1, 1916.


peggy

The first movie to be played for Anchorage audiences was the silent movie “Peggy” starring Billie Burke.

The people of Anchorage had little entertainment, so every showing of a movie had a full house.

While the movie house opened without one, a theatre organ was later added, so local audiences enjoyed music that played as they watched movies.

The Empress showed movies well into the 1950s.

Parts of the organ were later used in the Uncle's Pizza organ in Anchorage.


BONUS


Do you know why Mr. Lathrop was called “Cap”?

He was also a licensed ship captain.





September 1919


Another First


anchorage docks 1919Anchorage dock at low tide 1919

The first-ever ocean going freighter, the Anyox, docked in Anchorage.

The cargo included two thousand tons of steel rails and other equipment for the Alaska Engineering Commission (AEC) for the railroad.




May 24, 1922


First Airplane in Anchorage


A pilot named Charles Hammontree was the first pilot to fly over Anchorage.

He took off in a hydroplane from near the old docks and conducted a test flight over the town at 4:00am.

Later, following his successful flight, some local residents flew with Hammontree as passengers.




May 1923


Beginning of the

Park Strip


park stripAn air strip and a golf course

Anchorage had grown out to 9th Street, but beyond that was wilderness.

So, the town's citizens got together and cleared a strip of land that would act as a fire break, and serve as an airstrip for bush pilots.

A 9 hole golf course was also created on the land now known as the Park Strip.

Golfers were instructed to give the right of way to planes that were taking off or landing.




May 1924


A First for Anchorage

and Alaska


kfqd radioRadio in the early days

How well do you know the History of Anchorage Alaska?

The first radio station in Anchorage was KFQD.

But it wasn't just the first in Anchorage, it was the first in Alaska. At one time, KFQD was located on 4th Avenue.



1929


Aviation Field


first real air stripAnchorage's first airport

Before it became Merrill Field, the airstrip outside of Anchorage was known as Aviation Field.

And when Aviation Field first opened in 1929, Anchorage quickly became the hub for air service in Alaska.


BONUS


Later in 1930, Aviation Field was renamed Merrill Field, named after Alaskan aviation pioneer, Russel Merrill.


DOUBLE BONUS


tower at merrill fieldMerrill Field Tower

During the 1930s, Merrill Field had so much air traffic that it became the most active civilian airport in the entire U.S.

Anchorage International Airport opened in 1951.





February 1935


The Beginning of

the Fur Rendezvous


fur rendezvous eventAirborne over the Rondy crowd

Vern Johnson is credited as being the “Father of the Fur Rendezvous”.

In 1935, Johnson organized the “Winter Sports Festival”.

The event featured hockey, basketball, skiing, boxing and as if to forecast the future of the event, a children's sled dog race down 4th Avenue.

Just two years later, the name of the event was changed to, “Winter Sports Tournament and Fur Rendezvous”.

In 1946, the event featured the first Fur Rendezvous sled dog race. The winner was Earl Norris.

Today, the Fur Rendezvous is the largest winter carnival in the world.


BONUS


In 1949, the Eskimo Blanket Toss was added to the Fur Rondy.

Alaska Natives from Nome and Diomede Islands were flown in to Anchorage to demonstrate the blanket toss.

Origin:

A tarp of seal or walrus hide was used by Alaska Natives to toss a member of the village, who had good eyesight, up into the air, so they could spot wild game for food.





November 1936


A Dedication


city hallThe way City Hall used to look

A look back at the History of Anchorage Alaska

Anchorage's City Hall was dedicated at 524 West 4th Avenue.




January 1939


High School Days


another anchorage firstDid you attend this school?

Anchorage's first high school, Anchorage High School, was first opened in 1939 at 6th and F Streets.

The building also housed an elementary school and an auditorium that was used for both the school and civic events.




1939 to 1941


Old Federal Building


old federal building in anchorageAnchorage's Federal Building was Built in Stages

Located across the street from the 4th Avenue Theater.

This building was constructed from 1939 to 1941.

Before the Federal Building, there was a jail and a courthouse on the property.




June 1940


The Military Arrive


air force base in anchorageNow Joint Base Elmendorf - Richardson

Anchorage got a large boost in its population when Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson were built just out of town in the 1940s.

Did You Know?

Fort Richardson was named in honor of Brigadier General Wilds P. Richardson.

Elmendorf Field was named after Captain Hugh M. Elmendorf.




May 1947


An Amazing Competition


sled dog racesGeorge Attla, a local favorite

The first World Championship Sled Dog Race was added to the Fur Rendezvous in 1946.

Pictured above is George Attla, one of the most famous Alaska mushers. There was even a movie made about his life titled “Spirit of the Wind”.




May 1947


A Movie Palace

for Anchorage


movie palace in anchorageDays gone by

The History of Anchorage Alaska looks at a jewel

World War II slowed construction of Cap Lathrop's second movie theatre in Anchorage.

Then, on May 31, 1947, The 4th Avenue Theatre opened with its first movie.

Everyone agreed that Lathrop had outdone himself by creating a beautiful theatre experience for everyone to enjoy.

The 4th Avenue Theatre, the crown jewel of Anchorage movie theatres, is now only a pleasant memory.


BONUS


movie poster

The Jolson Story was the first movie presented at the 4th Avenue Theatre to happy Anchorage audiences. Long lines formed outside the theatre with people anxiously waiting to see the movie and the new theatre.




May 1948


Anchorage's Second

Radio Station


keni radio buildingOverlooking what is now Westchester Lagoon

KENI radio signed on in May 1948 to become the second radio station in Anchorage, Alaska.

Owned by “Cap” Lathrop, the station was originally housed in the 4th Avenue Theatre building.

KENI radio was later moved to the building shown above, which overlooks Westchester Lagoon.




December 1951


Anchorage International

Airport


air crossroads of the worldThe early days of service

After first opening in 1951, the airport quickly became important to aviation.

Anchorage International Airport was called the “Air Crossroads of the World”.




1956


All American City


largest city in alaskaThe sign above the street shows civic pride

Anchorage was first named “All American City” by the National Municipal League and Look Magazine in 1956.

Since then, our town also received the award in 1965, 1985 and 2002.


Over the Years


Much has changed over the years when it comes to the history of Anchorage Alaska.


From a crude tent city on the muddy backs of Ship Creek in 1914, to the skyline of today's modern city with all the services and amenities you'd expect to find anyplace in the United States.

But for those of us who were raised or lived in Anchorage, we all have our special memories of our town.


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