How much do you know about the History of Anchorage Alaska? Enjoy this look at our town's unique past.
Footage includes the Alaska Labor Union log cabin, a laundry in a tent and 4th of July festivities.
Did you know?
While they did not live on Ship Creek Flats, the area that became Anchorage, the Dena’ina, a tribe of Athabascan Indians, had lived in the surrounding areas 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, of that year, Cook sailed into the inlet on the HMS Resolution. He argued with his Sailing Master, William Bligh 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.
The history of Anchorage Alaska begins here.
It didn't get its start because someone discovered gold, although they did find gold along Turnagain Arm (Cook Inlet) in 1888.
Anchorage got its start in 1915 as a construction camp for the Alaska Railroad.
More than 2000 people from all over the world would arrive 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” sprang up 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.
Do you want more of the story?
The History of Anchorage Alaska – how the town got its name.
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 they required an official name, so they had everyone vote for their favorite.
Those included Alaska City, Gateway, Ship Creek and 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 that the name for the town would be “Anchorage”.
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.
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 an 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.
Would you like to know the rest of the story?
History had come to life, and a town had just begun, 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 the time, the newspaper's office was in a modest tent.
Then on May 29, 1917, the Cook Inlet Pioneer became the Anchorage Daily Times.
The History of Anchorage Alaska looks back at Anchorage's first school, made from left-over material from the Alaska Railroad.
They hired Ora Dee Clark 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.
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, 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.
Built by Austin Eugene “Cap” Lathrop, the Empress Theatre first opened on July 1, 1916.
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.
Do you know why Mr. Lathrop was called “Cap”?
He was also a licensed ship captain.
To learn more, take a look at the following:
More wooden buildings appeared on the shores of Ship Creek and business buildings were popping up along 4th and 5th avenues.
In 1917, Anchorage needed the safety and protection of a fire break.
So they cleared the 11 blocks between 9th and 10th Avenues and A and P streets.
Later in 1923, a golf course and a landing strip for bush pilots joined the firebreak.
In 1954, what originally began as a fire break, became the Park Strip.
It became known as Delaney Park in 1970 after Anchorage Mayor James Delaney.
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.
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.
How well do you know the History of Anchorage Alaska?
Did you know, 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, the studios of KFQD were on 4th Avenue.
Before it became Merrill Field, the airstrip outside Anchorage had another name… Aviation Field.
When Aviation Field first opened in 1929, Anchorage quickly became the hub for air service in Alaska.
Later in 1930, Aviation Field became known as Merrill Field, named after Alaskan aviation pioneer, Russel Merrill.
Discover more about the story.
Did You Know?
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.
Vern Johnson gets the credit for 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 became the, “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.
In 1949, the Eskimo Blanket Toss became part of the Fur Rondy.
Alaska natives from Nome and Diomede Islands came to Anchorage to demonstrate the blanket toss.
Alaska natives used a tarp of seal or walrus hide to toss a member of the village, who had good eyesight, up into the air, so they could spot wild game for food.
A look back at the History of Anchorage Alaska
Anchorage's City Hall, dedicated at 524 West 4th Avenue.
Anchorage's first high school, Anchorage High School, opened in 1939 at 6th and F Streets.
The building also housed an elementary school and an auditorium, used for both school and civic events.
Located across the street from what used to be the 4th Avenue Theater.
Constructed took place from 1939 to 1941.
Before the Federal Building, there was a jail and a courthouse on the property.
Anchorage got a large boost in its population with the construction of Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson in the 1940s.
Did You Know?
Fort Richardson got its name in honor of Brigadier General Wilds P. Richardson.
Elmendorf Field got its name in honor of Captain Hugh M. Elmendorf.
The first World Championship Sled Dog Race joined the Fur Rendezvous in 1946.
Pictured above is George Attla, one of the most famous Alaskan mushers. There was even a movie made about his life titled “Spirit of the Wind”.
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.
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.
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.
What are your memories of the 4th Avenue movie theatre in downtown Anchorage, Alaska?
This 4th Avenue Theatre Memories e-book will bring back fond memories of Anchorage's movie theatre palace.
From the e-book:
“It was the perfect place in Anchorage to see a movie.Imagine the first time you went to see a movie at Anchorage's famed 4th Avenue Theater.
Just standing there on the sidewalk in front of the theatre, looking at the colorful posters showing you what was playing and what would be playing in the weeks and months to come, was fun.
And as you approached the box office to get your movie tickets, you knew you were about to enter a special place.”
A Few Chapters from the Table of Contents:
4th Avenue Theatre Memories will remind you of a time when going to see a movie was special.
KENI radio signed on in May 1948 to become the second radio station in Anchorage, Alaska.
Owner “Cap” Lathrop, first housed the station in the 4th Avenue Theatre building.
KENI radio later moved to the building shown above, which overlooks Westchester Lagoon.
After first opening in 1951, the airport quickly became important to aviation.
Anchorage International Airport became known as the “Air Crossroads of the World”.
In 1956, the National Municipal League and Look Magazine first named Anchorage an “All American City” in 1956.
Since then, our town also received the award in 1965, 1985 and 2002.
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 anywhere in the United States.
But for those of us raised here or who lived in Anchorage, we all have our special memories of our town.
To discover more about Anchorage, Alaska, the pioneers and Alaska facts and history, take a look at the following:
“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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