My Beautiful Alaska
by Louise Dougherty
In 1949 it looked a lot different
When the door of the plane was finally opened, I saw Anchorage and the surrounding mountains for the first time. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
But my story begins during World War II when my husband Ray Dougherty, was in the Army and was flown to Anchorage on his way to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, which had been the location of the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942.
When Ray was at the airport in Anchorage, what he saw of Alaska made him want to return some day.
In the summer of 1949, we were living in the small town of Enterprise, California. Ray and a friend owned a garage where they repaired cars and trucks. But Ray had never gotten the image of Alaska out of his mind, and one day he asked me if I'd like to move up to Anchorage. The answer was yes. So Ray traveled up to Anchorage ahead of me and our children to find work.
A few months later, Ray sent me the money to come up and join him in our new home in Alaska. Our son Mike was two years old, our daughter Anna was 9 months old and I was expecting our third child, who would be born in the Territory of Alaska.
Our plane landed at Merrill Field, located on the east end of 5th Avenue. Back in those days it was the only airport serving Anchorage, and would be until 1951.
When they opened the door of the plane and we departed, I remember seeing Alaska for the first time. It was summertime and it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. The sky was so blue and I remember the big green mountains. It almost took my breath away, and I remember thinking, "my beautiful Alaska."
At the time, Ray was not able to meet us because he was working out of Anchorage and along the side of the mountains and Cook Inlet on what would become the Seward Highway. So we took a taxi to the Palace Hotel in downtown Anchorage where Ray had booked us a room.
Once in our room, me and Mike and Anna were beyond exhausted by our long journey from California to Anchorage. We all climbed into bed and fell fast asleep.
That evening when Ray came to be with us, I was sleeping so soundly that I didn't hear Ray knocking on the door to our room. Ray became worried and got the hotel manager to unlock the door. But when he came in the room, I still didn't wake up, so Ray began shaking me.
When I did finally wake up, Ray told me I had been sleeping so soundly that he thought I had died of exhaustion from my long trip to Alaska. But our family was back together now and we were all so happy as we began our new life in "my beautiful Alaska."
The next morning after breakfast, Ray had to go back to work, so I took Mike and Anna and found a taxi. I asked the driver if he knew of any place to rent in town. As it turned out, he had heard of a place just that morning in Mountain View.
The place was very small. The owner had converted ten small houses into duplexes. Each had one large room which included a kitchen, but there was no bathroom and no running water. A near-by quonset hut had running water and served as the washroom for everyone.
Our tiny new home in Anchorage cost $85 dollars a month, but to me it was a castle in this wonderful place called Alaska. I knew that God had found this place for us and he had safely brought my husband, me and our children there.
Our first winter in Anchorage brought it's share of wind and snow.
Then on February 16th, something very special happened.
At 3:00 AM it was very cold when I woke up Ray and told him that the time had come, our baby was about to be born. Ray got up, got dressed and went out in the cold, dark morning to walk a mile to the nearest telephone to call a taxi to take me to Providence hospital where the newest edition to our family would be born.
At about 6:30 that morning, our son Thomas Edward, our new Alaskan was born. Tom's birth certificate shows that Alaska was still a territory of the United States at that time.
Our family lived in Alaska for over 33 years.
The last frontier. My beautiful Alaska.
Check out Midnight at High Noon about Anchorage during the 1953 eruption of Mt. Spurr.