Matanuska Colony Project - Palmer, Alaska
Posted by: Groundspeak Charter Member BruceS
N 61° 35.942 W 149° 06.687
6V E 387971 N 6831329
Quick Description: Set of historical markers giving brief history of New Deal project which brought colonists to Palmer area during the Great Depression.
Location: Alaska, United States
Date Posted: 8/21/2010 2:49:50 PM
Waymark Code: WM9H4M
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member muddawber
Views: 10

Long Description:

Text of markers:

Matanuska Colony Project

Historical Background
The Matanuska Colony Project created headline news around the world. It was a story of hope in the 1930s Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to build new communities and put people to work through his New Deal programs. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was created to help impoverished families get a fresh start in new communities.

The Federal Government chose Palmer as the site for the Matanuska Colony Project. The City of Palmer was named after George Palmer, an early prospector and operator who ran a small trading post on the Matanuska River in the 1880s.

The Journey
Parting from friends and family in early May, the colonists embarked upon a long train journey toward an unknown future. The government paid their travel expenses and each family's personal goods up to 2,000 pounds.

Newspapers followed the colonists from departure to arrival in Alaska. In San Francisco, the Minnesotans were greeted as celebrities and entertained before their departure for Alaska on the St. Mihiel, an army troop ship. Two weeks later, experiencing the same popular reaction in Seattle, the second group of Wisconsin and Michigan families departed for the the last leg in their journey to Alaska.

Colony Project
The Matanuska Colony was one of 100 resettlement programs. Familiar with cold temperatures and snow, 202 families with 500 children were selected from the Upper Great Lakes region. Because most were of Scandinavian descent from northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan (an additional family came from Oklahoma) they were considered most likely to succeed in Alaska.

2nd marker

Construction Workers
Hired as transient workers, unemployed men from California assisted in building a tent city before constructing the colonists' farm houses. To discourage them from staying, they received half their pay in Alaska and the rest after they returned to California. Traveling on the North Star with cargo designated for the project, the transients departed by train for Palmer ahead of the Minnesota colonists who had arrived in Seward the same day.

Drawing Their Lots
May 23, 1935

When the second group of colonists arrived in Alaska, the men hurried to Palmer ahead of their families to draw their lot number. Families received either a 40 or 80 acre tract to be paid for on a 30 year mortgage. The were also allowed credit for tools, household goods and equipment.

Summer Activities
Once their respective lands were cleared enough to build a house and outbuildings, the colonists moved to their given lots. Some colonists moved immediately while others waited five months before relocating onto their property. Many worried that their houses would not be finished before snow fell. In July, more transients were hired and the number of saw mills increased. By November, although many houses were incomplete on the inside, all colonists had moved into their homes.

Replacement Families
Within the first ten years of the project 60% of the original colonists left. Families with farming experience took their place. They paid their own passage to Alaska, and were considered "replacement colonists." Once in Alaska, they were offered similar advantages available to the initial colonists.

Farm Tracts
Most farms included a house, a barn, a well house, and a chicken coop. Seven farms are listed in the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of their importance to the settlement and economic development of the Valley.

3rd Marker

Community Center
You are in the administrative center of the Matanuska Valley Colony Historic District.

Today, some of the public buildings have been rehabilitated. The teacher's dormitory is a hotel, the school serves as the Borough's government seat, and reuse of the community/recreation center is being explored.

4th Marker

David R. Williams

David Reichart Williams, appointed as chief architect for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, planned 84 of the 100 resettlement communities.

After researching Alaska's climate and agricultural potential, Williams met with President Roosevelt in February 1935, to propose the Matanuska project in Alaska. Roosevelt was keen to have an Alaskan farming community capable of supplying future military bases.

Williams said he designed "a rather compact, self-sufficient agricultural industrial community." At the end of his long career, he reminisced that the Matanuska Colony Project proved to be his greatest accomplishment.

David Williams drew designs for the colony project based upon local pioneer buildings. Advocating use of log construction, he prepared five house designs for colonists to choose from. The diameter of most local trees were too small causing a shortage of suitable logs. In mid-summer 1935, David Williams came to Alaska to troubleshoot construction problems. He changed house designs from log to accommodate frame construction with windows and doors the same throughout the community.

Farm outbuildings included a gambrel roofed 32' x 32' barn for hay and stock, a long low barn for stallions, a chicken coop with shed roof, a well-house and out house.

Marker Name: Matanuska Colony Project

Marker Type: Roadside

Addtional Information:
More information about the project can be found at this website.

Date Dedicated / Placed: Not listed

Marker Number: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Preferred would be to post a photo of you OR your GPS at the marker location. Also if you know of any additional links not already mentioned about this bit of Alaska history please include that in your log.
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