Today I’m just happy that this book is finished, looking great, and will soon be available (May 10 is the official publication date), so I’m sharing a few photos, some are in the book, some aren’t…
The Lawrence Arndt family came to Alaska from Wisconsin, and Mr. Arndt drew tract number 190, on what was then called the Wasilla-Finger Lake-Palmer Road, today known as the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. The 1940 census showed Mr. Arndt living with his wife Etta, their 18-year-old daughter Helen; his mother Emma Arndt, and three male lodgers: Edward Church, and Glenn and Rollo Kinty.
The unusual Arndt barn was one of the handful of barns which had a soaring vaulted roof design, with a high ridge peak, quite different from the standard 32′ x 32′ gambrel roof design of most of the Colonist’s barns. Also known as the curved or Gothic roof, the curvature was built up of boards bent to the desired radius and nailed together to provide adequate strength to support the huge roof structure. Like the standard Colony barns, the bottom section was built with three-sided logs, set on spruce pilings. The inside of the barn was partitioned into areas of various sizes, and a storeroom under the steep stairwell which accessed the hayloft.
The Manuska-Susitna Borough’s 1985 book, Knik Matanuska Susitna: A Visual History of the Valleys, noted: “The Lawrence Arndt colony farm has been familiar to Valley residents for years as Arabian Acres where owners Robert and Gladys Swift raised purebred Morgan horses. The colony barn was especially designed like the Monroe, Eckert, and Puhl barns, with a high vaulted roof that varied from the standard colony gambrel. During the colony era, the Arndt house was the site of the neighborhood telephone.”
Kathy (Roark) Laing, who lived for several years on the adjoining farm with a similar vault roofed barn, wrote that she remembered there being “…three farms in a row…” ~•~
The beautifully photogenic Matanuska Colony barns lend themselves well to artistic expression, and a series of barn images, created by Susan Patch from photos which will appear in the forthcoming book, The Matanuska Colony Barns, are available online at Fine Art America.
Six barn designs are currently available: the Wineck barn at the Alaska State Fairgrounds; the Bailey barn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; the Venne barn, which is part of the RG Farm on the Outer Springer Loop Road; the Greise barn on the Springer System; the Barry barn on Campbell Road; and the Breeden barn at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry, north of Wasilla. More Colony barn images will soon be added to the series.
FineArtAmerica.com takes care of the printing, framing, matting, packaging, shipping, and delivers “ready-to-hang” artwork. Each image is also available on greeting cards. Take a few minutes to browse the beautiful images!
Adapted from the forthcoming book, Matanuska Colony Barns:
The first shelters for animals in Alaska were likely the small crudely-built dog barns for the passenger, freight, and mail dogteams which traveled the winter trails. When staying in one place for a length of time, dog drivers would construct rough canvas tents for their teams, and many owners built dog barns to house their weary dogs in more comfort at home. In Buildings of Alaska, Alison Hoagland describes a dog barn built by James Taylor, “a miner turned trapper who built himself an intricate set of buildings on the north side of the Yukon River, probably in about 1924.”
Hoagland detailed the dog barn which Taylor built for his team: “The dog barn, a low cabin with saddle-notched log walls, has six stalls with vertical-pole walls. Each stall has its own door, operable by an outside lever. Taylor also built individual doghouses out of logs and extensive vertical-pole corrals that led down to a stream.”
Not far from James Taylor’s dog barn, also on the Yukon River, one of the most impressive kennels in Alaska was built at the direction of then-Lieutenant William “Billy” Mitchell, who was at that time charged with building an extensive network of telegraph and cable lines that would link Alaska to the rest of the world. The Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) would connect Fort Liscum in Valdez to other forts along the Yukon River: Fort Egbert at Eagle City, Fort Gibbon at Tanana, and St. Michael on the Bering Sea coast.
To accomplish this mission Billy Mitchell, who would later gain a Major General’s stars and earn fame and controversy as the “father of the U.S. Air Force,” bought 80 huskies, 40 sets of harnesses and 16 sleds. To house the huskies Mitchell had 19 sled dog kennels added to the south side of the mule barn. In June, 1903, Lt. Mitchell’s crews completed construction of the first telegraph line to span the interior of Alaska.
According to the booklet Eagle-Fort Egbert: A Remnant of the Past, produced through the cooperative efforts of the Bureau of Land Management and the Eagle Historical Society & Museums, the ﬁrst ﬂoor of the mule barn, or quartermaster stables, was completed prior to May 1900 at a cost of $550 for materials. It housed 53 animals. Some of the mules’ names hang above the stall doors. The hay loft was built in 1901. The barn was used until 1911. Today it contains exhibits from the past: a blacksmith area, sickbay stall, mule harnesses and hardware, old wagons, mining and agriculture memorabilia, boats and dog sleds.
Nenana: Substantial Buildings
The name Nenana means “a good place to camp between the rivers,” and before that name it was known as Toghotthele, which means, “the hill next to the river.” According to Alison K. Hoagland’s Buildings of Alaska: “At the turn of the twentieth century, Nenana was an Athapaskan Indian village. James Duke set up a trading post here in 1903, and Nenana’s history would have been unexceptional if it had not been for the Alaska Railroad. With a strategic location at the confluence of the Tanana and Nenana rivers, Nenana was originally intended as a construction camp where materials to build the railroad to the south could be unloaded from steamboats. The Alaska Engineering Commission built some substantial buildings…”
Among those “substantial buildings,” which included dormitories, a cafeteria, a hospital and others, was the A.E.C. stable and barn, a two-story log-and-frame structure known as the Headquarters Barn and Stables. Unfortunately, like almost all of the A.E.C. buildings, it no longer survives, and photos of the building are rare.
Nenana is once again a quiet place, described by one author as “…a town straight out of a Mark Twain novel: a sleepy, dusty riverside barge stop. Riverboats, in fact, still load with cargo for villages up and down the nearby Tanana River.”
Fairbanks: Creamer’s Dairy
Shortly after the turn of the century, Charles Hinckley and his wife Belle brought three cows and some horses up the Yukon and Tanana Rivers by sternwheeler, and they started a dairy to serve the gold-rich outpost of Fairbanks. In 1928, the Hinckleys sold the dairy to Charles and Anna Creamer; Charles was the son of close friends living nearby, and Anna was Belle Hinckley’s younger sister.
The new owners named it Creamer’s Dairy, and during the 1930s and 1940s, the Creamers worked hard to modernize and expand the business. They built two large Louden barns, designed by the Louden Machinery Co. of Iowa, which still give Creamer’s its distinctive visual appeal. The larger barn cost $13,700, more than the entire dairy had been worth ten years earlier. The hayloft held 165 tons of hay, enough to feed 55 cows through the winter. In 1938 the Creamers threw a huge dance and invited the whole town to celebrate the opening of the new barn and its state-of-the-art equipment. According to a report in the News-Miner the next day, nearly everyone in Fairbanks attended.
The dairy thrived throughout the next few decades, and when it finally ceased production in 1966 it was the largest and most successful dairy in Interior Alaska. The town of Fairbanks lobbied the state to purchase the entire dairy and 1,800 acres of land, which has since become the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, under the supervision of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The structures are the only surviving pioneer dairy buildings in Interior Alaska, and in 1977 they were admitted to the National Register of Historic Places.
Science-Based Farm Research
In most parts of Alaska barns were few and far between, but as the land grew more settled, more barns were built to shelter valuable livestock and equipment, and to store feed.
The Hatch Act of 1887 authorized agricultural experiment stations in the United States and its territories to provide science-based research information to farmers. In 1898 the federal government established the first Alaska Agricultural Experiment Stations in Sitka and Kodiak, and stations in Kenai, Rampart, Copper Center, and Fairbanks followed quickly.
In 1917 the Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station was established at Matanuska when M.D. Snodgrass selected 240 acres for the site on the recommendation of the Alaska Engineering Commission. In 1923, at a meeting at the farm, the Matanuska Valley Settlers Association was created to reduce freight shipping rates to the Valley.
In 1931 the federal government transferred ownership of all experiment station facilities to the College of Agriculture and Mines in Fairbanks, which was renamed the University of Alaska in 1935. As population centers shifted, goals and objectives for agricultural research changed and the stations at Copper Center, Kenai, Rampart, Kodiak, and Sitka were closed.
“There are many persons who are happier in a simple existence, living largely through their own efforts in a self-sufficient way… We had it once in America, and there are those who feel we lost something valuable in our departure from it…” -Rexford G. Tugwell, agricultural economist for Roosevelt’s New Deal
An excellent article in the Sunday edition of the local newspaper for the Matanuska Valley, The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, highlighted the Barry/Hecker/Gardner barn on Campbell Road, north and west of Palmer. The article by Barbara Hecker, who grew up on the farm where it still stands, details the history and the restoration of this original Matanuska Colony barn: “I’m fortunate to live across a country road from the Colony farm — and barn — of my youth. This summer, the old Hecker barn underwent a dramatic uplift. ” Photos are included of the barn from 1936, when it was built, and what it looks like today. Click on the link to read the entire article.
The work of editing the book still looms large, but I’m approaching what I think may be a final tally of the barns. I know there are still more to be located, but I resigned myself long ago to the fact that this will not be a comprehensive accounting. There are a few owners who, for legitimate reasons of their own, do not want their barns known, and I’m not the first to encounter this. In the September, 1988 report titled Evaluations of Historic Sites in Palmer, Alaska the notation was made under methodology: “A letter requesting information and permission to document the property was sent to each owner. Several properties were eliminated as the owners either knew that the structure was contemporary or declined permission for inclusion in the study. Approximately 100 permission slips were mailed out and from the original 82 permission slips returned, four denied permission and four were determined not to be historically significant.”
Historical significance is a given with the Colony barns, whatever their state of deterioration or reconstruction. Notation has been made, wherever possible, of barns which no longer exist, having burned, fallen in to neglect and decay, or simply having been dismantled for use of the lumber elsewhere. I have not determined a final count of the number of barns which were originally built, but I’m still optimistic that I’ll find an accounting in the old records.
At this point, with my research phase nearing completion but with weeks of work still to be done, I have 42 barns on my list, with 39 still standing and portions of three others still visible. This is a considerable achievement, as when I began this project the best estimates I could find from knowledgeable sources were not even half that many, and one well-respected Valley historian thought there were no more than a dozen left at best.