Colony Barns Article

Trunk Rd barn

A classic 1935 Matanuska Colony barn [Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media]

The May-June issue of Alaskan History Magazine included an article about the 1935 Matanuska Colony Barns, drawn from the book of that title by Helen Hegener and published in 2012 by Northern Light Media.

Driving the roads around Palmer and Wasilla one sees the old structures often, glimpsed down a tree-lined dirt lane or silhouetted against a mountain backdrop, and they rarely fail to bring a smile. Like trusted and comforting old friends, the barns are always there. There wasn’t space in the magazine for more than a thin overview of the Matanuska Colony history, but it’s an interesting topic, not only to Alaskans, but to anyone who desires to know more about our nation’s brief history.

Edited Bailey Barn

Ferber Baily Colony barn near Palmer [Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media]

“Relief, Recovery, and Reform”

The decade of the 1930’s profoundly altered the course of Alaska’s history, as relationships changed between the citizens, the state, and the federal government, and rugged Alaskan individualism gave way to an acceptance of the government’s increasing role in daily life. The Matanuska Colony Project was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of economic programs designed to provide the “3 R’s”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.” Relief for the poor and the unemployed, Recovery of the economy to normal levels, and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.

President Franklin Roosevelt took office at the height of the Great Depression in March, 1933, and when he declared in his inaugural address that “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he followed up his bold words and acted swiftly to try and stabilize the economy and provide jobs and relief to those who were suffering. Over the next eight years, the government instituted a series of experimental programs and projects, known collectively as the New Deal for America. Among these was a federal agency which relocated struggling families to communities planned by the federal government. The first of these communities, Arthurdale, West Virginia, became the pet project of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and over 100 others were either planned or initiated by the Division of Subsistence Homesteads, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration or the Resettlement Administration.

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Colonists’ camp from the top of the water tower in Palmer (Willis T. Geisman, Mary Nan Gamble Col. ASL-P270-112 Alaska State Library)

In 1935 the U.S. Government transported 200 families from the Great Depression-stricken midwest to a valley of unparalleled beauty in Alaska, where they were given the chance to begin new lives as part of a federally-funded social experiment, the Matanuska Colony Project. As part of each family’s farmstead, a magnificent barn was raised, a sturdy square structure 32′ by 32′ and soaring 32′ high. Today these Colony barns are an iconic reminder of what has been called the last great pioneering adventure in America.

Although fraught with inevitable bureaucratic entanglements, frustrating delays, and a variety of other distractions, the Matanuska Colony actually thrived for the most part, and nearly 200 families remained to raise their families and make their permanent homes in Alaska. Highways were built, the wide Matanuska and Knik Rivers were bridged, and the town of Palmer became the center of commerce and society in the Valley. By 1948, production from the Colony Project farms provided over half of the total Alaskan agricultural products sold.

Today the Matanuska Valley draws worldwide attention for its colorful agricultural heritage and its uniquely orchestrated history. The iconic Colony barn, often seen around the Valley now in artwork, logos, advertising, and other uses, has become a beloved symbol of Alaskan history.

Venne sky Albert Marquez

Venne Colony barn on Wes Grover’s farm near Palmer [photo by Albert Marquez / Planet Earth Adventures]

Learn more:

The Matanuska Colony Barns, book by Helen Hegener (Northern Light Media, 2012)

Alaska Far Away: The New Deal Pioneers of the Matanuska Colony, 2008 documentary film about the Project.

Palmer Historical Society and The Colony House Museum



Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman Article

BarnsFrntCvrThe Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman is featuring an article about The Matanuska Colony Barns book in their Friday, June 7 edition, just in time for the annual Colony Days celebration! Local author and longtime Palmer teacher Barbara L. Hecker followed the general outline of the book and wrote about the history of the Matanuska Colony, barns around Alaska, and then focused on a couple of the Colony barns. Photos from the book add visual interest, and the cover of the book – with the beautiful Wineck barn – is featured.

Barbara notes, “Hegener has produced more than a coffee-table tome of lovely photos. Her book holds a succinct but comprehensive history — well-researched, reader-friendly, and amply illustrated with historic photographs, professional full-color images, and personal snapshots from friends and fans of the Colony barns.”

The book can be ordered here.



Map of Barn Locations

This map, which is similar to one which appears in the book, The Matanuska Colony Barns, shows the approximate locations of most of the remaining Colony barns. Adapted from an original map of the Colony tracts, which can be seen as 40 and 80-acre delineations, this map shows the roads as they existed circa 1935, rather than today’s highways and side roads. In the book the locations are notated and cross-referenced with each barn described in the book (a few barns located here do not appear in the book).


A few notes about the  locations, shown as stars on this map: All locations are approximate. The Larsh-Wilson barn, which later became the Linn-Breeden barn and was moved to the Alaska Museum of Transportation and Industry (MATI) north of Wasilla, is shown in its original location, as the current location is off the map. The Ed Wineck barn, which was moved to the Alaska State Fairgrounds in 1976, is shown in both the original location near Bodenburg Butte and at the fairgrounds. Various other barns are shown where they are now, but their original locations may be miles from there; a surprising number of these huge structures have been moved around the Valley for one reason or another. Sometimes, as with the Bailey and Loyer barns, they’ve only moved a few hundred feet from where they were built in 1936. Most of the barns are visible from public roads, but please remember to be courteous when visiting and always respect private property signs. The map was created by Helen Hegener. ©2013 Northern Light Media, all rights reserved.

Pre-Publication Special

BarnsCvr1The Matanuska Colony Barns is scheduled for publication May 10, 2013 by Northern Light Media. The retail price of the book will be $29.00 (plus $4.50 postage & handling), but a pre-publication special is available until May 10: $24.00 (plus $4.50 postage & handling) for this beautiful book detailing the history of the Colony barns, magnificent reminders of the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project.

From the back cover: “Anyone who travels through the eastern part of Alaska’s dramatically beautiful Matanuska Valley soon finds a Colony barn enhancing the landscape. These striking Valley landmarks are the enduring legacy of an all-but-forgotten chapter in American history, when the U.S. government took a direct hand in the lives of thousands of its citizens, offering Depression-distraught farm families an opportunity to begin again in a far-off land with government financing and support. Central to every Colony farm was the barn, a core structure integral to the operation of these family farms.”

The Matanuska Colony Barns: The Enduring Legacy of the 1935 Matanuska Colony Project, by Helen Hegener, photographs by Eric Vercammen, Stewart Amgwert, Albert Marquez, Dave Rose, Joanie Juster, Ron Day and others. Foreword by Barbara Hecker. Introduction by James H. Fox. 140 pages, full color. ISBN 978-0-9843977-4-7. Includes Colonist families listing, maps, bibliography, resources, index.

To order via credit card or Paypal, CLICK HERE and send payment to

To order via check or money order, mail to Northern Light Media, PO Box 298023, Wasilla, Alaska 99629

• Pre-publication price until May 10: $24.00 (plus $4.50 postage & handling)

• After May 10: $29.00 (plus $4.50 postage & handling)

All pre-publication book orders will be mailed from the publisher on May 10th.

The Book Cover

BarnCover2After going through hundreds of photos and dozens of front and back cover layout options, here is a first look at the final design for the cover of the new book.

The author and Earl Wineck talking about barns. (photo: Susan Patch)

The author and Earl Wineck, Jr. at the 2012 State Fair, talking about barns. (photo: Susan Patch)

The barn on the front is the Earl Wineck barn at the Alaska State Fairgrounds. This is a photograph I took at the end of the Fair last summer. At the invitation of my friend Joanie Juster, I spent many delightful hours in the Wineck barn, talking about the history of the barns, and watching the documentary film Joanie co-produced on the Matanuska Colony Project, Alaska Far Away, as she shared it each day. I gave a couple of slideshow presentations on the barns, and I was delighted to meet many wonderful people who also appreciate the old barns, including Earl Wineck, Jr., who talked his dad into donating their barn to the Fairgrounds.

Bailey/Estelle barn, 2008 (photo by Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media)

Bailey/Estelle barn, 2008

The Wineck barn also appears as the background image on the back cover. The upper image on the back cover is also my photograph, the Ferber Baily barn on Marsh Road, now owned by Richard Estelle.

NLMBarnLogoThe bottom image is the new logo for Northern Light Media, made from one of the art prints which my sister, Susan Patch, created from a photograph I took last summer of the Raymond Greise barn on Outer Springer Loop Road, south of Palmer.

The book is in the final stages of production and will be published the first week of May, 2013.