Friday, July 22, 2016

Palmer, AK - The Colony

In the last blog I showed you some of the huge veggies they grow here - record sizes. World record sizes. But the story behind these huge veggies in Palmer goes back to the Great Depression. (You knew I’d get history into this somehow, didn’t you?)

We usually know what we’re heading to see or do when we hit a new place. So, today was the ‘Colony’ in Palmer. We knew what it was and where but not how interesting it really turned out to be. It was the Great Depression in the 30’s and there were no jobs and, even on the farms things were tough. It was before we learned about rotating crops and letting land go fallow to replenish it and the upper Midwest, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin were devastated. The Roosevelt administration tried all sorts of programs to get people back to work and the economy working again. One of the programs was to relocate farmers to more fertile land and one place they did this was Palmer, Alaska, just a bit north of Anchorage. The land was fertile but there were few farmers to farm it.
You had to apply to be accepted into the program and had to be ‘honest to God’ farmers, of Scandinavian descent and between the ages of 25 - 40. If you went to Alaska and homesteaded, you got a $3000 30-year loan, a 40-acre tract of land, a house, a barn, a well and an outbuilding. Many applied. Those who were accepted had little time to decide, one man gave his wife 1 hour to decide.

 Then they had 2 days to pack up and leave. They joined the others from their area and in 1935 took a train to California where they boarded a boat for Alaska.
Meanwhile 400 laborers were chosen to precede them and build the buildings. But because supplies came late, many families arrived before the buildings were built, and they created a tent city. Then the men drew lots for their acreages, the 400 colonists all had homes prior to winter and it looked like the colony was proceeding ok. But, the winter was harsh, some had drawn lots for wooded lots which had to be cleared, many missed their friends and families back in the Midwest, and 60% left within a few years. They were replaced with new arrivals and the city of Palmer survived and grew.

What an unusual story and certainly new to me. We stopped in the Palmer Museum of Art and History with all of its displays. Very good.

But, we’re not done. There is Colony museum housed in an original Colony house and staffed by an original ‘Colony Kid.’ Of course she’s my age now but she lived in Palmer when it was a colony. Here are some pictures from the inside of the house. You people who are my age will recognize lots here from your homes or from your grandparents.
Linoleum ‘rug.’ So easy to clean.
Remember those chairs. My in-laws had some but they had relegated them to the basement. Nice and soft. And, the radio on the table for listening to Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats.
The kitchen:
Log Cabin syrup, Arm and Hammer baking powder - gee, I’ve got these.
In this bedroom, you can see a dish box that was shipped up to Palmer.
They’ve got a pitcher right there for washing up and - right outside the back door is this.
She showed us a book with the history of the colony in it. There were 4 home plans that the colonists could choose from. Here’s the one for this house but the owner made substantial changes. Colonists could make changes, especially on the inside but not in the actual footprint. This house has been occupied since the Colony family left and someone along the way has opened up the lower level and made it into an open design.
Not only house plans but dress patterns - for use for those flour sacks that you’ve emptied. Look at that waist - even Scarlett O’Hara would like this.

I certainly didn’t know about this project and its importance to Alaska. Really enjoyed learning and visiting the home and talking with one of the 'Colony Kids.’

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