Published: July 23rd 2012July 22nd 2012
Today was a beautiful day in Alaska - sunny and 68. Better than yesterday when it was rainy and chilly. We went to church this morning. A baby boy was baptized during the service by his grandfather, a deacon from Wisconsin. Very uplifting. Yesterday we went to the visitors center in Palmer which is also a museum. It had a display there about the Matanuska Colony which I thought was interesting. The Great Depression which started in 1929 was a time of severe worldwide economic hardship. By 1932 a million farm families were on relief aid and 13 million people were out of work. Thus began the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt and his advisors proposed a relocation effort to move destitute Midwestern farmers onto more profitable lands. With Alaska's agricultural potential the Matanuska Valley was selected in 1934 as a good target for the relocation effort. To be chosen from the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, only "honest-to-God" farmers, couples between the ages of 25 and 40 with Scandinavian backgrounds would be considered. In exchange for a $3,000, 30-year loan, each family would be given a 40-acre tract of land, a house, a barn, a well, and
an outbuilding. Those families that chose tracts with poor soil conditions and hilly landscape were given 80 acres In all 203 families were chosen for the colony. The families who accepted the challenge had little time to make up their minds. One man gave his wife one hour to decide. 400 transient laborers from California were sent ahead to construct the settlement. Unfortuanately, coordination and supply problems often delayed construction so that many facilities were not ready when the first colonists arrived. In April, 1935, the first Minnesota group left St. Paul by train. They arrived in San Francisco and then boarded an army transport ship on May 1st and docked in Seward on May 6. Houses had not yet been built, but orderly rows of tents awaited the colonists along the railroad in Palmer. Unfortuanately not all the tents were ready in time for the arrival of the second group and for a while, some families had to double up. On May 23, the colony men lined up to draw a number from a cardboard box which would indicate the tract of land that would be their farm. By June the families moved into 10 different camps near their tracts until the houses were completed. In time families were able to choose one of five floor plans for their houses, although only one barn design was available. Supplies arrived haphazardly, and government regulations prohibiting colonists from building their own houses and clearing their own land (the transient workers were hired for that) irked many. Some got busy with friends and began work anyway, finishing their houses before most others. A feat believed impossible by many occurred on Oct. 30, 1935, when the final colonists moved into their homes. More than 60% of the original colonists left within a few years. The Government recruited replacement families through 1940 and many found permanent homes in the Valley. While the government's "colony" was short lived, the community grew. The roads, power distribution, telephone system, schools and other social and economic development evidenced today in the Palmer area largely began with that government program.