The History of Palmer, Alaska

The History of Palmer, Alaska

Palmer lies less than one hour northeast of Anchorage. The community was established in the breathtaking Matanuska Valley sandwiched between the Chugach Range and the Talkeetna Mountains. For centuries, the destination was home to the Ahtna Athabaskan and Dena’ina peoples. The hunter/gatherers regularly traded with other Native communities. The first group of Europeans arrived in 1741. The Russian immigrants brought their Orthodox religious traditions with them, which they shared with the indigenous tribes. During the 1890s, George W. Palmer established a trading post on the Matanuska River, which attracted fur traders. The growing community eventually adopted his name.

The United States government developed an interest in the coal fields north of Palmer at this time. The success of the coal mines attracted entrepreneurs who ventured to the area and constructed the Alaska Central Railroad in 1904. With the onset of WWI, coal was highly valued as fuel for the Navy’s warships. In 1917, the U.S. Navy built a rail port in Seward in order to retrieve the coal deposits. The Palmer Post Office opened that June. Once the war ended, the military gave veterans the land that once bustled with mining. The availability of the railroad provided the means for farmers and ranchers to take their crops and livestock to market.

One year later, funds obtained from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration were used improve local roads, provide electricity and telephone services along with a new hospital. In the spring of 1935, hundreds of families arrived from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in hopes of a better life. The Midwest arrivals brought their small-town values, knowledge of city planning and institutional development. Families lived in tents until receiving 40-acre tracts of homesteading land. Gold miners also arrived and began new lives as farmers. To this day, descendants of early immigrants remain and, farming continues playing a vital role in the local economy.

Beginning in 1971, the c  established the National Outdoor Leadership School, which served to provide wilderness survival training. Today, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with other structures. Since the 1980s, the local population continued growing. Over the years, Palmer added many improvements, which included upgraded streets, sidewalks, fire and police protection.

Today, Palmer, Alaska is a destination for many. Although having a permanent population of slightly under 6,000, the community continues attracting visitors for the destination’s small-town appeal and picturesque views. Golf, hiking and river rafting are but some of the popular summer recreational opportunities. Palmer is home to many bed and breakfasts, including Alaska Garden Gate B&B and Cottages and several B&Bs not far from Anchorage.When the snow falls, cross-country skiing, dogsled mushing, ice skating and snow-shoeing entice locals and visitors to journey outdoors.