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A Frontier Town Grows Up

Small Web version of WWII interpretive panel installed at Campbell Tract trailhead(The following text appears on one of four interpretive panels on the Campbell Tract trail system to acquaint visitors with the area's history.)

World War II transformed Anchorage. Before war was declared, Anchorage was a small railroad town in the remote Alaska Territory known for isolation and cold winters. Just 3,500 people lived in Anchorage. The only way to the United States or "Lower 48" was by passenger boat, freighter, or a rare airplane. The Alaska Railroad ran only between Fairbanks and Seward, while all the roads ended near town at the edge of the forest. To make a long-distance telephone call to Seattle was impossible, because Juneau was the "end of the line."

The Alaska Gold Rush had diminished, leaving some operating gold mines mainly near Nome and Fairbanks. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal offered 203 families from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan the chance to start fresh in the Matanuska Valley, the biggest thing to happen in the area since the railroad was completed. The large vegetables enjoyed at the Alaska State Fair are a legacy from those hardy pioneers.

The military Alaska-Canadian (Al-Can) Highway Project in 1942, and simultaneously the build-up for the Aleutian Campaign in 1942-43, changed all that. Booming with military personnel and construction workers, Anchorage's population jumped dramatically. The Al-Can Highway and other roads linked Anchorage to “the Outside,” with phone lines strung along the road right-of-way. Soon it became possible to drive, or call, all the way across the country.

Because of the impacts of World War II, Anchorage's role in Alaska and the world had changed from a quiet backwater to a hub of progress in the Alaska Territory. Anchorage’s Elmendorf Field and Fort Richardson continued to grow. With the establishment of the United States Air Force in 1947, Elmendorf became an “Air Force Base” and continues to figure prominently in our national defense strategy.

  • Photo captions and credits:

    • W.W. II - era Anchorage, 4th Avenue (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)
    • Northbound ships brought people, mail, food and other supplies to Anchorage. Southbound ships carried returning passengers, salmon, furs, and gold. (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)
    • Soldiers, sailors and airmen who served a "hitch" in Alaska found that their ideals of scenery, hunting, and fishing had been expanded. Some took advantage of the Homestead Act (no longer available) to settle here immediately. Others, haunted by Alaska, returned North with their families and made Alaska home.
    • Anchorage architecture is represented through time from the "Tent City" born in 1915 at the mouth of Ship Creek to the ZJ Loussac Library, built in 1986.
    • The Risch family in their Sand Lake home (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)
    • Nunaka Valley home (Anchorage Museum of History and Art
    • Pre W.W. II view of Anchorage and Merrill Field (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)

Download 11x17" version of panel in JPEG format (1.91 MB) 

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