Brooks Range
BLM
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Grizzly along the Denali Highway Rafting the Gulkana National Wild River Native woman drying salmon on racks ATV rider on trails near Glennallen Surveyor
Alaska
BLM>Alaska>Programs>Cultural Heritage>Alaska History>Homesteading>Where did people homestead in Alaska?
Print Page

Where did people homestead in Alaska?

People could stake a homestead claim on federal land in most parts of Alaska, except federal lands previously withdrawn for other purposes such as National Parks and Monuments. National Forests were mostly unavailable for homesteading, although later legislation in 1906 allowed filings in areas deemed suitable for agriculture. The 1906 legislation resulted in only eight homesteads patented in Forests. By the time homesteading ended in 1986, the majority of homesteads had been patented south of the Alaska Range mountains, while many were in other locations. These included numerous homesteads in areas around Delta Junction and Fairbanks, Alaska, and others off the Richardson and Parks highways. Additionally, homesteads were established within the Tanana River and Yukon River drainages. For example, part of the gold rush town of Rampart on the Yukon River was homesteaded. Other homesteads were on the Seward Peninsula, Kodiak Island and in western Alaska. Probably the most northern homestead claim in Alaska was for a special non-agricultural type of homestead (later called a “homesite”). It was patented in 1975 in the Brooks Range mountains at Wild Lake above the Arctic Circle.


Map of Alaska with location of homestead sites indicated.

Facts and figures about homesteading in Alaska

  • Total number of homesteads: 3,277
  • Total acres in Alaska: 365,039,104
  • Acres homesteaded in Alaska: 363,775
  • Percentage of Alaska land homesteaded: less than 0.1%

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homesteading in Alaska at the extremes

  • Most northern homestead:  James L. Langton
    (May 23, 1955 patent): 106.88-acre homestead in the Brooks Range mountains on Wild Lake, about 60 miles west of Wiseman, Alaska and 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
  • Most southern and most western homestead: Charles H. Hope
    (April 12, 1961 patent): 4.87-acre homestead on Captains Bay on Unalaska Island in the eastern Aleutian Islands, about two miles southwest of Unalaska, Alaska.
  • Most southern homestead on mainland Alaska: Philip Kelley
    (Jan. 20, 1908 patent): 34.53-acre homestead on Mink Bay of Boca de Quadra inlet, about 70 miles southeast of Ketchikan, Alaska and less than 40 miles from the southernmost part of mainland Alaska.
  • Most eastern homestead: Nikolas Kristovich
    (April 25, 1939 patent): five-acre homestead on Tombstone Bay off the Portland Canal that divides the USA from Canada, about 60 miles south of Hyder, Alaska.

Homestead statistics for Alaska

Eugene Swason Homestead in Rampart, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Robert King.
Eugene E. Swanson was an African-American and a Spanish American war veteran. He homesteaded at the former Gold Rush town of Rampart, Alaska in 1928, using this house (shown). Samuel Heeter had previously built the house in 1903 when Rampart was a booming community.
Before 1910, around 20 homesteads had been patented in all of Alaska, with under a thousand before 1940. This was a very small number compared to the rest of the country.

Between 1901 and 1988, fewer than 3,500 homestead patents were awarded to individuals in Alaska based on farming a portion of the land. Beginning in the 1930s, Alaska-only legislation prompted several thousands more patents for five-acre homesteads, also called “homesites” and “headquarter” sites, that didn’t require any cultivation. These 5-acre, non-agricultural “homesteads” required living on the land for most of three years. Claimants also paid $2.50 per acre. Technically these homesteaders “bought” the land instead of getting it for “free” by traditional homesteading. The last few of these unusual types of small-size “homestead” claims were still being patented near Slana and Lake Minchumina in the early twenty-first century, with some filed as recently as the 1980s.

 

Examples of homesteads in Central Alaska 

William Egan Homestead/Homesite

William Allen Egan (1914-1984), Governor of Alaska during 1959-1966 and again 1970-1974, applied for a special type of Alaskan homestead (also called a homesite claim) on Aug. 22, 1950. It allowed for a claim of up to 5 acres. Subsequently, Egan built a cabin on the property locally called the "Egan Cabin" north of Valdez, Alaska along the Richardson Highway. However, he never received patent to the claim, with the case closed by BLM without action on July 8, 1959 (BLM casefile # AKA 016851). The cabin remained a trespass on public lands until 2009 when the current owners, the Powers family, quitclaimed deeded it to the State of AK. The AK State Dept. of Transportation subsequently removed the cabin for interpretive use to the Billy Mitchell Wayside along the Richardson Hwy. The land remains with BLM in 2011.

Slana Settlement Area abandoned Homestead/Homesite Claims

Similar to the Egan Cabin situation, BLM also manages perhaps hundreds of other abandoned small homestead/homesite claims (typically about 5 acres each) elsewhere in Alaska, especially in the two Slana Settlement areas which were among the final places where people could file for a special type of homestead in Alaska until the fall of 1986 when all forms of homesteading ended in Alaska (this was 10 years after FLPMA ended homesteading in the Lower 48, with AK granted a 10-year extension). These abandoned tracts are in an area of interior Alaska about 250 miles northeast of Anchorage and are mostly remote and not usually connected by roads. 

Note: The type of claims allowed in this area until the fall of 1986 were “homesteads” under a special homestead act passed for Alaska in 1927 that allowed people “engaged in trade, manufacture, or other productive industry” to claim up to 5 acres for “a homestead or headquarters” for which they paid $2.50 per acre after meeting certain requirements. The claimed lands could not include “mineral, coal, oil or gas lands” and it had to be authorized for that type of homestead claim. For a 5-acre homestead (now generally termed a homesite), people had to establish a dwelling and live in it for a certain amount of time similar to a regular homestead claim. For a headquarters site, the person had to establish that up to 5 acres were necessary for a business of some sort that required that much land. People were also allowed to get one of each: a homestead/homesite and a headquarters site. For both, the 1927 law required doing no agriculture, making this type of Alaska-only homesteading perhaps the most unusual in the history of homesteading at any time and in any place in the USA. 

Information supplied by John Jangala, BLM, Glennallen Field Office archaeologist, and Robert King, BLM, Alaska State Office.

Learn more about Alaskan homesteaders by visiting the Alaska's First and Last Homesteaders page.