The first people to live in the Matanuska Valley, where Palmer is located, were the Dena’ina and Ahtna Athabaskans. In May of 1893, Alaska pioneer George Palmer (born in Pennsylvania) made his way to Alaska from Seattle where he was a logger. Mr. Palmer was a rugged entrepreneur with a history of doing business around the Matanuska valley which included growing the first vegetables, the first privately owned stores, and the first appointed U.S. postmaster in Knik in October of 1904. Mr. Palmer also brought the first hay reaper into the area, started selling farm equipment, renting horse teams, and established trading posts to trade and supply the people of the area with food, goods, mail, fur, etc.

The townsite of Palmer served as a gateway to the Alaska interior for fur traders, trappers, gold miners, and those wanting to live life on the frontier.

Palmer also served as a homesteading area for miners who had returned from the Nelchina gold stampede in 1913 to lead an agricultural lifestyle. Development of the coal mines north of Palmer, Eska, and Chickaloon, and the influx of gold miners heading to Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass contributed to the increase in population.

In 1914, John Bugge, Roy Cornelius, John Loken, Adam Werner, and Ed Duncklee came by steamship together as the first homesteaders in the Palmer area.  Mr. Bugge started a farm where the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and Glenn Highway intersect.  The Werner homestead, located north of downtown Palmer, celebrated 100 years and is a testimony to Adam and Fanny Werner’s skill and hard work.

In the late 19th century, the U.S. government began to take interest in the Matanuska coal fields located north of Palmer. This interest sparked financiers to consider constructing the Alaska Central Railroad in 1904. The advent of World War I created a need for high-quality coal to fuel U.S. battleships, and by 1917 the US Navy had constructed rail from the port of Seward to the Chickaloon coal deposits. At the end of WWI, the U.S. Navy distributed land in the coal fields to war veterans and additional land was opened for homesteading. Farmers, miners, and homesteaders began to populate the area.

The Palmer Post Office opened July 6, 1917, with Georen O. White as postmaster. In 1925 the Post Office was abandoned by Mr. White.  Mr. Ward and Mr. Felton petitioned Washington for the post office to reopen but the government declined their request. They then petitioned to open the post office using a combination of their names. The petition was accepted, and James W. Felton was appointed postmaster of the Warton Post Office on July 13, 1931.  On July 1, 1935, the post office returned to the name of Palmer with James W. Felton continuing as postmaster.

With railroad accessibility, new markets for agriculture began to open up for farmers in the Matanuska Valley. Although the Federal Department of Agriculture broke ground on the experiment station in 1917, Palmer didn’t become a bustling community until the Colonist families arrived in 1935. In one year, Palmer transformed from a mere whistle-stop rail siding to a planned community with modern utilities and community services.

Our townsite was designed in 1935 during the Great Depression as one of the 100 planned FDR New Deal “resettlement communities”. In May of that year, 203 families from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin were relocated to the Matanuska Valley to develop an agricultural community in what was then a Territory. There is much documentation about this time in Palmer’s history.

Many of the structures built are now in a nationally recognized historic district. Palmer was incorporated as a City in April 1951 and has been an Alaskan leader in community infrastructure development through the years, with many dedicated citizens giving caring thought to community needs and lifestyle amenities.

Alaska 1935 – Alaska Film Archives

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Alaska Far Away Introduction Videos –

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Alaska’s Matanuska Colony Teaching Plan – National Parks Service

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Alaska Pioneer Newspaper – Alaska Film Archives

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Alaska Railroad Train & Palmer Depot

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ARRC Engineers Map 1936 US Geological Survey

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Arville Schaleben 1935 Matanuska Colony Photo Collection – Wisconsin Historical Society

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Arville Schaleben Article – Our New Pioneers January 1936 – PHS Collection

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Colonist Harold Johnson Letter 1936 – PHS Collection

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Transcription

Families of the Matanuska Valley Project

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Farmer with Horse-Drawn Plow – Alaska Film Archives

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Farming in the 49th (1979) – Alaska Film Archives

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Frontier Farmers of Alaska 1940’s

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Matanuska, Alaska – National Archives Video Collection

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Matanuska Colony – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Colony by Kirk Stone – US Dept. of Interior Bureau of Land Management 1950

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Matanuska Colony Barns – Northern Lights Media

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Matanuska Colony Buildings in Palmer – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Colony Farmers – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Valley Colony Hospital – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Valley Colony Hospital continued

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Matanuska Colony Houses & Tents – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Colony Tents at Palmer – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Colony Trading Post at Palmer – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Colony Trading Post at Palmer continued

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Matanuska Valley Colony – About the Project

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Matanuska Dairy – National Parks Service

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Matanuska Depot in the Early ’30’s – Alaska Film Archives

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Matanuska Sawmill – Alaska Film Archives

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Palmer Alaska Historic Compilation – Alaska Film Archives

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Palmer and the Matanuska Valley, Alaska 1930’s – Alaska Film Archives

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Palmer Historical Society Letter in Response to City of Palmer Community Development Plans to Remove our Historic Railroad Tracks

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Snowy Travel in Palmer 1950s – Alaska Film Archives

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The 1935 Matanuska Colony Project – Helen Hegener

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The Flying Dentist of Alaska – Far North Films

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Click the text below to read the Palmer Daily News – PHS Collection

Palmer Daily May 18 1935

1936 Revised Tract List – PHS Collection

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1937 ARRC Tract Map – PHS Collection

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Lower Matanuska Valley Geological Map 1912