Matanuska Project Index
Research Center


  Matanuska Valley Colony


August 1936


August 11, 1936  page 5

Colonists Hope For Statehood

Dream of Many Conflicts With Discontent of Others in Valley.

Palmer, Alaska, Aug. 11--(AP)--Alaska as the 49th state, with the Matanuska colony one of the foundation stones, is the dream of many of this green and fertile valley's modern pioneers.

At the other extreme of views here is an undoubted current of discontent and dissatisfaction with the "corporation," discontent which in the first 15 months of the colony's existence has sent one out of every four families back to their middle western homes.

The divergent views fail to interrupt the busy life of the colony.  The "newness" has not worn off the cabins and buildings and the carefully laid-out community center.  Crops are flourishing and livestock herds increasing in number.

President Charles E. Bunnell, of the University of Alaska urged statehood as the colonists' goal in a mid-summer visit.

"That should be your aim," he told an outdoor assembly.

In Producing Phase

"But how can people hope for statehood without the ability to feed themselves? One dollar's worth of goods produced, in this territory is worth many dollars' worth of some other resource.

"You are building for big things."

The colony, in the words of Ross L. Shelly, general manager, has reached the "producing and processing phase" after passing through the "construction period."  It was 15 months ago yesterday that the first colonists arrived here, fleeing from a drought-stricken middle-west.

At present colonists are engaged in the sale of crops.  Next week some of them will go to the mountains for the hunting season.

Starting September 4 a four-day agricultural fair will be held.  The new Anchorage-Matanuska highway will be opened the first day.

The truck garden raised by Walter Pippel, formerly of St. Paul, Minn. has been a "show spot" in this section of the colony.  Since the first of June, Matanuska produce has been on sale at Anchorage, 34 miles south of here.

Model Center Built

"We have accomplished a great deal since our arrival," Shelly said today.

For example, a model community center, as well as homes, barns and chicken houses for 173 families have been built.  The community center houses a modern school, hospital, recreation hall, trading post, warehouse, power plant, creamery, canning plant and repair shops and quarters for the personnel.

"Except for the schoolhouse and the recreation hall, the building will be entirely self-liquidating through rental and use charges.

"Most of the unadjusted colonists have returned to the United States.  There is a ready market in Alaska for all these people can produce."

On the other hand, some discontent remains  among the colonists and finds voice, anonymously.  One colonist had said he believed there was as much dissatisfaction and discontent now as a year ago, but that because the colonists are more scattered, some several mules from the community's center, there has been no organized opposition such as appeared last summer.

Complain of Mismanagement

The discontent is based on complaints of mismanagement, such as that of colonists who had land ready to plow this spring and it was not touched, or that other land was not fertilized and treated with lime to cure its sourness, as had been promised.

"Sen. Henrick Shipstead, of Minnesota, was here only four hours and what could he, or others on such short official visits, learn about real conditions here?" other colonists have asked.





August 12, 1936  page 5

Dust Bowl Farmers Area Heading for Matanuska

Palmer, Alaska, Aug. 12--(AP)--The government-fostered colony of Matanuska may start a new "gold rush" to Alaska with the "prospectors" grubbing for vegetables instead of the yellow metal.

An advance guard of incoming farmers with money and resources of their own already is sifting slowly into favored spots in the broad belt north of Homer, near the gulf of Alaska, through the Matanuska area to the Tanana valley near Fairbanks, in the interior.  Gov. John W. Troy's office at Juneau is being flooded with inquiries about Alaska's agricultural possibilities.  The colony here has a long waiting list to fill vacancies.  chambers of Commerce are receiving hundreds of similar letters.

The largest tourist rush in years is also on Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska, reported 6,673 visitors in July.

A typical expression of sentiment came from an old time Alaska, Moose Johnson, visiting at his former home at Elkhart, Kansas, he wrote.

"All the farmers in the 'dust bowl' have the fever to come to Alaska.

No Place for Lazy People

Ross L. Sheely, general manager of the Matanuska colony, warned again today that Alaska is "no place for lazy people."  But he added, "From the standpoint of home life, schooling, health, recreation and future independence, the future of the colonist is bright."

With the middle west again stricken by heat and drought, the colonists have been enjoying a climate which has not reached over 80 this summer, with occasional rainfall.  The land is of unquestioned great fertility.  Remaining discontent appears to be solely over the colony's management.

Joe Lenty* formerly of Merrill, Wis., with a family of three children, commented today.

"I hear they have a terrible drought in the states.  We sure don't have it up here."

The viewpoint of a satisfied farm wife was expressed by Mrs. I. M. Sandvik, formerly of Carlton, Minn.

"There's much more opportunity in Alaska for ordinary people than in the states," she said.

46 Children Born

The 158 families in the colony consist of 410 children and 320 adults.  their homes are scattered over a wide area of the valley, some eight and 10 miles from Palmer, the community center.

There have been 46 births since the colonists arrived a year ago last May.

Last week the colony's creamery was completed.  Butter soon will be marketed at Anchorage in commercial quantities.

Produce has been sent there since June and a market for fully six times as much as can be grown may be found in Alaska, leaders said.

Rep. Byron Harlan, of Ohio, arriving in Seattle last week, called the colony "plainly a national defense measure," saying Alaska's population must be built up by such agricultural development.

Alaskans hail the proposed Homer colony on the Kenai peninsula as a more favored spot than the Matanuska valley.  Only one hundred farmers are cultivating land near Homer, which leaders say can accommodate 100,000.  The lack of a road system is one of its handicaps.

*The list of families on the Matanuska Valley Project page shows the name spelled as Lentz as opposed to Lenty, as shown in the above article.