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 Originally called "Glacier City," Girdwood was founded as a supply camp for placer gold miners with claims along the creeks feeding Turnagain Arm. It was renamed for Colonel James Girdwood, a Belfast-born, Scots-Irish entrepreneur and linen merchant who staked the first four gold claims along Crow Creek in 1896.

The town was moved 2.5 miles (4 km) up the valley after the devastating Good Friday Earthquake of 1964, when the land under the original townsite subsided into Turnagain Arm, putting much of the town below high tide. The land has not all since been reclaimed, as one can still see 'drowned' cabins in the marshy areas where the city formerly extended. Significant earthquakes are a relatively common occurrence for Girdwood and the Kenai peninsula. Evidence has been discovered that indicates the area has seen six major quakes in the past 3300 years.

Girdwood was incorporated as a city in 1970 and became part of the Municipality of Anchorage when the Greater Anchorage Area Borough unified with the city of Anchorage in 1975. The town has served as a backdrop for at least two films: The Chechahcos, a 1924 silent film about the Klondike Gold Rush, and Warren Miller's 1997 Snowriders II. Girdwood was the home of Alaska's former senior U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, and Girdwood found itself in the media spotlight when the construction projects on Stevens' home became the subject of a federal investigation. Olympic gold and silver medal-winning skier Tommy Moe also called Girdwood home during his High School years where he attended Glacier Creek Academy.




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