Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Soldotna Homestead Museum

As it was another cool wet day we decided to just do some touring of our immediate surroundings, which is the town of Soldotna. Our first stop was the visitor's center. In front of this building were a couple of interesting items which caught our attention. The first was the fish bench and the second was a statue of a man holding a fish. We learned later that the man was Les, a citizen of the area who holds the town's record for catching the largest king salmon. The fish weighed  97 pounds. One thing we learned today is that it is fish which drives the economy of Alaska. Fishing has been important to the state in the past and up to the present, more so than oil or gold.
From the visitor's center we drove to the homestead museum. Two ladies eagerly greeted us as we entered the first building of this museum and both started to talk at once, describing the items in the museum. I have never seen such eager tour guides! The lady who finally was our tour guide for the entire museum was from the area, her parents were the first group of homesteaders to settle in the area. The time period was in the middle to late forties of the past century. How those first homesteaders lived is shown in a collection of handmade utensils and pioneer artifacts. Our guide pointed out that her family did not have electricity until 1963, and even then they did not have it for very long because the earthquake of 1964  knocked down their power lines, but electricity was restored about 6 months later. Our next tour with our guide was outside where several homesteader cabins and the first school are located. They had all been restored and moved to the museum land. A couple of them were quite crude looking, one had fairly large holes between the logs, "big enough to through a cat through" was the description aptly put by our guide. The owner of that cabin was not successful in getting his bride to live there with him, he had to build a better one for her. Below is a picture of the cook stove in that cabin. The fire box is on the left side so the oven of that stove got hot only on the left side. No wonder that the oven looked like it had not been used!
Our final stop on the tour was a large community building which was constructed for the Alaska Centennial. Here Alaska Native artifacts are displayed as well as an outstanding display of wildlife mounts. What fascinated me  were the baskets made by the natives with baleen. Baleen is the bone in a whale's mouth which has fibers on it to filter the fish. Also on display was a dog sled made by a nurse which she used for her transportation in the 1970s..Behind the sled is a display of mounted ducks and birds which can be found in Alaska.
While touring the Homestead Museum I was impressed by the fact that Alaska is a young state. One of the homesteaders, whose cabin we toured, is still living today. And it seems to me that there is a lot to admire about the people who survive and stay in what can be a times a very harsh environment. Our tour guide seemed to be very proud of her heritage and eager to share with us her history.

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