Seventy-eight years ago today, at 5:30 p.m. Alaska time, 67 tired, travel-sore, but very hopeful families from Minnesota stepped off the Alaska Railroad into the Matanuska Valley for the first time.
One of the "colony kids" who arrived that day, Patty Hemmer Weisenberger, described her family's arrival:
"We were standing on the back platform. ...Daddy was holding Bobby Jo, and Tessie and Jack and I were standing there, so the train was going, you know, kind of screech to a halt, and he said, jump and you’ll be the first colonists in the valley. So Jack and I jumped, and we bounced and rolled down the embankment, and we still argue about who got to the valley first."
Two weeks later, the Minnesota colonists were joined by the families from Michigan and Wisconsin; all the families then got to draw lots for the 40-acre parcels of land where they would build their new homes. After their long journey from the Midwest to Alaska, the real adventure was just beginning.
We salute the colonists on this anniversary. It has been a privilege to share their stories with the world in our film Alaska Far Away.
The 75th anniversary poster above is based on a painting by Alaska artist Douglas Girard.