Paving the path: A look at homesteaders of early Anchorage

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This article was originally published in Alaska Magazine.

 

Many homesteaders that journeyed to Alaska were brought to the last frontier via the military and the Homestead Act. The act made 160 acres of land available for people to live on for 5 years. In that time, homesteaders were required to develop the land for farming and build a house. If they met those requirements, they would receive full ownership of their land. After World War II and the Vietnam War, an influx of pioneers journeyed to Anchorage for a chance at homesteading. A number of homesteaders left a lasting impression on the city they once called home. The road names that Anchorage residents drive on everyday connect us to the history of Anchorage.

 

Arnold Muldoon Muldoon homesteaded in Alaska in 1939 and chose a several hundred-acre piece of land to live on. He built a small log cabin, began clearing land and created a road from his homestead to the Glenn Highway, which coined the name Muldoon Road.

Unfortunately, many saw Muldoon’s land as a prized possession, and wished to have it as their own. He was threatened by locals who set fire to the woods he resided in and was shot at. He held onto 74 acres of his land, though, which he sold to the Anchorage Borough in 1974. That land is known today as Muldoon Park. Muldoon passed away in 1985 and is buried in Palmer. Muldoon Elementary School also bears his name.

 

Joe Spenard Spenard came to Anchorage in 1916 and brought the first automobiles to town, his REO truck and 1915 Ford Model T, the city’s first taxicab. Spenard made a profit by cutting and hauling wood, and found a lake nearby that had a huge wood source, unofficially known to Anchorage-ites as Jeter Lake. With the help of a local organization, they cut trees and built a corduroy trail from the city boundary to the lake. Spenard moved to Sacramento, California, where he died in 1934.

Joe Spenard: Photo by Samantha Davenport

Joe Spenard: Photo by Samantha Davenport

The body of water was eventually renamed Spenard Lake and was joined to Lake Hood, which is the busiest float-plane base in the world. Spenard Road follows the early trail from the lake, and the neighborhood of Spenard which currently has around 30,000 residents, is named after the homesteader.

 

William Elmore William Elmore was a pilot for many years who served in the Air Force; he came to Alaska from Wyoming after World War II with his wife and their five children. He was an ironworker for his first several years of Anchorage before serving as Alaska’s adjutant general during William Egan’s second governorship.

Kathy Maher, Elmore’s step-daughter, still lives in Anchorage. She remembers living in the one-bedroom homestead with her family.

“They were true pioneers,” Maher said. “Even when [William] became a general, he didn’t buy an expensive home. He built onto that little cabin. Basically, they lived there the whole time,” Maher said.

Elmore and his wife moved to Juneau for several years, but eventually moved back to the homestead cabin. Elmore died in 1980 and is buried at Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage. The homestead is located in the Rabbit Creek area and is still standing today.

 

Burl Tudor Like Elmore, Tudor came to Alaska after his service in the Air Force during World War II in 1945. In 1949, Tudor and his first wife lived in a tent on their 160-acre homestead that he won in a lottery drawing. The homestead was located near Boniface Parkway and Tudor Road area, but eventually, they relocated their house from Mountain View to the homestead using a bulldozer.

Tudor was the president of the Mountain View Community Club and was one of the original founders of Chugach Electric Association; he even coined the name. In 1953, Tudor moved to Seattle, Washington where he became a realtor and real estate broker. Even though he left the state, he consistently visited Alaska. Tudor passed away in 2000.

The Author

Samantha is majoring in journalism and political science at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is the executive editor of The Northern Light, UAA's student-run newspaper and has previously interned at Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media. Samantha loves pad thai, london fogs and a good baseball tee.

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