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Cultural Resources at Fort Richardson
This page was updated on:
28-May-2010

Annual Reports: Archaeological Survey and Evaluation

Operations & Maintenance Streamlining Programmatic Agreement

Past 106 Consultation


To obtain additional information regarding cultural resources on U.S. Army Alaska contact Lisa Graham.

 

 

Fort Richardson

The boundaries of Fort Richardson encompass lands that have been occupied intermittently for over 10,000 years, representing the rich cultural history of the larger Anchorage-Cook Inlet region. Despite this long cultural history, only the last 200 years are detailed in written records. Archaeology thus represents a valuable tool in understanding the early history of Alaska.

Few archaeological resources dating to the early prehistory of the Cook Inlet region have been identified to date. The majority of archaeological sites recorded throughout the region are associated with the late prehistoric (750 – 1000 BP) Athapaskan tradition, which is thought to have replaced earlier Pacific Eskimo settlement, based on archaeological and linguistic evidence, and Athapaskan oral history. The Anchorage area, specifically, supported several village sites prior to the arrival of Russian and Euro-American settlers. The mouth of Ship Creek historically supported a significant fish run, and was the focus of fish camps and seasonal subsistence fishing, prior to the advent of canneries and commercial fishing. Anchorage itself was called Qatuk’e’usht (also Xa’tikiuet) by the people of Kenai, and once supported a Dena’ina village. The Native Village of Eklutna is the only Dena’ina village that is now located in the Anchorage area.

Archaeological research at Fort Richardson has identified eight sites to date, all but one of which are dated to the early- to mid-twentieth century. Numerous locations of historic and ethnographic significance are known to exist on Fort Richardson, however the exact locations of many of these features have not been recorded. Sections of the Iditarod Historic Trail are thought to have crossed Fort Richardson; the Girdwood-Ship Creek Connecting Trail descended the Ship Creek valley in the vicinity of Fort Richardson, where it joined the Eagle River – Knik Trail, most likely crossing Fort Richardson lands. Future archaeological research will provide opportunities to identify additional sites of varying time periods and cultural affiliations.

Substantial development of the Anchorage area began in 1915 when the Alaska Engineering Commission (AEC) based their headquarters here during construction of the Alaska Railroad. People seeking railroad work flocked to the region and by 1917 the town had 4,000 permanent residents. In 1920 the populace organized to establish the incorporated city of Anchorage. During the 1920’s the population dwindled and stabilized at around 2,000 people. Homesteaders settled much of the outlying Anchorage bowl area. It was not until the mid 1930’s that the city again began to grow.

When WWII started in 1939, Alaska’s primary military presence was in Haines at the Chilkoot Barracks. The government responded to mounting world tensions with wide scale construction efforts throughout the territory. Executive Orders 8102 and 8343 were issued in 1939 and 1940 withdrawing 45,939 and 40,563 acres of land for establishment of an Army post and airfield to be called Fort Richardson.

There were nearly eighty homestead claims, in various stages of ‘proving up’, when the area was withdrawn. The Army purchased the land and/or improvements from homesteaders and started post construction on June 8, 1940. The location was selected for access to port facilities, favorable topography and weather, and proximity to the Alaska Railroad. During WWII Fort Richardson was an important support and supply base for units moving to occupy forward defensive positions.

In 1947 the Air Force was created as a separate agency within the newly established Department of Defense. In 1950 the western portion of Fort Richardson was transferred to the Air Force to create Elmendorf AFB. The Army moved their headquarters and built a new cantonment within the modern post boundaries. During the Cold War years (1949-1991) Fort Richardson mainly served as a training and administrative center. Nike Hercules missile site operations stand out as one of the most significant Army missions undertaken at Fort Richardson during this period. The 26 structures comprising Nike Site Summit, the only Nike site to retain integrity, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

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