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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