For thousands of years, people have left their mark
on the landscapes of Ft. Wainwright and its training areas. These
cultural remains range from prehistoric hunting and fishing camps
to more recent sites: roads and trails, roadhouses, homestead locations,
World War II buildings and structures, and Cold War complexes. Today’s
human activities continue to shape the landscape and leave a physical
record for future generations.
A Continuum from the Ancient to the Present
Archaeologists estimate that habitation of Alaska’s Interior
began sometime before 12,000 years ago. The period between this
time and the arrival Euro-Americans has been divided into three
successive cultural periods or traditions: the American Paleoarctic
Tradition, thought to reflect the movement of peoples into Alaska
from Siberia beginning prior to 12,000 years ago; the Northern Archaic
Tradition, thought to reflect the movement of peoples from Canada
as boreal forests spread north 6,000 years ago; and the Athabascan
Tradition, beginning about 2,000 years ago and continuing into the
19th century. These broad traditions have been developed based on
radiocarbon dating and the presence or absence of different types
of stone tools at archaeological sites. The archaeological record
of Fort Wainwright lands stretches back nearly 10,000 years and
contains sites attributable to all of these periods.
At the time of Euro-American contact, the portion of the Tanana
River valley now occupied by Army training lands was occupied by
bands of Lower-Middle Tanana Athabascans. These include the Salcha
and Big Delta-Goodpaster bands and the Wood River or Chena Band.
These groups traveled widely throughout the year in small groups
to fish and to hunt sheep, moose and caribou.
Russian and English fur traders began arriving in the Interior
in the early 1800s, and after the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867,
American traders and prospectors entered the region in greater numbers.
In 1903 the town of Fairbanks was established as a result of a gold
rush to the Tanana Valley. The Richardson Trail was subsequently
built connecting Valdez and Fairbanks, and roadhouses sprang up
along the way to serve travelers. Between 1900 and 1904 the Army
constructed the Washington-Alaska Military Cable Telegraph System
(WAMCATS) to provide better communications. Agriculture also gained
a foothold in the Tanana Valley, and by the 1920s, the Alaska Railroad
and commercial aviation were expanding transportation in the Interior.
In 1939, construction began on Ladd Field, an Army Air Corps cold
weather test station adjacent to Fairbanks. During World War II,
Ladd Field played a pivotal role in the transfer of U.S. lend-lease
aircraft to the Soviet Union. Following the war, Ladd Field was
known as Ladd Air Force Base, and was responsible for air defense
operations in Alaska’s northern sector. Its other Cold War
missions included photo, electronic, and weather reconnaissance;
cold weather testing; logistic support of auxiliary sites; and support
of scientific research and the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory. In
1961, Ladd Air Force Base was turned over to the Army and renamed
Fort Jonathan Wainwright. As an Army post during the Cold War, Ft.
Wainwright hosted aviation, infantry, and artillery units participating
in the defense of Alaska. With the activation of the 6th Infantry
Division (Light) in 1986, worldwide deployment was added to the
mission. The evolution of the Army’s role continues today
under USARAK and the SBCT transformation.
Resources from the Distant and Recent Past
Today Fort Wainwright includes a cantonment and three major training
areas: the Donnelly Training Area, Yukon Training Area, and Tanana
Flats. Cultural resources on Ft. Wainwright and its training lands
include archaeological sites and districts, as well as historic
buildings and structures which provide tangible links to the activities
of the past.
The Ladd Field National Historic Landmark,
designated in 1985, commemorates the national significance of the
World War II missions at the airfield. In recognition of the significance
Ladd Air Force Base played in the
early years of the Cold War, 1947-1961, a historic district consisting
of Cold War properties has also been determined eligible for listing
in the National Register of Historic Places.
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