Palmer, Alaska

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Palmer is a city in and the borough seat of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska. It is part of the Anchorage Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2000 census, the population of the city was 4,533. 2008 Census Bureau estimates give the city a population of 8,201.[1]



The first people to live in the Matanuska Valley, where Palmer is located, were the Dena’ina and Ahtna Athabaskans. They moved throughout the area, living off of subsistence and by trading with other native groups. Their trade routs where along the Matanuska River. When Russians came to Alaska in 1741, they began to trade furs. When Alaska was bought from Russia by the United States in 1867 for two cents an acre, many of the Russians left, though interest in furs continued. In the mid-1880s, an entrepreneur named George W. Palmer built a trading post on the Matanuska River, right near present-day Palmer. The town was later named after this Alaskan pioneer.

In the late 19th century, the U.S. government began to take interest in the Matanuska coal fields located north of Palmer. This interest sparked financiers to begin constructing the Alaska Central Railroad in 1904. However, it wasn't until 1914 that Congress allowed the leasing of the coal reserves, and railroad construction began. Homesteaders also began to populate the area, and the Palmer Post Office was opened July 6, 1917. With railroad accessibility, new markets for agriculture began to open up for farmers in the Matanuska Valley.

Pamer was transformed in 1935, during the Great Depression, when the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal projects, established the Matanuska Colony. From Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, 203 families traveled by train and ship to reach the fledgling colony, arriving in the summer of 1935. Upon their arrival they were housed in a tent city during their first Alaskan summer. Each family drew lots for 40-acre (160,000 m2) tracts and their farming adventure began in earnest. The failure rate was high, but many of their descendants still live in the area and there are still many operating farms in the Palmer area, including Vanderwheele and Wolverine farms. In 1971, The National Outdoor Leadership School started operating wilderness education courses in the nearby Talkeetna and Chugach mountain ranges from a local historic farmhouse, now listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

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