Wasilla Museum


WASILLA  MUSEUM

By Coleen Mielke

2019


 



Sitting on Main Street, in downtown Wasilla, is a 30’ x 50’, 1 story log building that was built 88 years ago. Originally designed by Stanley Herning as a community hall, it is the oldest commercial log building in Wasilla today.

A valley pioneer named Christ Stern was instrumental in the funding for this early building. He immigrated from Norway in 1886 and came to Alaska in 1898, right after he served in the Spanish American War. Stern staked a 318 acre homestead in 1913, 4 years before Wasilla even existed. By today's landmarks, it was in the vicinity of the Palmer Wasilla Highway and the Parks Highway intersection.


Stern was a lifelong bachelor and a farmer by trade; he sold potatoes by the ton and strawberries by the crate. When he died in 1927 at the age of 58, he left his homestead to the community of Wasilla.


 


Wasilla named the gifted property, “The Stern Community Ranch” and used a section of it (that was on the shore of Wasilla Lake) for school picnics, community functions, church camps, Girl Scout and Boy Scout camps, etc.  On 12/9/1930, O.G.Herning wrote in his journal: “Talk [is] afloat to sell the Stern Community Ranch and use the money for a Community Town Hall.”

The community wasted no time in doing just that; a 1/4 acre piece of land on Block 8 of Main Street in downtown Wasilla was chosen for the proposed community hall. Crews of volunteers cut enough logs to construct the walls and the Stern homestead was sold in order to fund the floor, roof, tar-paper, doors, windows and a concrete basement.





The Community Town Hall was in constant use for the next 35 years, hosting basketball games, school plays, movies, Christmas programs, community suppers, fund raisers, bingo games, workshops, band practice, political rallies, weddings, funerals, dances and high school graduations.

By 1967, the building was so dilapidated that several people suggested it be torn down and cut up for firewood, but the Wasilla Knik Centennial Committee had a better idea. They upgraded the buildings interior and added running water, a kitchen, an office and a bathroom. The end result was the Wasilla Museum.

Behind the museum today, is the "Old Wasilla Townsite Park"; a collection of Wasilla's earliest buildings, such as Wasilla's 1st school, built in 1917; the O.G. Herning home, built in 1936 and sold to Walt and Vivian Teeland in 1947; the home of Patrick Albert "Paddy" Marion who prospected in the Willow Creek Mining District for 50 years; the Gustaf Emil "Shorty" Gustafson barn and others.



 
 

Dorothy G. Page, the curator of the new Wasilla Museum, was a very civic minded person. She was the chairman of the Alaska Centennial Committee, she served 4 terms on the Wasilla City Council, she was Mayor of Wasilla for 2 years, she was on the Wasilla Library Board and was nicknamed the "Mother of the Iditarod" for her efforts in organizing and promoting the first Iditarod Trail Race to Nome. When she passed away in 1989, the Museum was re-named, the Dorothy G. Page Museum and Visitors Center, in her honor.



 
In 1981, the former Wasilla Community Hall (now the Wasilla Museum)
was added to the National Register of Historical Buildings.




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