You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Alaska? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Alaska city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Last Frontier according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Anchorage (Photos)
- Juneau (Photos)
- Kodiak (Photos)
- Palmer (Photos)
- Bethel (Photos)
- Kenai (Photos)
- Homer (Photos)
- Wasilla (Photos)
For being 113 years old, Anchorage doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Alaska? That would be Sitka — a brand spanking 5 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Alaska… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Alaska, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 13 out of 23 in Alaska with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 56.5% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Anchorage turning out to be the matriarch of Alaska at the ripe old age of 113.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Population: 298,225Founded: 1905
Russian presence in south central Alaska was well established in the 19th century. In 1867, U. S. Secretary of State William H. Seward brokered a deal to purchase Alaska from Imperial Russia for $7.2 million, or about two cents an acre ($1.8 billion in 2016 dollars). His political rivals lampooned the deal as ‘Seward’s folly,’ ‘Seward’s icebox,’ and ‘Walrussia.’ In 1888, gold was discovered along Turnagain Arm.
Alaska became a United States territory in 1912. Anchorage, unlike every other large town in Alaska south of the Brooks Range, was neither a fishing nor mining camp. The area surrounding Anchorage lacks significant economic metal minerals. A number of Dena’ina settlements existed along Knik Arm for years. By 1911 the families of J. D. ‘Bud’ Whitney and Jim St. Clair lived at the mouth of Ship Creek and were joined there by a young forest ranger, Jack Brown, and his bride, Nellie, in 1912.
Population: 32,434Founded: 1905
Long before European settlement in the Americas, the Gastineau Channel was a favorite fishing ground for the Auke (A’akw Kwáan) and Taku tribes, who had inhabited the surrounding area for thousands of years. The A’akw Kwáan had a village and burying ground here. In the 21st century it is known as Indian Point. They annually harvested herring during the spawning season, and celebrated this bounty.
Population: 5,387 Founded: 1905
The town now known as Sterling was originally called Naptowne when it was first opened for settlement in 1947. However, the area—which had a few homesteaders by then—acquired a post office in 1954 which was given the designation of Sterling after the Sterling Highway that served the area.
Population: 4,728 Founded: 1905
Nikiski was once home to an Agrium fertilizer plant, which was at one time the largest employer in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The facility closed in 2008 due to natural gas shortages, though the company continues to explore re-opening it.
Population: 6,168Founded: 1940
The Kodiak Archipelago has been home to the Alutiiq for over 7,000 years. In their language, qikertaq means ‘island’. In 1763, the Russian explorer Stephan Glotov discovered the island, calling it Kad’yak (). He was followed by the British captain James Cook fifteen years later, who first recorded ‘Kodiak’ in his journals in 1778.
Population: 6,773Founded: 1951
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 a subsistence lifestyle and trading with other native groups. Their trade routes were along the Matanuska River. Russians came to Alaska in 1741 and brought the Russian Orthodox religious tradition to the indigenous peoples of the region. In the early 1890s, an entrepreneur named George W. Palmer built a trading post on the Matanuska River, near present-day Palmer. The town was later named after Palmer.
Population: 6,408Founded: 1957
Southwestern Alaska was the traditional place of Yup’ik people and their ancestors for thousands of years. They called their village Mamterillermiut, meaning ‘Smokehouse People’, after their nearby fish smokehouse. It was an Alaska Commercial Company trading post during the late 19th century, and had a population of 41 people in the 1880 U.S. Census.
Population: 7,634Founded: 1960
The city of Kenai is named after the local Dena’ina (Tanaina) word ‘ken’ or ‘kena’, which means ‘flat, meadow, open area with few trees; base, low ridge’, according to the Dena’ina Topical Dictionary by James Kari, Ph.D., published in 2007. This describes the area along the mouth and portion of the Kenai River near the City of Kenai. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area was first occupied by the Kachemak people from 1000 B.C., until they were displaced by the Dena’ina Athabaskan people around 1000 A.D. Before the arrival of the Russians, Kenai was a Dena’ina village called Shk’ituk’t, meaning ‘where we slide down.’ When Russian fur traders first arrived in 1741, about 1,000 Dena’ina lived in the village. The traders called the people ‘Kenaitze’, which is a Russian term for ‘people of the flats’, or ‘Kenai people’. This name was later adopted when they were incorporated as the Kenaitze Indian Tribe in the early 1970s.
Population: 5,510Founded: 1964
Tiller digs indicate that early Alutiiq people probably camped in the Homer area although their villages were on the far side of Kachemak Bay.
Population: 9,296Founded: 1974
Glacial ice sheets covered most of the northern hemisphere during the last glacial period, between 26,500 and 19,000–20,000 years ago, until they disappeared between 10,000 and about 7,000 years ago. Early humans moved through the area and left evidence of their passage. The Matanuska-Susitna valley was eventually settled by the Dena’ina Alaska natives who utilized the fertile lands and fishing opportunities of Cook Inlet. The Dena’ina are one of the eleven sub-groups comprising the indigenous Athabaskan Indian groups extending down Canada’s western coast. The area around downtown Wasilla was known to the Dena’ina as ‘Benteh’, which translates as ‘among the lakes’. Near the mouth of the Matanuska River, the town of Knik was settled about 1880. In 1900, the Willow Creek Mining District was established to the north and Knik thrived as a mining settlement.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Alaska
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Alaska. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Alaska.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Last Frontier.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Alaska:
- Sitka (Founded in 2013)
- Fairbanks (Founded in 2013)
- Ketchikan (Founded in 2013)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Alaska