A look into the past: Eroding Kenai River

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2002

This Kenai photo was taken in 1962 by Dick Mommsen in front of the Kenai Bible Chapel and Hermansen-Miller house, which are hidden in the trees on the left. The Kenai River is on the right.

The river is eroding the bluff in this location, and today the trees on the right and much of the roadway have eroded away. Rivers naturally erode on the outside of a bend and deposit silt on the inside of a bend. In this way they gradually move laterally within their flood plain. Unfortunately, the city of Kenai is on the outside of a bend and this area is among the most actively eroding banks. Efforts to stabilize river erosion of this magnitude are costly, and reinforcing the bank usually transfers the river's erosional force to another location. That's too bad because a historic place will eventually be gone.

The Hermansen-Miller house still stands. It was initially owned by Fedora and Martin Hermansen who lived there from 1916 to 1939 and is one of the oldest buildings in Kenai. Fedora was Dena'ina and Martin was Norwegian. Their son, Herman Hermansen, then lived in the house and eventually sold it to Louisa and Fred Miller in 1951.

Louisa ran a kind of bed and breakfast for construction workers and others in the '50s and '60s and was known for having Kenai's first ice cream parlor. She officially opened it as a hotel called the Miller House in 1968. The Kenai Bible Chapel was the first Protestant church in Kenai (1949) and was connected with the Slavic Gospel Association.

The original log building was sold to Jean McMaster in 1955 and moved just west of Kenai and became her dance studio. The current building, seen on the extreme left in this photo, was then built. The automobile is curious. It seems to be a Ford, perhaps a 1953 or 1954 model, but the grille is wrong. It is probably a Meteor. Ford of Canada built a Meteor that had a Ford body and a mixture of Ford and Mercury components. Meteors were fairly common in Kenai and Soldotna in the early 1960s because one the oil drilling contractors was Reading and Bates of Edmonton, Alberta. Consequently, numerous Canadians came north, some of whom drove Meteors.

(This text was written by Marge Mullen and Alan Boraas. The photograph is part of the photograph archives of the Anthropology Lab at Kenai Peninsula College.)

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