"Ralph Soberg, Alaska Road Commission general foreman responsible for peninsula road development in the 1940s and '50s, occupied the above house with his family from 1955 to '59. The house is generally known locally as the 'White House', whether for its color or importance, I couldn't find out."
Photo by Katherine Parker
Before opening townships in the Soldotna area, 15 acres were reserved by the U.S. Bureau of Public Lands at the downside of the Kenai River at Soldotna Creek. This was a wise decision, for the area has become a historic site for its Native habitation and the historic "White House" built in 1955 by the Territorial Alaska Road Commission.
A north-south section line goes right through the waters of the creek as it flows into the river. It separates the public land from the Frank Mullen homestead.
In the late 1940s, Matrona Peterson, of Kenai, visited the Mullen cabin and offered to show Marge Mullen something of note on public property. Mullen at that time had only been in Alaska for four years. Less than a quarter mile from the homestead cabin, on the bluff affording a beautiful view to the east upriver, Peterson pointed to two rectangular indentations, side-by-side in the earth, each about 12-by-16 feet. They could only be seen by a trained eye. The indentations were left by shelters built by early Native people. They were subterranean, about four feet beneath ground level and topped with wooden poles covered with skins. It was a method used by circumpolar people.
The Russians occupied the village of Kenai during their quest for sea otter furs, they also had interest in gold in the Cooper Landing mountains. The Russians forced the Dena'ina men to neck their boats to 45 to 50 mile distance up the Kenai River to Cooper Landing. Soldotna Creek was a stop-over place.
The 1947 Homestead Act offered 160 acres to those fulfilling requirements, made easy for returning World War II veterans and the land was quickly taken up.
The road from Seward to Homer was hastily constructed under a "cut the hills and fill the swap method." The Soldotna bridge was in place in 1950. The road to Anchorage was considered drivable in 1951.
In charge of peninsula road work was Norwegian-born Ralph Soberg, Alaska Road Commission (ARC) general foreman. On the Soldotna acreage, a residence for the Soberg family, wife, Ruth, and step-daughters, Jackie and Jerry was built. The home doubled for office space.
With his background and undocumented use of ARC equipment, Soldotna got a downhill ski slope, complete with warming shack, rope tow and lighting. Under the same lack of authority he removed snow from Arc Lake, so inhabitants could ice skate. Soberg skied from his front door, with a young Mullen kid between his knees, downhill and across ice over the creek.
In 1980, when State Department of Transportation buildings were moved to Arc Lake, the state deeded to Soldotna the 15 acres including the "White House."
Over the years, park attendants and city employees occupied the house, vacant now for two years. A 20-year lease with the Kenai Watershed Forum is being negotiated. The group plans to renovate the building. Director Robert Ruffer has expressed intent to retain the exterior architecture for its history.
This column was written by Marge Mullen and Katherine Parker with the Soldotna Historical Society.
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