History Highlights

Posted: Monday, July 21, 2003

Progress Days is a perfect time to reflect on the past, enjoy the present and look forward to the future. Here are some of the landmark events for Soldotna:

1946 The Alaska Road Commission begins a road project to link Cooper Landing, Kenai and Homer.

1947 The largest documented forest fire on the Kenai Peninsula chars more than 300,000 acres of the north central peninsula; homesteading opens on tracts between the moose range and Kenai.

1948 Homesteaders pour into area, including Mullens (Marge and Frank), Farnsworths (Dolly and Jack), Lancashires (Larry and Rusty), Lees (Maxine and Howard), Robinsons (Nina and Jesse), Howard Binkley, Dick Gerhart, Larry McGuire, Ira Little and Marvin Smith; the Alaska Road Commission builds a bridge across the Kenai River and opens a seasonal road from the junction to Kenai and Cooper Landing.

1949 Soldotna ("Soldatna") post office opens with Maxine Lee as postmaster earning $14 a month; the new highway reaches Ninilchik.

1950 Census figures show 21 people in Soldotna, 250 in Kenai; the Sterling Highway is officially open; Binkley starts subdividing land along the highway; Soldotna's first church opened on the Kenai Spur Highway.

1951 Farnsworths open a gas station at the "Y."

1952 The Wilsons open the first grocery.

1954 Homer Electric Association hooks up power to Soldotna.

1956 The highway from Sterling to Kenai gets paved; chamber of commerce organizes.

1957 Oil is discovered near the Swanson River in July.

1958 Voters approve statehood.

1959 Alaska named 49th state in January; the Greater Soldotna Chamber of Commerce incorporates; Kalifornsky Beach Road opens.

1960 Soldotna, population 332, incorporates as a fourth-class city; Don Wilson is the first mayor; Soldotna Elementary School opens; the weekly Cheechako News appears; doctors Isaak and Gaede open a medical clinic.

1961 The first Soldotna Progress Days event celebrates the new natural gas line serving the town (the peninsula's first); Joyce Carver chairs the volunteer group establishing a library; Soldotna Tourist Center opens at the Kenai Spur Highway junction; airport opens on Warehouse Street.

1962 Kenai Peninsula Borough organizes with Harold Pomeroy as chairman; Funny River Road built; first offshore drilling in Cook Inlet.

1963 Kenai Peninsula Community College offers its first classes; chamber opens log cabin visitors' center where fire hall now sits.

1964 Earthquake! George Navarre is borough chairman; Kenai River Bridge rebuilt.

1966 Centennial Park opens.

1967 Soldotna becomes a first class city.

1968 First Prudhoe Bay oil well opens.

1969 Kenai River floods.

1970 Soldotna's population is 1202; town gets its first police officer; Soldotna Junior High opens; the Peninsula Clarion begins publication.

1971 Central Peninsula General Hospital admits its first patient; the Soldotna Urban Reconstruction Paving Project gets under way; Borough Building and Swiftwater Park open.

1973 Soldotna installs a community water and sewer system; Peninsula Winter Games begin.

1977 The Alyeska pipeline and Soldotna's first mall (Blazy's) are completed.

1978 Redoubt Elementary School opens.

1980 The population is 2,320; Soldotna High School opens; Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends replace income taxes.

1982 Safeway opens; the Peninsula Clarion comes out five days a week.

1983 The Soldotna Sports Center opens.

1984 Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School open; the Legislature establishes the Kenai River Special Management Area.

1985 Les Anderson catches world record king salmon; Soldotna Historical Society starts; economy slumps; Soldotna hires Rich Underkofler as its first city manager.

1986 The city's first bonds, worth $4 million, pay for paving residential streets; first comprehensive plan drafted.

1987 City hall and the Soldotna Visitors Center open.

1988 Soldotna Creek Park opens.

1989 Mount Redoubt erupts and the "Exxon Valdez" runs aground in Prince William Sound.

1990 Skyview High School opens; 20,000 visitors go through the visitors' center and Soldotna's census counts 3,485 residents.

1991 The first Kenai River Festival celebrates the river and examines ways to protect it.

1992 After a $3.3 million expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, a chlorine leak there evacuates more than 2,500 residents; the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center opens.

1994 The Soldotna Creek Habitat Demonstration Project pilots riverbank restoration; the first annual Kenai River Classic Fishing Tournament; Fred Meyer store built.

1995 New $2 million police station built; the community holds the Mainstreet Alaska community planning session; Internet service comes to the central peninsula.

1996 Tom Boedeker hired as Soldotna's second city manager; Kenai River Center and Classic Fishwalk open.

1998 Soldotna celebrates its golden anniversary; the state road maintenance crew moves out of town to a new shop; Joslyn Tinker of Soldotna crowned Miss Alaska.

1999 Ground is broken for the new Kenai River Center to be built on Funny River Road.

2000 Avalanches cut Kenai Peninsula off from Anchorage; federal government gives Soldotna $1 million for Centennial Park river-related projects; Dave Carey becomes mayor when Ken Lancaster becomes a representative; and Soldotna's census counts 3,760 residents.

2001 Major rebuild of the Sterling Highway "magic mile" in downtown Soldotna.

2002 Kathryn Jane Lockwood of Soldotna is third runner-up in the national Junior Miss Pageant, as such she is the first in the history of Alaska's participation in the competition.

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