Historical museum gives glimpses into Soldotna's past

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2001

Nestled by the ball fields back in one of the few remaining wooded areas of Soldotna, lies the Soldotna Historical Society and Museum.

Two main buildings house a plethora of relics and artifacts that serve as a memorial for the early days of homesteading in Soldotna.

Curator Mary Dean and a volunteer staff are on hand to share stories and anecdotes of their own and of others' first years on the Kenai Peninsula.

Dean moved to Alaska in 1967, and one of her staff members, Carla Carlisle, has been in the state since 1970. Together, they show visitors around the buildings adding brief tales to accompany many of the displays.

For instance, looking at the gaping mouth and sharp teeth belonging a large brown bear wall hanging, Dean tells a story about a woman and her dental fiasco during the homesteading years.

Apparently, she had a tooth-ache, and she and her husband skied to a nearby cannery to borrow forceps from them. A gentleman offered to pull out the tooth for her, but instead of pulling the tooth clear he crushed it in her gums. It was four years until she was able to get it treated.

The museum happens to own a set of dentist's tools that, unfortunately for the woman, came a little too late to help her with her predicament. The remainder of the collection varies greatly from a miniature Alaska flag signed by the designer, Benny Benson, to jars of canned moose and bear meat.

Damon Hall, named for a third-generation homesteader who died with her son in Whittier from the tsunami aftermath of the Good Friday earthquake, houses different species of birds and mammals native to the peninsula.

A monstrous brown bear confiscated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game greets visitors at the door. On either side of the entrance hang a polar bear and brown bear skin. Along the back wall is a glass case full of wild fowl. Its detailed backdrop was painted by Boyd Shaffer in only 3 1/2 hours.

Dean said Damon Hall is her favorite part of the establishment.

"I really love the animals," she said. "I try not to think of them as dead and stuffed. I just think of them as beautiful."

New to the building is a "Pet Me" book put together by homesteader Mary France. It has many different fur swatches from Alaska animals.

Also in Damon Hall is a dog sled built by a nurse, Becky Steffen, who used the sled to visit patients who couldn't come to her. She constructed the sled by lashing it together with strips of hide. At one point she fell through the ice when the temperature was 50 degrees below zero.

As Dean put it, "You really had to want to be here in those days," she said.

Homesteaders put up with no electricity or running water, and photo albums in the museum are testaments to the sometimes harsh conditions the Alaska pioneers lived in.

"Visitors are definitely intrigued by the cabins and what it took to build them," Dean said. "If people really are interested, I just get so excited you'd think this was my first time. I love meeting the people."

Dean and Carlisle have both worked at the museum for two seasons. Although tourism numbers may be down in Soldotna, the museum has seen quite an increase from last summer.

"Our attendance here is way up. We are going to almost double last year," Dean said.

The museum's numbers already are higher this year without any of the large tours like those that visited the museum last year. By July 2000, the museum had 635 visitors. This summer, by the second Friday in July, Dean already has seen 1,000.

"We meet a lot of interesting people, and nice people," Carlisle said. "I think that the type of people who like to visit museums are the best kind."

HEAD:Historical museum gives glimpses into Soldotna's past

BYLINE1:By CARLY BOSSERT

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

Nestled by the ball fields back in one of the few remaining wooded areas of Soldotna, lies the Soldotna Historical Society and Museum.

Two main buildings house a plethora of relics and artifacts that serve as a memorial for the early days of homesteading in Soldotna.

Curator Mary Dean and a volunteer staff are on hand to share stories and anecdotes of their own and of others' first years on the Kenai Peninsula.

Dean moved to Alaska in 1967, and one of her staff members, Carla Carlisle, has been in the state since 1970. Together, they show visitors around the buildings adding brief tales to accompany many of the displays.

For instance, looking at the gaping mouth and sharp teeth belonging a large brown bear wall hanging, Dean tells a story about a woman and her dental fiasco during the homesteading years.

Apparently, she had a tooth-ache, and she and her husband skied to a nearby cannery to borrow forceps from them. A gentleman offered to pull out the tooth for her, but instead of pulling the tooth clear he crushed it in her gums. It was four years until she was able to get it treated.

The museum happens to own a set of dentist's tools that, unfortunately for the woman, came a little too late to help her with her predicament. The remainder of the collection varies greatly from a miniature Alaska flag signed by the designer, Benny Benson, to jars of canned moose and bear meat.

Damon Hall, named for a third-generation homesteader who died with her son in Whittier from the tsunami aftermath of the Good Friday earthquake, houses different species of birds and mammals native to the peninsula.

A monstrous brown bear confiscated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game greets visitors at the door. On either side of the entrance hang a polar bear and brown bear skin. Along the back wall is a glass case full of wild fowl. Its detailed backdrop was painted by Boyd Shaffer in only 3 1/2 hours.

Dean said Damon Hall is her favorite part of the establishment.

"I really love the animals," she said. "I try not to think of them as dead and stuffed. I just think of them as beautiful."

New to the building is a "Pet Me" book put together by homesteader Mary France. It has many different fur swatches from Alaska animals.

Also in Damon Hall is a dog sled built by a nurse, Becky Steffen, who used the sled to visit patients who couldn't come to her. She constructed the sled by lashing it together with strips of hide. At one point she fell through the ice when the temperature was 50 degrees below zero.

As Dean put it, "You really had to want to be here in those days," she said.

Homesteaders put up with no electricity or running water, and photo albums in the museum are testaments to the sometimes harsh conditions the Alaska pioneers lived in.

"Visitors are definitely intrigued by the cabins and what it took to build them," Dean said. "If people really are interested, I just get so excited you'd think this was my first time. I love meeting the people."

Dean and Carlisle have both worked at the museum for two seasons. Although tourism numbers may be down in Soldotna, the museum has seen quite an increase from last summer.

"Our attendance here is way up. We are going to almost double last year," Dean said.

The museum's numbers already are higher this year without any of the large tours like those that visited the museum last year. By July 2000, the museum had 635 visitors. This summer, by the second Friday in July, Dean already has seen 1,000.

"We meet a lot of interesting people, and nice people," Carlisle said. "I think that the type of people who like to visit museums are the best kind."

CREDIT:Photo by M. Scott Moon

CAPTION:A food cache stands in the woods at Soldotna's Homestead Museum.

BYLINE1:By CARLY BOSSERT

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

Nestled by the ball fields back in one of the few remaining wooded areas of Soldotna, lies the Soldotna Historical Society and Museum.

Two main buildings house a plethora of relics and artifacts that serve as a memorial for the early days of homesteading in Soldotna.

Curator Mary Dean and a volunteer staff are on hand to share stories and anecdotes of their own and of others' first years on the Kenai Peninsula.

Dean moved to Alaska in 1967, and one of her staff members, Carla Carlisle, has been in the state since 1970. Together, they show visitors around the buildings adding brief tales to accompany many of the displays.

For instance, looking at the gaping mouth and sharp teeth belonging a large brown bear wall hanging, Dean tells a story about a woman and her dental fiasco during the homesteading years.

Apparently, she had a tooth-ache, and she and her husband skied to a nearby cannery to borrow forceps from them. A gentleman offered to pull out the tooth for her, but instead of pulling the tooth clear he crushed it in her gums. It was four years until she was able to get it treated.

The museum happens to own a set of dentist's tools that, unfortunately for the woman, came a little too late to help her with her predicament. The remainder of the collection varies greatly from a miniature Alaska flag signed by the designer, Benny Benson, to jars of canned moose and bear meat.

Damon Hall, named for a third-generation homesteader who died with her son in Whittier from the tsunami aftermath of the Good Friday earthquake, houses different species of birds and mammals native to the peninsula.

A monstrous brown bear confiscated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game greets visitors at the door. On either side of the entrance hang a polar bear and brown bear skin. Along the back wall is a glass case full of wild fowl. Its detailed backdrop was painted by Boyd Shaffer in only 3 1/2 hours.

Dean said Damon Hall is her favorite part of the establishment.

"I really love the animals," she said. "I try not to think of them as dead and stuffed. I just think of them as beautiful."

New to the building is a "Pet Me" book put together by homesteader Mary France. It has many different fur swatches from Alaska animals.

Also in Damon Hall is a dog sled built by a nurse, Becky Steffen, who used the sled to visit patients who couldn't come to her. She constructed the sled by lashing it together with strips of hide. At one point she fell through the ice when the temperature was 50 degrees below zero.

As Dean put it, "You really had to want to be here in those days," she said.

Homesteaders put up with no electricity or running water, and photo albums in the museum are testaments to the sometimes harsh conditions the Alaska pioneers lived in.

"Visitors are definitely intrigued by the cabins and what it took to build them," Dean said. "If people really are interested, I just get so excited you'd think this was my first time. I love meeting the people."

Dean and Carlisle have both worked at the museum for two seasons. Although tourism numbers may be down in Soldotna, the museum has seen quite an increase from last summer.

"Our attendance here is way up. We are going to almost double last year," Dean said.

The museum's numbers already are higher this year without any of the large tours like those that visited the museum last year. By July 2000, the museum had 635 visitors. This summer, by the second Friday in July, Dean already has seen 1,000.

"We meet a lot of interesting people, and nice people," Carlisle said. "I think that the type of people who like to visit museums are the best kind."



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