This weekend marks an important event on the Kenai Peninsula: the Progress Days celebration in Soldotna.
Make that the 47th annual Progress Days celebration. However, the history of the beginnings of Soldotna go back a few years before that.
In 1937 the U.S. Land Office started to survey the Kenai Peninsula forest area from the village of Kenai to Skilak Lake in preparation for homesteading. By the time the surveying ended in 1939, World War II was looming. Homesteading was postponed, and in 1941 the surveyed land was taken into the Kenai Moose Range.
After the war, a homestead office was established in Alaska in 1946. Also that year a survey crew camp was established in Soldotna and the Sterling Highway was started. It was over that bulldozed trail from Moose Pass to the Kenai River crossing in Soldotna that the first homesteaders came in August 1947 to choose up to 160 acres of the surveyed forest.
Veterans of World War II had preference for the first 90 days. Using their time of military service as part of their "prove-up" time, veterans were only required to take one year, build a cabin and live in it for the rest of the year to receive their land. Others had to take five years to clear part of their acres and live in their cabin for three years.
And thus the Soldotna, Sterling and Clam Gulch areas began to become communities. Post offices were established in Soldotna and Naptowne (Sterling) in 1948. Maxine Lee was the Soldotna postmaster and her cabin was Soldotna's first post office.
In 1950, there were 21 people living in Soldotna. A lot has happened in Soldotna since then, including such notable events as:
* 1950 — The completion of the Sterling Highway and first bridge in Soldotna.
* 1954 — Homer Electric Association hooks up power to Soldotna.
* 1959 — Alaska is named the 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.
* 1963 — Kenai Peninsula Community College offers its first classes.
* 1964 — Good Friday Earthquake; Kenai River Bridge rebuilt.
* 1967 — Soldotna becomes a first-class city.
* 1970 — Soldotna's population is 1,202; town gets its first police officer.
* 1971 — Central Peninsula General Hospital admits its first patient.
* 1973 — Soldotna installs a community water and sewer system; Peninsula Winter Games begin.
* 1977 — Soldotna's first mall (Blazy's) is completed.
* 1980 — The population is 2,320; Alaska Permanent Fund dividends replace income taxes.
* 1985 — Les Anderson catches the world-record king salmon.
* 1987 — City hall and the Soldotna Visitors Center open.
* 1990 — Soldotna's census counts 3,485 residents.
* 1992 — After a $3.3 million expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, a chlorine leak there evacuates more than 2,500 residents.
* 1995 — New $2 million police station is built; Internet service comes to the central peninsula.
* 1998 — Soldotna celebrates its golden anniversary; Joslyn Tinker of Soldotna crowned Miss Alaska.
* 2007 — The David Douthit-Veterans Memorial Bridge is reopened, expanding from two lanes to five.
Of course, there's hundreds of other events that have taken place over the years, all of which point to one thing: Soldotna is definitely a city in motion — a progressive city. It's taken hundreds of people over the years to shape it into what we see today — a place where people are proud to live and excited to visit.
This weekend there will be a parade, games, a run, a play day at the rodeo grounds, a car show, craft sale and city picnic. These events celebrate all of what Soldotna is, from the first settler to the new bridge. But there's more to come; it's a work in progress.
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