Peninsula Reflections

Posted: Monday, August 14, 2006


  Slikok Valley School is shown in this undated photo Photo courtesy of Alice Hopkins

Slikok Valley School is shown in this undated photo

Photo courtesy of Alice Hopkins

Early homesteaders in the area through which Slikok Creek runs called their community Slikok Valley.

In 1958 there were five homestead families with children living in this semi-isolated community near Soldotna. Children living there had to walk three to eight miles to catch a school bus and then rode the bus 14 miles to Kenai, the nearest school. Some children were away from home as much as 14 hours each day.

During the long winter, with its below-zero temperatures, the walk to and from the school bus was made in total darkness. Heavy autumn rains and melting snow in the spring created a sloppy, muddy trail to the bus.

Moose and bears roamed the area and were another problem. The community talked of the need for a school in the Slikok Valley.

Prior to statehood, Alaska’s territorial government was responsible for public education. In rural areas they would provide a teacher, custodian and school supplies, if the community provided the school building and accommodations for the teacher.

Homesteader Tommye Jo Corr was a teacher in the area. Her husband, Tommy, could serve as substitute teacher when needed. With this need met, the community pulled together to provided a log cabin for the building during the summer of 1958.

Homesteader Lonnie Brumlow donated an acre of land at the southwest corner of the intersection on Poppy Lane and Kalifornsky Beach Road. It was understood that the land was to be the site of the school building.

At this location, all students would be within two and a half miles of the school.

Tommy Corr, Lonnie Brumlow, Don Zuroff, Red “Richard” Miller and other residents volunteered labor and money, providing the Department of Education approved the project. A community letter to the department brought immediate investigation.

On Aug. 11, 1958, just three weeks before the September school term was to begin, the letter from the Territorial Department of Education arrived. They ruled that if the community could have a building ready for fall opening, Slikok Valley could have its school. That night the community met and ironed out the building plans. Five adults and two school boys cleared the school yard, felled and limbed 60 spruce trees in a day and a half, gaining half a day on time. The gained time was used marking off the building site, digging gravel and laying the block foundation posts. The building was to be 20 by 30 feet.

Teacher Tommye Jo Corr prepared the meals for the workers. Many Kenai and Soldotna businesses gave the community credit, discounts and advice when needed. Each man helping on the school furnished his own fuel for his truck, bulldozer or chain saw. Every homesteader in Slikok Valley at that time helped build the school, bachelor homesteaders included.

Even the children worked many hours on the schoolhouse. They dug the outdoor privy pits, fetched hammers and nails to their dads and supplied stove wood for their moms for cooking, taking the chill off the air and smoking out mosquitoes and whitesock insects.

The wives also helped peel logs, lay insulation, wash windows and other tasks to keep the work going smoothly for the men.

The construction deadline was met. On Sept. 11, 1958, Slikok Valley School opened with 11 students.

The second year the school grew to 14 students in grades first through seventh. The children seemed eager to learn and there were very few absences. Perhaps this was because each student knew what went into building the school.

Slikok Valley was the last log school house built while Alaska was a territory. Five members were elected to the first Slikok Valley School Board.

Kalifornsky Beach Road was started in spring 1958. As the road became a reality, bringing in many new settlers, Slikok Valley was no longer isolated. A new four room school opened in Soldotna in the fall of 1960. It had running water, indoor restrooms and school bus service.

The community voted to discontinue the Slikok school and enrolled their children in the modern school in Soldotna.

The little log school house had served its purpose. After the Slikok Valley School closed the building was used for community activities, parties and nondenominational church services.

Also area resident Mae Ciechanski started a small museum in the old school building.

The the 1960s the Damon Memorial Center was built at the corner of Kalifornsky Beach Road and Poppy Lane These two buildings became the beginnings of the Damon Historical Museum.

In 1986, Slikok Valley School and Damon Hall were moved to the ball filed parking area on Centennial Park Road in Soldotna. They are now part of the Soldotna Historical Homestead Museum and can been seen there.

This column was provided by Alice Hopkins with the Soldotna Historical Society. Information for the column came from several file sources and writers Tommye Jo Corr, Katherine Parker and Marge Mullen.

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