Craig Howlett of Hanson's Roofing works Wednesday morning on the porch of Soldotna's first post office. Soldotna Historical Society and Museum Inc. is renovating the facility at its original site next to Soldotna Elementary School.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
By the end of September, area residents will have a rare opportunity to peek into their past when the structural restoration on the first Soldotna Post Office, built in 1948, is scheduled to be completed.
According to Barbara Jewell, chairwoman for the restoration project and treasurer for Soldotna Historical Society and Museum Inc., locating the cabin on Corral Street is easier now than it was 47 years ago, as it sits on the edge of the five lane Kenai Spur Highway and not on a one-lane gravel road.
Jewell said getting there in the winter took a good set of tires and in the spring, the hope that the road would not be too muddy to pass.
She also said that in the tradition of the postal service motto The mail must go through and the added small town twist of everybody is a friend, the Howard and Maxine Lee made mail available when people could come by despite the hour, no electricity and an an on-call schedule of an infant.
"The (postal) boxes were located by the front door. Their kitchen and living area was downstairs, and they climbed a ladder to the second floor where their bed and the baby's crib was at," Jewell said
A historical photo shows the post office as it looked while it was still in use.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The cabin sits on its original building site, an important factor according to Jewell in helping to have the building named to the Alaska Association of Historical Preservation's 10 most endangered properties list and in the society's bid to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As an endangered property, the society was able to apply for grants for restoration repairs and received $22,800 from the Rasmuson Foundation in Anchorage.
The project has been the planning stages for many years," Jewell said. "The Rasmuson Foundation grant money came through because community members, businesses, many of the society's board members, along with a mini grant from the city of Soldotna, stepped forward to help with the $2,000 matching that was required."
She said the building will still need to be furnished with period pieces, blazo cans, a cook stove, furniture and other household items, and that when furnished, the historical society plans to hold tours like those it conducts at the six restored cabins on Centennial Road, where its museum is.
Jewell speaks passionately about preserving the history of communities, families and society in general. She said that the past and the future are entwined. That it brings generations together.
"If you do not preserve the past, you cannot know your origins," Jewell said. "How will people know where they are going?"
Historical integrity also is important part of preservation work, according to Jewell.
"When people come to see the old post office and talk to the volunteers, they will know what it was and its importance in where the city is now. You would not believe how many people think was was the first school house," she said.
She said restoration projects like the work being done on the cabin, photo archives or oral histories are important because they provide a way for people to experience the past.
"Being named to the National Register of Historic Places doesn't mean money for us, the city or anyone else, it recognizes (the building's) significant in Soldotna's history and makes it a draw to bring people in to see and experience it. That is what is important," said Jewell.
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