The indigenous inhabitants of the Cook Inlet Region are the Dena’ina. The Dena’ina are one of 11 Athabascan languages that are spoken throughout Alaska. It is believed that Athabascan-speaking Dena'ina arrived in the Southcentral Alaska sometime between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago. They are a matrilineal culture, tracing their ancestors through their mothers and grandmothers. The Dena’ina lived in nomadic bands, moving in seasonal subsistence rounds, and eventually developed permanent homes and communities. They were the only Northern Athabascan group to live on the coast and took advantage of the abundant plant and animal resources, developing a high degree of sophistication and complexity in their culture. When the Russians arrived in Southcentral Alaska in the late 1700s, it is believed that there were 3,000 to 5,000 Dena'ina living in the area. Today 1,500-2,000 people with Dena’ina ancestry live in Southcentral Alaska.
Russian explorers had established themselves in southern Alaska by 1784, but English explorer Captain James Cook is credited with first exploring and describing the Anchorage area in 1778 during his third voyage of discovery.
During the next hundred years Russian trading activity and cultural influence increased. Then in 1867, problems at home forced the sale of Russian America to the United States for a sum of $7,200,000.
In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson authorized funds for the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Ship Creek Landing in Anchorage was selected as the headquarters of this effort. Soon a “Tent City” sprang up at the mouth of Ship Creek and a population quickly swelled to more than 2,000.
Would-be entrepreneurs flocked to this bustling frontier town, and brought with them everything necessary to build a city. A popular hardware and clothing store, “The Anchorage,” was actually an old dry-docked steamship named “Berth.”
Although the area had been known by various names, the U.S. Post Office Department formalized the use of the name “Anchorage,” and despite some protests, the name stuck.
Anchorage was incorporated on November 23,1920. Alaska attained statehood in 1959. On March 27th, 1964, a natural disaster of incredible proportions struck Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska: the Good Friday earthquake. This earthquake measured 9.2 on the Richter Scale, the largest ever recorded in North America and, because Anchorage lay only 80 miles from the epicenter, damage to structures ran to the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The decade of the '80s was a time of growth, thanks to a flood of North Slope oil revenue into the state treasury. Capital projects and an aggressive beautification program, combined with far-sighted community planning, greatly increased infrastructure and quality of life. By the beginning of the 1990’s Anchorage could boast of 259 miles of maintained trails. Hilltop Ski Area was established in 1984, which along with the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood and Alpenglow ski area in Arctic Valley gave residents three fully operational skiing areas. Tourism and recreational activities were fast becoming a mainstay of the modern Anchorage economy, which has continued to the present day.
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