Palmer’s United Protestant Church dates from early days of Matanuska Colony
|Palmer UPC as it looked in the 1980s. The church is also called the “church of a thousand trees.”|
The federal government finalized plans in the spring of 1935 to relocate families from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan to the Matanuska Valley as participants in the Matanuska Colony, a New Deal resettlement project. Christian denominations quickly channeled resources into serving the new community at Palmer. Presbyterians were the first to arrive, but eventually Lutherans, Catholics, the Church of God, and Seventh Day Adventists also established churches.
Presbyterian minister Bert Bingle arrived in Palmer on May 6th, 1935, four days before Minnesota colonists arrived. (Wisconsin and Michigan colonists arrived two weeks later.) According to Margaret Miller’s book, A Creek, a Hill and a Forty, The First Year of the Matanuska Colony, Bingle arrived on the same train as Palmer’s first attorney, and the man who opened the town’s first saloon. Bert later related that he was overjoyed that the Lord was keeping up with the lawyers and barkeeps.
Bingle held Palmer’s first church service on Mother’s Day, May 12th. Although he was a Presbyterian minister, his church served parishioners from many different denominations, so church members organized their congregation as the United Protestant Church (UPC).
Reverend Bingle made community work an important part of his ministry. During the project’s early months, he was one of the few people with a radio, and people gathered around his radio in the evening for the news. His radio became so popular he couldn’t accommodate everyone wanting to listen, so he posted bulletins outside his tent. He also established a small library in his tent for the colonists.
Soon after his arrival he supervised construction of a temporary community hall. Catholics and UPC parishioners held services there until a measles and scarlet fever epidemic broke out and the hall was converted into a makeshift hospital. After that UPC parishioners met in people’s homes and then in a tent set up for church services. In April of 1936 the church began meeting in the gym of the newly-completed Palmer school.
In the spring of 1936 the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, the agency responsible for establishing the colony, provided lots near the new school for the Catholics, Lutherans and UPC.
Miller’s book states that much of the credit for the ARRC’s action goes to Dr. C. Earl Albrecht, the colony’s physician. She writes that, “He worked doggedly and tirelessly to get at least one church there. He never felt it was right to have a community center built minus a church building.”
Harry Wolfe, ARRC architect, drew up the plans for the church. The church was to be a log structure, and in June of 1936 men from the church began cutting timber. Priscilla Bacon, in her history of the church, states that the men’s wives, and students from the Native school at Eklutna peeled the logs.
Plans were to complete the structure by Christmas, but work dragged on all winter. The first church service in the new building was held on Palm Sunday, March 7, 1937.
The church logs are milled on two sides. Built in a romanticized rustic style, horizontal logs form the bottom and top of the walls, and a central band of smaller vertical logs are inter-spaced with double-hung windows. The nave and sanctuary are also finished in a rustic style, with chandeliers crafted from logs, and pews of carved wood.
The gable-roofed, 1 ½ story building is shaped like a cross with the main axis being 84′ x 36’. Two symmetrical 15’ x 30’ wings are located near the front of the structure. A full basement was added in 1950. The church was added to the National Register in 1980.
- 1937-1987, United Protestant Church, Palmer, Alaska 50th Anniversary. Priscilla Bacon. No publisher. No date.
- A Creek, a Hill and a Forty: The First Year of the Matanuska Colony. Margaret Miller & Ray Bonnell. Unpublished Manuscript.
- Buildings of Alaska. Alison Hoagland. Oxford University Press. 1993.
- “United Protestant Church, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Michael S. Kennedy. National Park Service. 1980