Herning/Teeland store is one of oldest buildings in Wasilla
Herning/Teeland store as it looked in 2015.
Orville Herning came to Alaska in 1898 to search for gold. According to Wasilla historian, Coleen Mielke, during the summer of 1898 Herning led a prospecting group that explored Willow Creek in the Talkeetna Mountains. His party staked and mined claims along the creek and were among the founders of the Willow Creek mining district.
Placer mining along Willow Creek was hardscrabble work. Herning, who was a salesman before adventuring to Alaska, decided he could make more money “mining the miners,” so he switched to storekeeping.
Knik, located on the northwest side of Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm, began as an Athabascan village, but grew into the primary commercial center for the area. Herning bought the vacant Alaska Commercial Company building in Knik and opened Knik Trading Company in 1905. Herning’s wife, Mattie, perhaps influenced his decision. According to Mielke, Mattie was “urban-bound,” preferring civilized climes to remote mining camps. She tolerated Knik in the summer but spent winters in Seward.
Herning’s store served Knik residents, and the mines at Hatcher Pass, which were reached via the Carle Wagon Road. His future seemed secure until the Alaska Engineering Commission’s (AEC) new railroad line from Anchorage to Fairbanks bypassed Knik. Instead of routing tracks through Knik, the AEC established the new town of Wasilla at the junction of the railroad tracks and the Carle Wagon Road.
Supplies for the mines no longer had to pass through Knik. The town quickly died. Most merchants moved to Anchorage, but Herning relocated to Wasilla.
At a townsite auction in June 1917, Herning bought a lot fronting on the wagon road and just north of the train depot. He moved a small log cabin to the site and began constructing his store.
His completed store building was a two-story 25′ x 56′ wood-frame structure with gabled roof. The first floor featured 12’ ceilings. The second floor, used only for storage, had 6’ ceilings. The building’s entrance, facing the wagon road, had a typical early-1900s commercial front, with a central doorway flanked by large symmetrically-arranged windows. Above that, on the second floor, was another series of large windows.
A 1930s photo shows a canopy across the front of the building over the front entrance with the letters KTC (Knik Trading Company) emblazoned on it. The “Hernings Place” lettering was also painted on the side of the building in the photo.
Herning built a small house behind the store, hoping to entice Mattie to live in Wasilla. She, however, preferred living in Anchorage, and eventually moved to Seattle. He added on to the store over the years, as did his successors. It eventually reached 72’ in length, with a small addition to the north.
After Herning died in 1947, Walter and Vivian Teeland bought the store. Walter’s father, John, like Herning, had come north in 1898. John did make it to the Klondike, but eventually moved to the Fairbanks area and then to Ruby. Walter was born on Cleary Creek north of Fairbanks. Vivian’s father was Evan Jones, who owned and operated the Jonesville coal mine at Sutton.
Walter and Vivian, who lived in Anchorage before purchased Herning’s store, moved into the house behind the Wasilla store and for the next 25 years operated the town’s sole retail establishment. In a 1997 Alaska Business Monthly article, Walter related that perhaps 100 people lived in Wasilla when they moved to town.
The Teelands retired in 1972, soon after the Parks Highway was completed. The store was bought by Jules and Leslie Mead who continued to operate it as Teeland’s Country Store. Because of increasing competition, the Meads closed the store in 1985, donating the building to the Wasilla Knik Historical Society.
In 1987 the building was moved one block north to East Herning Avenue, adjacent to Wasilla Historic Town Site Park. The historical society has restored the structure to its 1917 appearance, and it is now occupied by a restaurant.
- “History of Herning-Teeland Store.” LeRoi Heaven. in Alaska Pioneer Pathfinder. July 2005, Vol. 10 No. 3
- “Orville G. Herning.” Coleen Mielke. Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation website. 2009
- “Teeland’s Country Store, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Joan Antonson. National Park Service. 1977
- “Teeland Store – A Lifetime Commitment.” Ron Dalby. in Alaska Business Monthly. January 1997, Vol. 13 Issue 1