Historic Wasilla Community Hall comes full circle
Chris Stern was a Swedish immigrant who, according to Wasilla historian Coleen Mielke, immigrated to the United States in 1886 and then moved to the Matanuska Valley in 1898. In 1913 Stern staked a homestead (patented in 1920) on the shore of Wasilla Lake, one of the first homesteads in the Wasilla area.
The town of Wasilla began in 1916 as a railroad construction camp and grew up beside Stern’s homestead. He was a civic-minded bachelor farmer, and when he died in 1927, Stern left his homestead to the people of Wasilla.
The homestead was sold several years later to pay for construction of Wasilla’s community hall. The hall was built on Main Street, next to the community well and Alaska Road Commission garage, and just up the street from the depot and railroad tracks. At that time there were about 25 families living in the area.
In December 1930, work began on the building, with volunteers providing the labor. Logs for the walls were cut locally, and funds from the sale of Stern’s property paid for windows and doors, the floor and roof, and concrete for a basement. (The basement was dug and constructed as a local Works Progress Administration project.) According to National Register of Historic Places documents, when funds ran out, local businesses donated additional materials.
The building was complete enough to use in late 1931, but its formal dedication was not until early 1932. According to Skip Coghlan’s book, Wasilla, A Great Place Among the Lakes, the grand opening was quite the shindig and was attended by locals, miners from the Hatcher Pass area, and even Anchorage guests. The party lasted until the wee hours of the next morning, with some old miners relating, “It was the roughest dance and brawl that they had ever been to.”
The 30-foot wide by 50-foot long building is constructed of spruce logs, saddle-notched at the corners. It has a 12-foot by 30-foot log-walled porch across the front facade. Both the main building and porch have gable roofs that were originally covered with tar paper but now have metal roofing.
The Wasilla Community Hall was in constant use for the next three decades. However, by the 1960s, the building, which lacked modern conveniences like plumbing, had fallen into disrepair. Some residents suggested it be torn down. Instead, the Wasilla-Knik-Willow Historical Society formed in 1966 and obtained grants to restore the building as part of the 1967 Alaska Centennial Celebration.
In 1967 the building’s interior was refurbished, and a 12-foot by 30-foot wood-frame addition containing a kitchen, restrooms and an office area was constructed at the rear of the building. An outside basement entrance was also added. Except for the addition and basement entrance, the exterior remained the same as it was in the 1930s.
After rehabilitation, the building opened as the Wasilla Museum. It was added to the National Register of Historic Paces in 1982. In 1989 it was renamed the Dorothy G. Page Museum and Visitor’s Center, in honor of Page (1921-1989), who had been active in the local historical society. It is now referred to simply as the Wasilla Museum and Visitor’s Center.
The museum’s collections and building have expanded over the years, and it is now transitioning from the old community hall to the recently vacated and renovated public library building next door. The old building will eventually revert to its original function, becoming the Dorothy G. Page Community Hall.
The old community hall and new museum building sit next to the “Old Wasilla Townsite Park,” which features numerous historic buildings from the area’s early days. It is a picturesque locale to explore the area’s history and culture.
- Conversation with Bethany Buckingham Follett, curator of Wasilla Museum
- Wasilla, A Great Place Among the Lakes – The Centennial History, 1917-2017. Skip Coghlan. Among the Lakes Publishing. 2016
- “Wasilla Community Hall, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” James Ede. National Park Service. 1982
- “Wasilla Museum.” Coleen Mielke. Researching our Alaska Family Roots website, http://sites.rootsweb.com/~coleen/south_central_alaska.html. 2020