Oscar Anderson House, Anchorage’s first permanent residence, is still standing today
Oscar Frank Anderson was a Swedish immigrant living in Seattle with his wife and three children in 1915. When he heard about the government railroad that would likely be constructed in Alaska from Cook Inlet to Fairbanks, he was among the first job seekers to take passage on a ship heading north.
He debarked at Seward in March 1915 and hiked northward across the Kenai Peninsula following the route of the defunct Alaska Northern Railway (recently acquired by the federal government). Arriving at the eastern end of Turnagain Arm, he then hiked along its northern shore to the Alaska Engineering Commission’s (AEC) Ship Creek camp. By Anderson’s own account, he was the 18th person arriving at “Tent City,” the make-shift squaters’ encampment strung out along Ship Creek.
Anderson began cutting wood on Government Hill to make money, but when the AEC shut his operation down he partnered with a friend to open a meat packing business. He returned to Seattle to buy equipment and supplies and by June 1915 had opened Ship Creek Meat Market.
At the July auction for lots in the new townsite south of Ship Creek, Anderson was the successful bidder on several lots. He quickly erected a building on Fourth Avenue, relocating his business (still calling it Ship Creek Meat Market) by the fall of 1915. His business remained open until the 1950s. His other business interests included helping found Anchorage first airline operation (Anchorage Air Transport) and partnering in opening (and eventually managing) the Evans Jones Coal Company at Eska Creek near Sutton.
In 1915 Anderson had also obtained a homesite lot at the very western edge of the townsite, with a commanding view of Cook Inlet. According to the book, “Patterns of the Past,” Anchorage experienced a shortage of finished lumber during 1915, and many families lived in tents that first winter.
Anderson, however, was able to commandeer sufficient lumber to build a house. Overseeing the labor of two acquaintances: Aaron Wicklund and “Stucco” Johnson, Anderson completed a small 1 1/2-story gable-roofed bungalow by the end of the year. It is purported to be the first home completed in Anchorage. Anderson’s family arrived in Anchorage in the fall of 1916.
The wood-frame house was small, approximately 20’ x 40’, including a front porch with hipped roof. The porch was eventually enclosed to enlarge the living room. There were four rooms downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs. (The tiny upstairs, tucked under the eaves, was extremely cozy for five people. The parents’ larger central bedroom (with dormer window overlooking the inlet) was at the head of the stairs, and access to two smaller bedrooms was through their bedroom.)
The moderately-pitched gale roof was covered with wood shingles, as were the gable ends of the house. The exterior of the first floor was sheathed with wood shiplap siding.
The Andersons lived in the house until 1974 when Oscar and his wife moved to the Seattle area. Unfortunate he died several months later. His widow donated the house to the Municipality of Anchorage for historical purposes in 1976. The land on which it sat was not part of the donation, however, so the municipality moved the structure about 60 feet to the southwest, to municipal land on the edge of Elderberry Park, retaining the houses original north-south orientation and adding a basement.
With financial assistance from the Anderson family, the house was restored by volunteers between 1978 and 1982. In 1982 it opened as the Oscar Anderson House Museum. The interior décor includes antiques (including the butcher block from Anderson’s market) and period antithetic wallpaper. The bathroom has its original fixtures and the dining room has a built-in cabinets and buffet designed by Mrs. Anderson
The building, still owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, is now managed by the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation and is open to the public during the summer.
- “Legends and Legacies, Anchorage 1910-1935.” John P. Bagoy. Publications Consultants. 2001
- “Oscar Anderson House, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Michael Carberry. National Park Service. 1978
- “Patterns of the Past, An Inventory of Anchorage’s Historic Resources.” Michael Carberry & Donna Lane. Municipality of Anchorage. 1986
- Tour of Oscar Anderson House Museum and conversation with Rachel Baker, museum manager