Old Town section of Homer experiences a renaissance
“Old Town” Homer is located on the benchlands of Kachemak Bay’s north shore, southwest of modern Homer’s business district. The Sterling Highway delineates the area’s northern boundary, with Bishop’s Beach to the south, and Beluga Lake to the east.
It is one of the oldest sections of “Homer on the bench” — as opposed to “Homer on the Spit.”
Homer on the Spit was the base for gold and coal-mining ventures in the late 1890s and early 1900s but died when the Cook Inlet Coal Company closed in 1902.
The Spit’s deep-water anchorage had been its primary draw. However, without commercial development, its exposed location and lack of potable water discouraged people from living there. Most of the Spit’s buildings, as well as its deep-water dock, were abandoned and eventually destroyed.
A few residents moved to the benchlands just to the north, but communities on the north shore did not coalesce until the mid-1910s when fishermen and homesteaders began settling there.
A 1956 Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station bulletin indicates that three communities developed along northern Kachemak Bay: Anchor Point, Homer proper, and Miller’s Landing (at Coal Bay a few miles east of present-day Homer). The area’s population eventually centered around the Homer and Miller’s Landing areas. Few homesteaders made a living solely off their land, and fishing provided the major income for most residents.
According to the book, A Larger History of the Kenai Peninsula, a store opened near Beluga Lake in about 1919, a post office at Beluga Lake in 1921, and another store at nearby Munson’s Point in 1923.
A road system also emerged. The roads, at first pioneered by residents, initially ran from Miller’s Landing to the surrounding area. These were gradually extended by the Alaska Road Commission.
Residents also constructed a telephone system, stringing lines on poles and trimmed-out trees. Many probably used battery-powered military-surplus field phones, which featured hand-cranked magnetos to ring through to other telephones on the line. Elva Scott, in her book, Homesteading in Homer, writes that the widely-scattered settlers developed a telephone alert code that included: one ring — meaning a state trooper had landed; two rings — that a Fish and Wildlife officer was in town; and three rings — signaling a dance in town that night.
Without the Spit’s deep-water dock, supplies for Homer came in by small boat to Bishop’s Beach and the mouth of Beluga Lake. Consequently, during the 1920s and 1930s, the area just north of Bishop’s Beach became Homer’s first business district. In 1938 a new dock was built on the spit.
A handful of buildings from the 1930s still exist in Old Town, including the one shown in the drawing, located at 106 W. Bunnell Ave. Built about 1937 by Maybelle and Arthur Berry, this two-story wood-frame structure originally housed a grocery on the first floor, with hotel rooms on the second. The building is sheathed with ship-lap siding, although for a time, it was covered with asbestos singles. It has a hipped-roof porch spanning the front facade, and there is a one-story addition to the west.
The store had a succession of owners and names until it finally closed in 1988. Its first owners, the Berrys, simply called it “Berry’s.” The last owners named it the “Inlet Trading Post,” which is what the building is now commonly called.
After the store ceased operations, the building was bought by Homer resident, Kurt Marquardt, and renovated. Its first tenant was an art gallery that gradually morphed into the present-day Bunnell Street Arts Center. Other historic buildings in Old Town have also been renovated and the area has undergone a renaissance in recent years.
- A larger History of the Kenai Peninsula. Elsa Pederson editor. Adams Press. 1983
- A History of Kachemak Bay: the Country, the Communities. Janet Klein. Homer Society of Natural History. 1981
- Historic Homer: a building survey and inventory, phase I. Janet Klein. Homer Society of Natural History. 1986
- Homesteading in Homer. Elva Scott. R. Nelson Carnes & Associates. 1990
- Land Occupancy, Ownership & Use on Homesteads in the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, 1955. Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Alaska, Palmer. Bulletin No. 21, 1956