Although Russian sailors led by the Dane Vitus Bering had established trading posts in Western and parts of Southcentral Alaska more than 30-years earlier, the English explorer Captain James Cook is credited with first exploring Southcentral Alaska in 1778. Under Captain Cook’s third attempt at finding the elusiveNorthwest Passage he reached the shores of the land that is now known as Anchorage, and mistook one of the arms of the inlet for a river. Thus, he named the water “River Turnagain”; later the water was renamed the Turnagain Arm by another British explorer, George Vancouver.
Russian explorers continued to establish trading posts across Alaska and during the next 100 years the Russian influence on the state continued to grow. In fact, it was not until March 30, 1867 that the United States purchased the Alaska territory from Russia. U.S. Secretary of State William Seward prompted the national government to purchase the territory from the Russians for $7.2 million (about 2 cents per acre). Seward was mocked by national politicians for his perceived poor judgment and the purchase was then known as “Seward’s Folly”. It took 101 years and the first major discovery of a oil field for “Seward’s Folly” to be recognized as an asset to the country.
On March 12, 1914 the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of the Alaska Railroad, clearing the way for the only railroad in history to be owned and operated by the U.S. Government. The next year, in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson authorized funds for the construction of the Alaska Railroad and selected the railroad’s route. That year, 2,000 Americans flooded the Ship Creek valley (near present-day downtownAnchorage) looking for federal employment.
On July 9, 1915 President Wilson authorized the “Great Anchorage Lot Sale”, a land auction where the first 600 plots of land in Anchorage were sold. Businesses began spreading across the newly organized Fourth Avenue, where many buildings remain today. The first Pioneer School was established one day later and the beginnings of modern-day Anchorage took shape.
*Information provided courtesy of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.