By DANIEL RIOS
Have you ever wondered why and how Homer came to be? I wanted to learn more about the history of Homer, so I did some research and here is what I found out.
Homer is not that old compared to, let’s say Boston, but even though Homer’s history is not as long as Boston’s, it does not mean that it’s not loaded with that fascinating, exciting and rich “Last Frontier” color that you just won’t see anywhere else.
Before white settlers came to Alaska there were thousands of native tribes living in Alaska and scientist have realized, and discovered that there have been traces of Pacific Eskimos and Dena’ina Indian settlements all around the Homer area. During the 1800s the abundance of coal and sea otters around Homer attracted many Russian traders and by 1889 American companies were mining and shipping coal via Alaska’s first rail road. The track ran 7.38 miles from shafts and tunnels located near Coal Creek above old town Homer (now where the Bunnell Street Gallery is located) to a large pier built near the end of the 4.5 mile Spit. From here the coal was loaded onto waiting ships. This continued until about World War II.
When coal started to boom into a big industry the miners needed a place to stay. The miners set up a town settlement on the Homer Spit. They said before the 1964 earthquake the Spit was wide enough to hold trees all along its sides. The Settlement was called “Green Timbers.”
Homer Pennock, the man from which this lovely town was named, landed on the Homer Spit in April of 1896. Pennock and his crew of 50 men and one woman walked a shore with high hopes of searching for and finding mounds of gold. Their dreams were severely crushed fairly quickly when they discovered that there was no gold in the sandy beaches of Homer. With that in mind the settlers stayed and built a town inland from the spit and called it Homer. Pennock soon after discovering that there was no gold, left the new born town for the riches of the Klondike.
In 1919 a school was established and so were a few churches strengthening the social fabric of the town. Then in 1920 roads and telephone poles were added, securing the towns stability. When coal started to die down in 1902 a new industry rose from the fiery ashes this industry was fishing. In the 1920s an intense but short lived herring and fur trading company started and then faded quite quickly providing a slight but powerful economic boost thus the salmon fishing industry was born and many canneries were started in homer and in Seldovia. In the 1940s the town grew stronger but dwindled in size 1950. With salmon sky rocketing the town’s economy, the fishing of other sea creatures along with salmon started doubling and almost tripling the economy.
But with great things sometimes tragic and even devastating things follow. The 1964 earthquake was a perfect example of this. The Salmon industry was at the top of its game when that faithful morning on March 27, Friday of 1964 a terrible earthquake hit Alaska. Homer was completely shaken by this horrific incident the Homer Spit had sunk a couple of feet and the canneries that were placed in Seldovia were destroyed forcing the people from Seldovia to Homer. This was final push to making Homer a first class city. This was announced a couple of day later after the earthquake had hit.
Homer’s history may not be as action packed as any other city but it is our little town filled with people and big stories. Homer may not be perfect in any means but it is where most of us grew up made friends and lost them. It is really where the land ends and the sea begins.