Anchorage Area Presbyterians Organize and Re-Organize
At the Yukon Presbytery meeting at Cordova in 1912, it was decided to check into the large expanse of fertile ground at the head of Cook's Inlet -- an area suitable for farming, promising gold and coalfields -- and also along the proposed route of a railroad into the interior of Alaska.
There were about a thousand white people in the area, grouped primarily around the villages of Susitna, Knik, Sunrise and Katmai. The region had thus far been neglected by all evangelical denominations.
Meeting at Knik in 1915, reports were received from Knik, Chitina, McCarthy, and Anchorage. The coming of the government railroad had already created a community of more than 2,000 souls, Anchorage. Anchorage would be a strategic point in the future and residents there were already complaining that the churches were dragging their feet in providing services.
"This community affords at its very inception an opportunity for constructive work of a permanent character rarely presented in our Presbytery or even in all Alaska," it was reported.
"To be the first in this field means what it means elsewhere, and perhaps more. Already lots, the best for the purchase that could possibly be secured, are in the Board of Home Mission's possession. What shall we do with it?"
The Rev. James McBride took a look at the promising young community in 1915 and immediately asked to be transferred from Cordova to begin work there.
First Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, was officially established January 14, 1917, with 48 members. It was the sole Presbyterian church in Anchorage for thirty years. But Southcentral Alaska was bigger than just Anchorage.
A Rev. T.P. Howard was holding services at Knik for the Native population in 1913. He was advised to check out the reported gold strike in the Matanuska.
"Nothing is lacking in this region for extensive development," the Presbyterian Home Missions Committee reported in 1916. "As a church we are first in the field, prepared with both men and money to minister to the needs of it all. One man can care for this area as well as make trips into the Willow Creek country and reach the lonely men with a gospel for their needs.”
And, speaking of the Susitna Valley., it was said,
“This valley lies a few miles west of the Matanuska and is a tributary to the railroad. Rev. T. P. Howard has held services at Susitna. McDouglas and Talkeetna and other places in the valley. One dog team can reach all these places with comparative ease. The Mat valley and the Susitna valley should be linked together. They are territorially inseparable.”
Not much more happened for a few years -- until the Federal Relief Colonization Project of 1935. Depression-distressed families from the upper midwestern United States were re-located by the US federal government and given land in the Matanuska Valley, Territory of Alaska.
"We shall be prepared to take some definite part in the way of providing some missionary activity in the area since it lies within our field of responsibility," the Presbytery determined in February of 1935.
The Cordova Presbyterian Church played a supporting role yet again. The Rev. Bert J. Bingle was serving that church in 1935 when he received the call to transfer to the work in the valleys to the north of Anchorage.
Bingle arrived in Palmer, Alaska, on May 6, 1935 -- five days before the colonists themselves. The United Protestant Church at Palmer was officially organized in December 1935 and added to the rolls of Presbytery in 1937.
During the early years of the century, Yukon Presbytery work had concentrated with the Yup’ik and Inupiat Eskimo populations along the Bering Sea and Arctic. It followed the gold miners to Nome and the Interior in the 1900s to 1920s and continued with the colonists who came to homestead the Matanuska Susitna Valley in 1935. Presbyterian missionaries worked along side the highway construction workers who building the Alcan, the Glenn, and the Parks highways in the 1940s.
The population of the Anchorage area boomed after World War II and several more Presbyterian churches were planted on the Anchorage plain to accommodate their spiritual needs.
It was a time of decision and re-decision, following the growth patterns of the city, much like the earlier church workers had followed the influx of people throughout the territory: four churches began which were later dissolved or merged into two others during the next 25 years. We are speaking of Faith Presbyterian, organized December 15, 1947; Woodland Park Presbyterian, organized April 16, 1949; Hillcrest Presbyterian, organized November 30, 1952; and West-minster Presbyterian, organized May 3, 1964.
Congregants from Woodland Park and Faith, along with some from First Presbyterian, later became Trinity Presbyterian, organized March 27, 1970; and congregants from Westminster, Trinity, and First (as well as from Tri-Anchor United Methodist Church) later became Jewel Lake Parish, organized March 10, 1972.
A plot of ground in the Mountain View Subdivision owned by Norman Lange was purchased March 28, 1950 by the Yukon Presbytery and recorded May 16, 1951. The legal description was "all and the whole of the east two-thirds of the south one-half of Lot 1 in Block 2 of the Norman Lange homestead".
"Why isn't anything happening in Mountain View," demanded J. Earl Jackman, Depart-ment of Work in Alaska, Board of National Missions, in a letter dated March 18, 1953.
"There is a bill before Congress to permit the Department of Interior to sell us the lots on Government Hill," he further noted. "This could take two months to a year. We have $20,000 to build on Government Hill when the land has been cleared."
The National Board of Missions provided $500 to move a quonset hut to the Mountain View property in July of 1953, but the Presbytery decided to try to sell the lots later that year because they believed that the location was poor and needed to be closer to the school.
The Presbytery offered to sell the property back to Norman Lange in a letter dated September 1, 1953, and signed by Fred Koschmann, Victor Alfsen and the Rev. Frank G. Walkup.
Lange wrote back offering to buy it back for $5,700 but the Presbytery refused the offer.
The records available do not indicate exactly what happened to the Mountain View property but in November of 1960, the Board of National Missions purchased five acres of land at 24th Avenue and Boniface Parkway for a "South Mountain View" ministry. A congregation was organized at Nunaka Valley School on May 21, 1961, with the Rev. Harold N. Banks as pastor. Ground was broken for Immanuel Presbyterian Church on September 3, 1961 and the first worship service was held in the new building Christmas Eve, 1961.
First Korean Presbyterian Church was organized October 17, 1976 with 72 members, and the youngest Presbyterian church in the Anchorage area, Eagle River Presbyterian, was organized March 8, 1985 with 106 members.
Overview of Southcentral Alaska