Alaska Far Away: The New Deal Pioneers of the Matanuska Colony

Alaska Far Away: The New Deal Pioneers of the Matanuska Colony

Video showing at Richfield Historical Society. In the midst of the despair of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal gave over 200 struggling Midwestern farm families an extraordinary opportunity: the chance to stat over on the Alaskan frontier.  Alaska Far Away tells the story of this bold government experiment, and the families who found themselves thrust into the national spotlight along the way.

Video presentation hosted by the Richfield Historical Society
Saturday, February 28, 2015 3:30 pm FREE
6901 Lyndale Ave, Richfield, MN 55423

The Matanuska Colonization Project of 1935 was among the most unusual and controversial of the many New Deal programs designed to help ordinary citizens devastated by the Great Depression. the project relocated over 200 struggling farm families from the northern Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to the Matanuska Valley in Alaska to start an experimental farming colony, to open up Alaska for settlement, and give these families a fresh start. It generated tremendous publicity and controversy at the time, not only as a very expensive federally-funded social experiment, but also as one of the last pioneer movements in America.

The Matanuska Colony isn’t just a fascinating footnote to the history of Alaska. More than just a local story, the history of the Matanuska Colony covers broad themes of interest to general audiences: the difficulties and despair of the Depression, the creative energy of the New Deal, the adventure of pioneering Alaska, the excitement and challenge of building a new community far form home, and the best and worst of both our government and ordinary citizens in facing those extraordinary challenges.

The Matanuska colonists weren’t pioneers blazing trails through a silent wilderness. They were shipped to Alaska by Uncle Sam, and were dogged every step of the way by reporters, photographers, tourists, and critics. They were glorified, vilified, and mythologized by the national press. One day that were lauded as national heroes, the next scorned as “cream-puff pioneers.”

However, the colonists were ultimately neither heroes nor villains, but simply ordinary people who shared an extraordinary experience, struggling to make a new home, far from family and friends, in a place considered forbidding and exotic, under the constant scrutiny of the press and the politicians. Creating a new community under such an unforgiving microscope forged unbreakable ties between the colonists that exist to this day.

Americans have always been fascinated by the pioneer experience and frontier mythology: the hardships, dangers, and excitement of leaving behind everything familiar to settle a new land. Alaska Far Away reflects that sense of challenge and adventure, and the energetic pioneer spirit that brought these colonists to Alaska and helped to build it into a state.

In conjunction with Uncle Sam’s New Deal traveling exhibit from the Minnesota Historical society.

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Snippets of Richfield History on Youtube!

History is all around us and happening everyday. To refresh our memories and learn about the past, we bring a series of short videos about Richfield History to you.

Jon Wickett introduces the Richfield Historical Society to the community in the video below. He is an enthusiastic amateur historian and board member of our Historical Society and will be writing and narrating the series. Join us as we venture into history!

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Challenging an Airport

One richfield family waged a final but determined campaign in a long-running Minneapolis-Richfield contest – the takeover of Richfield land by Minneapolis business leaders to create Wold-Chamberlain Airport, later Minneapolis-St. Paul International.

Purists might argue that Gus and Lottie Hohag’s last stand was really against the Metropolitan Airports Commission. but to Richfield citizens with long memories, the Hohags were standing up against the power of Minneapolis.

Gus and Lottie, who farmed on 70th Street and 34th Avenue South, dealt with airport issues for much foe their adult lives. Gus purchased the site of the bankrupt Twin Cities Auto Speedway during a 1917 sheriff’s sale. He held it until November 1918, when Minneapolis business interests bought the land for $56,300.

The Hohags continued to hold onto their farm as the airport grew toward them. In 1949 the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) wanted their property, but they refused to move. MAC suggested a compromise. “They said my wife and I could stay here until we died, ” chuckled Gus in 1960, “Well we’re still going strong, both of us are 85 and staring right back at the planes.” Gus died in 1961. Lottie died nine years later at the age of 92 in 1970.

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Give to the Max Day

This Thursday—November 13—is Give to the Max Day, a day set aside in Minnesota to reaffirm the community benefits of charitable giving. And thanks to the Bush Foundation and others, organizations like ours that receive donations on Thursday are eligible for additional “Golden Ticket” funds. We urge you to consider using this special day to remember the Richfield Historical Society with a gift.

Why wait for November 13? You can use the form below right now and submit your donation. Your gift will automatically be submitted on Thursday to take advantage of our opportunity to earn even more.

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