Although few of the prospectors who entered Cook Inlet became rich, toward the end of the 1800s a small Tanaina Athabascan settlement called Knik had enough commercial activity that the Alaska Commercial Co., which had taken over the assets of the Russian American Co., opened a trading post in 1882. George W. Palmer opened a store there in the 1890s.
Knik served as a supply center for the Willow Creek Mining District, organized in 1898, and the small settlement’s population grew to several hundred as hard rock followed placer mining. But the $30,000 miners gleaned from their diggings between 1897 and 1914 wasn’t enough to nourish their hopes and dreams.
However the discovery of gold in the Interior in 1902 by a miner named Felix Pedro helped keep their hopes afloat. That discovery, near what would become Fairbanks, led to more intense mining everywhere.
Discoveries of gold north of Knik in the Talkeetna Mountains, as well as placer gold northwest on the Iditarod River, made the community across the Turnagain Arm from modern-day Birchwood the major trading center for the gold and coal mines in the region. Shopkeepers expanded into supplying the various sawmills in the Matanuska Valley, the Susitna River Basin and Willow Creek Mining District. At its peak, Knik boasted a population close to 500.
By 1914 the town had its own weekly newspaper, the Knik News, and two trading posts, three roadhouses and hotels, a restaurant, a general hardware store, a saloon, a transfer and fuel company, a school and a construction business. And residents and passersby alike could find candies, tobacco, magazines, stationery and postcards at The Place of Sweets. Two dentists and two doctors looked after the physical needs of the population, and itinerant priests of the Russian Orthodox Church looked after their spiritual needs.
Knik prospered for several years, but the Alaska Railroad Act of 1914, which led to the birth of Anchorage, resulted in the demise of the once-thriving community. Engineers laid out a route for the tracks that bypassed Knik and established a railroad camp at a place called Wasilla.
While Anchorage blossomed with an influx of settlers, Knik wilted. The post office, which opened in 1904, closed for good in 1917. Residents abandoned their homes or moved them to new locations, and businesses moved either to Wasilla or Anchorage.
By Laurel Bill