Last fall I was on the hunt for a unique location for a styled photo shoot when I discovered the Alpine Historical Park in nearby Sutton. Since I’d never been there before I decided to arrive extra early to check out all the displays before my model came for the shoot. Not only where the exhibits interesting to someone who loves rusty ‘old’ things but they definitely told a story of the area’s progress over the past century.
The prominent exhibit are these concrete forms, which are the remains of the foundation for a coal wash plant originally built for the US Navy during the 20’s for nearby projects. In it’s heyday, the plant processed 25 tons of coal an hour! In front of the wash plant was this coal car train and track from a nearby mine.
Along with a variety of antique construction machinery, which had been used for local improvements and left behind when they were no longer worth hauling away.
This old boiler furnace caught my attention with its massive size. It must have been a full-time job to keep it running! The double doors at the back were so big they looked like the nose of a steam locomotive.
There was also a smaller boiler on display that was just as rusty and interesting.
There were several historical buildings nearby that had been relocated to this site for preservation including a mine bunk house, a post office, a church and homes of significance in the region.
Built in 1948, this small building was Sutton’s first post office. Grace Boulter, who became the postmaster in 1951, started part-time and earned 56 cents a day. Grace remembers this old building saying “The place was so small around Christmas time; I would have to take a couple bags of parcel post and lock them in my car at night, because there was not enough room to leave it in the post office.” In those days, mail was delivered by train; it was thrown from a railroad car as the train passed the office on its way to Jonesville Mine.
Inside the post office there was an old Coleman heater, oil tank and postal boxes used by Boulter and her customers.
The Mary Geist House was built in the 1960’s as a guest house but was moved to the park in 1990 to house the Old Timer’s Hall of Fame-honoring the residents of Sutton who were involved with the coal mining industry and development of Sutton. It houses plaques of the inductees and a collection of fossils and petrified wood found in the mining area.
Built in 1917, the Lucas House, served as a residence for coal miners at the Chickaloon Coal Mine. Sometime after the abandonment of the mines, it was moved to Palmer where it became the Lucas home in 1943. Donated by the Lucas family in 1989, the first floor has since been renovated to accommodate Alpine Historical Society (AHS) records in addition to serving as a meeting room for the board.The Hitchcock Cabin houses Athabascan Dene’ cultural displays and serves as a meeting place for cultural workshops. This wall tent house is similar to those used by the military and early explorers who settled the area. In fact most of Anchorage started as a collection of such tents. This Athabascan Winter Lodge was built in 2005, thanks to a collaboration between AHS and the Chickaloon Native Village. It illustrates a traditional native house design, commonly used prior to Russian and Euro-American contact. It holds examples of local medicinal plants and animal hides, that were used by local natives. There are also items donated lLate Native Dene Elder, Kathryn “Katie” Wade along with bunks and a mock central fire pit that would have been used as a sweat lodge. A recorded Athabascan Dene’ story, singing and drumming can be heard within the walls. This display of petrified wood brought back memories of my family’s trip to the petrified forest when I was a child. I had never thought about petrified wood being in Alaska but considering the state’s geological history it made perfect sense that there would be some. Apparently the petrified forests found in Alaska are some of the largest and best preserved! This is the spirit house of Ahtna Indian John Goodlataw, who was born in 1870 and died in 1935. These structures are a combination of traditional Native beliefs and Russian Orthodox religion. Native tradition says that a person must be buried with their head upriver and a blanket placed over the grave to keep them warm.
The visitor center for the park was in a log building had information about activities in the area and a small historic display of earlier life in Sutton. The other portion of the house serves as a private residence for the park’s caretaker. There is a welcome sign next to the visitor center with information about the park.
In front of the visitor center is a large shovel arm used in the construction of the Glenn Highway which seems dwarfed by the Chugach mountains that border the town to the south. Although upon closer inspection I realized just how massive it actually was.
One of my favorite buildings was the Powder House. Built in 1921 this structure housed explosives for coal mining and the Glenn Highway construction.This unique planter made great use of pieces from the old conveyor belts from the machinery.After I’d explored all the exhibits I headed back to the wash plant to prepare for my shoot. It was the perfect spooky look for the Halloween style we had planned.The shoot went perfectly and the super talented model really made my artistic vision come to life. She also did her own makeup in the sugar skull theme! Here’s a few of my favorite images from the shoot.If you happen to travel through Sutton and have a little free time I highly recommend stopping off at the Alpine Historical Park to take a walk back through the history of the region.