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The Matanuska Valley Colony - Letter from Leo Jacobs

From “A Sampler from the Gamble Papers and Photographs”

Alaska Historical Collections, Alaska State Library

Mary Nan Gamble, Album and papers of administrative work for the Matanuska Colony Project, 1935-1945, PCA 270, MS 94


Palmer, Alaska.,

Nov 29th, 1935


Mr. David R. Williams,

Director, Rural Industrial Communities,

19th Street & New York Ave.,

Washington, D. C.


Dear Mr. Williams:---


Trying to out guess the boat and boat train is quite a problem. We just received our last weeks mail on Wednesday, second class today and now they tell us that the boat train is going down tomorrow. Our mail must get to Matanuska tomorrow morning. I am particularly anxious to get this on the train as I am sending some samples of the kind of work the Colonist (women) have been turning out for the Christmas trade. Included are scarves for yourself and Col. Westbrook, and a pair of caribou gloves for Mrs. Gamble. The scarves are the first two made on a homemade loom built by one of the Colonist men. I thought Col. Westbrook and yourself would appreciate having some samples of Matanuska Made Articles. If they had been able to produce these in quantities I don’t know but what they could have sold all of their production, especially this year when the project was in the public eye. Have tried to talk them into getting a trade mark and advertise much after the fashion of Berea but so far other things are considered more important. Hope you like them.


Things are worrying along here at Palmer. Much the same condition exists here as last June. Fear to go ahead, fear to employ enough men, fear to put the Colonists to work. The latter has been overcome and some are working. Col. Olson [sic] met me on the road a few days ago and assured me he could get some carpenters and laborers. He got them, although some of the carpenters had to be bounced off for putting shingles on upside down. What carpenters. The water tower is causing much local debate. Actually there is no alternative unless we just spend money prospecting new wells. All that have been tried in the vicinity have been salt water. The logical thing to do is to put up a storage tank to provide an emergency storage supply and fire protection. The cost would be less than $10,000 erected at Palmer. One of the cheapest things that could be done. We have all the material for the water main in stock. That was ordered as one of the original orders last Spring, as was much of the underground steam distribution. All of that material is coming in handy though.


As the train is leaving so early I can’t get any pictures to you this week so will try a word picture. In the Power House the steam generator is set and will be in operation next Monday, then we can determine what is wrong with the other one. There is no change in the progress of shop building, trading post and garage due to the fact that the sewers are not completed or rather the sewerage disposal pits are not completed. When these are completed the plumbing can be hooked up. The Bakery building is to be used as the Post Office, and the Post Office portion of the trading post is to be divided up into office space for the accountants, Irwin, and the balance for a hardware department, in connection with the trading post.


The school building has a roof in place and all carpenters are working on the gymnasium. All columns are up, walls are going up, trusses are being assembled. The hospital is partially occupied even though the kitchen is not quite finished. The doctor goes half cocked once in awhile, especially when there is no one to restrain him. The several staff quarters are enclosed but can’t be finished completely until heat is in the dormitory. The dormitory hasn’t been touched. We just haven’t enough carpenters to get them all underway.


The creamery-cannery excavation has been started but can’t do much until the thawing outfit now working on water lines and sewers gets into that part of the site.


Just heard the news report over the radio quote the President as saying that the era of spending was over and that F.E.R.A. was to disappear the first of the year. I have noticed that several of my checks have come from W.P.A.


My wire of Nov. 26th, was inspired by Sheely who wanted to know whether I wanted to occupy one of the staff quarters when completed. I wouldn’t want to do so if we were returning before next summer. Am anxious to hear from you on this also as to the Hunt-Carr report.


The request for a cost summary of the buildings under construction has given everyone the jitters. They can see this thing left just as is. Somehow I doubt that. At least the project must be given a completed appearance. None of the building other than trading post and warehouse have their final coat of paint. I shudder to think of the color scheme if some people had their way. The roads are another important item as Anderson will have them where he pleases if not controlled. He is all for laying out the surrounding country into squares and into rectangular lots. Has spent some of the Corporation time on it. Carr can vouch for that.


Sheely is having his troubles, nine-tenths the result of the assistants he has retained. Between Irwin and Anderson, he hasn’t a chance of making a go of it. Isn’t there something that can be done to return Irwin to the Experimental Farm. Then Sheely may have a chance.


All the news good and bad until next week.




                                                                        Leo B. Jacobs.

Gallery of Images
Click for Fullsize
New personnel on arrival
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Gordon Astrole, enrollee, outfitted in official uniform issued to all men
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Gateway to Construction Corps tent camp
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Portrait of Ross Sheely
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(L to R) Sheely, Biggs and Bliss survey blueprints upon arrival at Palmer
Click here for all 9 photos in this gallery.

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