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Thriving at 75: Mat-Su marks Colony anniversary

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman has kicked off a summerlong series of articles marking the 75th anniversary of the Matanuska "Colony," established as part of the Depression-era New Deal in an attempt to create a new local farm economy and give 200 struggling Midwest families a chance at a better life. Palmer resident Gerry Keeling, whose mother was pregnant with her when her family arrived in Palmer in 1935, looks back in Part 1 of the series.

In the decades since, the little Matanuska Valley Colony has grown and thrived, a testament to the New Deal and the spirit of the 100 communities created out of the Great Depression, Keeling said. And they started with nearly nothing.

Colonists were allowed to take 2,000 pounds of possessions and themselves. What was waiting for them when disembarking the train in Palmer was "not a whole lot," Keeling said.

"There was a railroad track that went up to Chickaloon to haul coal, but that was about it," she said. "These were people who had all been hit by the Depression, and the people who came here were all from the upper areas of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The government had specified that people for this community had to be from there because of - you got it - climate."

Keeling now manages the Colony House Museum, which is in an original 1935 home that has been moved to its current location in Palmer. A reunion and anniversary celebration are scheduled for next week at the Alaska State Fairgrounds.