Part of a continuing weekly series on Alaska history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage or Alaska history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
All the Anchorage parks, all 223 of them covering 10,926 acres, were each named for a reason. This story continues the effort to document the origin of each park’s name. There are far too many parks to cover in a single column. So, if your favorite park has not yet been covered, it likely will be in the future.
[Histories of Anchorage park names, from Dena’ina origins to the etymology of ‘williwaw’]
In a previous column on Anchorage park names, I mentioned Nulbay Park in Bootleggers Cove, which is named after the Dena’ina term for a seagull. A reader wrote in with additional details. Former banker and city councilman Gordon Hartlieb (1920-1998) owned and lived in a building directly east of what had been undeveloped Alaska Railroad property. From his upstairs apartment, Hartlieb thus had an unimpeded and stunning view of the Knik Arm. As Anchorage expanded, he worried that his view might eventually be lost to development. Thanks to his connections, he approached the railroad in the mid-1960s and unofficially asked whether they would be interested in donating the empty land to the city for a new park. From the railroad’s perspective, the parcel was small, awkwardly located, and of no apparent use, so they agreed to donate it. From the city and resident perspectives, they got a free, new park. And from Hartlieb’s perspective, his view was secured forever.
DeLong Park takes its name from DeLong Lake, which is in turn named for Joseph S. DeLong (1872-1948). A former Anchorage school janitor, he claimed a homestead at the northeastern edge of the lake in 1936 and received the patent on it in 1941. He died in 1948 from tuberculosis. The park began with land leased from the state in 1975, with additional land purchased and leased in later years. Joseph DeLong is not connected to the De Long Mountains of the Brooks Ranges, De Long Peak northwest of Petersburg, or the De Long Islands. Those features are all named for George Washington De Long (1844-1881), a naval officer who died in an attempt to prove the theory of an open-water channel to the North Pole.
Edna M. Fisk Memorial Park is a small undeveloped park between Sand Lake Road and Seacliff Street south of West 82nd Avenue. Fisk (1923-1976) moved to Anchorage in 1950 to design landscaping for Fort Richardson. She also created the first design for the park strip, later named Delaney Park. The longtime member of the Urban Beautification Commission was the first landscape architect to practice in Alaska.
As originally designed, Charles W. Smith Memorial Park ran along Chester Creek east of Valley of the Moon Park, through and including what is now the sports complex that includes Sullivan Arena, Ben Boeke Arena, Mulcahy Stadium, and the Anchorage Football Stadium. If you go by the current signage, the park is only the developed section neatly between A and C Streets alongside the creek.
Charles “Charley” Smith (1896-1951) was a longtime Alaska Railroad employee who joined the operation in 1917. He was present when President Warren Harding drove in the golden spike at Nenana, marking the completion of the railroad on July 15, 1923. Beginning in the mid-1920s, he and his family moved to a homestead bordering what is now Fireweed Lane.
When Fireweed Lane was first cleared, the name was a literal description. Hard as it is to imagine now, towering fireweeds lined the road. During the 1920s and 1930s, the road was an unofficial southern border to Anchorage, though officially outside city limits. The road was also a popular scenic drive, for those residents fortunate enough to own an automobile.
In 1956, Smith’s widow, Pearl (1898-1992), donated 15 acres and sold an additional 55 acres to the City of Anchorage for $26,000 in municipal bonds and $8,965.13 in cash. Pearl swore to stay in town until the bonds matured. After accounting for inflation, the total sales price of $34,965.13 is roughly $380,000 in 2022 dollars.
At the time of the transfer, the parkland was undeveloped and marked by piles of debris from ongoing street-paving efforts. The initial plans for the land were grandiose, including a swimming pool, greenhouse gardens, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, picnic areas, and a National Guard armory. The new Mulcahy Stadium, to replace the downtown Mulcahy Stadium, was completed in 1962. However, the field was only seeded with grass that summer and required a year of growth before being suitable for play. So, the stadium did not officially open or host any games until 1963.
The land for Elderberry Park, directly west of downtown, was transferred to the city in 1917 with the requirement that it be used for a park. If not used as a park, the land would revert to the federal government. The park’s standout feature is the Oscar Anderson House Museum, possibly the first permanent residence built in Anchorage after the initial townsite auction on July 10, 1915. Anderson (1883-1974), who owned a meat distributor and coal mine, lived in the bungalow through his death. His widow donated the house to the city, and, in 1976, the building was moved down the bluff to its current location and then carefully restored for use as a museum.
West of Elderberry Park on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is the Hannah Cove Viewpoint. It is named for Anchorage resident Hannah Core, who died in a scuba diving accident off the coast of Washington at only 21 years old. The outlook was dedicated in her honor in 1998.
Elderberry Park has recently grown in significance as the only Anchorage park visited by a future King of England. On April 14, 1970, Prince Charles, now King Charles III of the United Kingdom, spent an hour touring Anchorage while his plane refueled. Accompanied by Mayor George Sullivan, Greater Anchorage Area Borough Chairman John Asplund, and other local officials, Charles managed a brisk encounter with Elderberry Park. Charles assumed the throne this year after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. She also once stopped in Anchorage while her plane refueled but declined to leave her chambers.
Beardsley, Nancy. The Park Book: A Brief History of Parks in Anchorage. Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department, 2006.
Carberry, Michael E. Oscar Anderson House National Register of Historic Places Nomination, 1978.
“Charles W. Smith, 61, ARR Veteran Succumbs at Home.” Anchorage Daily Times, July 3, 1951, 3.
Heesch, Jack. Email, October 2, 2022.
Orth, Donald J. Dictionary of Alaska Place Names. Washington, D.C.: United States, Geological Survey, 1971.
“Search for Alaska Diver Continues in Washington.” Anchorage Daily News, July 15, 1995, B2.
“Smith Memorial Park Is in Planning Stage.” Anchorage Daily Times, June 20, 1959, 7.