A historical guide to name origins for Anchorage’s major roads: Part 1

From Benson to Baxter to Boniface, here’s a look at how Anchorage’s major thoroughfares were named.

Part of a continuing weekly series on Alaska history by local historian David Reamer.

The most common type of history question people ask me can be summed up as: “Why’s it named that?” Everyone lives in a relationship with their surroundings. And as with any relationship, knowing more about your partner — Anchorage, in this case — promotes a stronger connection. Today, it is time to learn the name origins for Anchorage’s major roads in the first part of a two-part series.

Beginning on the north side of town, Whitney Road lies just across Ship Creek and below Government Hill. In 1911, John and Daisy Whitney moved from Knik across Cook Inlet to Ship Creek. They initially lived near the creek mouth but moved about four miles inland in 1914, where they were when the railroad boom sparked the new town of Anchorage in 1915. “Whitney” was one of several names considered for what became Anchorage.

After Anchorage was selected as a new Army base site in 1939, large swaths of land north, east, and southeast of town were withdrawn and reserved for military use. Homesteaders with patents to their land in this area, including the Whitneys, were forced to sell their property to the Army. Those without patents, homesteaders who had not yet proved up, were obligated to sell their holdings for the value of their improvements to the land. The Whitneys left Alaska for good in 1945. Before their departure, John told the Anchorage Daily Times, “We plan to remain Outside permanently, but if I can’t learn to talk fancy the way folks in the states do, I guess I will be back before long.” No major roads in Anchorage are named solely for women, though Whitney Road is one of a handful perhaps named for both a husband and wife.

To the east is Mountain View Drive, of course named for the neighborhood, the first distinct, developed Anchorage suburb. Area homesteader Norman Lange essentially named the initially independent community. In 1940, Lange began selling lots from his homestead. He called the new subdivision Mountain View. He also ran a general goods shop called the Mountain View Store. It was located at what is now the intersection of Mountain View Drive and Taylor Street, then the entrance to the neighborhood. Though there were some early attempts to simply call the community East Anchorage, the Mountain View name stuck. Several other Anchorage roads were also named for subdivisions, including Airport Heights Drive, Bayshore Drive, and Southport Drive.

Farther east is Muldoon Road. Arnold Muldoon (1909-1985) arrived in Anchorage in 1939 and quickly established a homestead near the southern end of the road that bears his name. He had not proven up when the Army arrived but was able to reclaim the same property — and cabin — after World War II when some of the withdrawn land was reopened to the public. In his will, Muldoon bequeathed money to the city for the statue of William Henry Seward installed outside the Loussac Library in 1991.

Construction on Debarr Road began in 1950 and finished by 1951 at the latest. It originally ran from Muldoon Road west to Airport Heights Drive, notably not connecting through to 15th Avenue. As the story goes, in the 1940s, there was a homesteader in east Anchorage, or at least what is now called East Anchorage. He was frustrated by arbitrary Army restrictions that prevented him from accessing Oilwell Road. And he supposedly remarked, “First they bar us, then they de-barr us.”

The earliest known version of this story is from a 1981 Anchorage Historic Landmark Preservation Commission booklet published 30 years after the fact. It names neither the homesteader nor any other source for the anecdote. For these reasons, this origin should be considered more legend than history until better documentation is discovered, though it is an entertaining legend.


Also, is it De Barr, DeBarr, or Debarr? Street signs are inconsistent as they are elsewhere in town, as with DeArmoun Road — space or no space in DeArmoun? All three versions were used in the early 1950s, but DeBarr was by far the most common version.

Turpin Street is west of and parallel to Muldoon Road. A former cowboy, Eldrick “Dick” Turpin (1913-2000) moved to Alaska in 1937 and lived in Anchorage from 1946 on. He homesteaded along the road that bears his name. For any readers already tired of the word “homesteader,” it only gets worse from here.

West of Turpin Street is Baxter Road. The namesakes for Baxter Road, Boniface Parkway, DeArmoun Road, and Tudor Road were all homesteaders who won their parcels in a 1949 land lottery exclusively open to veterans. Among Anchorage homesteaders with placename legacies, LaVon “Von” Baxter (1916-1999) hit a sort of trifecta as his name survives on a park and school besides the road. The World War II veteran and insurance man moved to Anchorage in 1945. His homestead was located at what is now the intersection of Tudor and Baxter roads.

The first name pulled in that 1949 land lottery was Burl Tudor (1920-2000). Before the lottery, he coordinated the creation of the Chugach Electric Association. After, he made a fortune in real estate, busily buying and selling properties before leaving Alaska for good in 1953. Besides Tudor Road and the CEA, his local legacy also includes three roads near the Alaska Native Medical Center named for his daughters: Leslie Street, Lynn Drive, and Sharon Street.

Paul Boniface (1927-1991) was the third name pulled. He chose a parcel near the intersection of what is now Boniface Parkway and Northern Lights Boulevard, though it would be several years before the latter reached that far east. From a one-room log cabin, he made his way into real estate and was a member of the Greater Anchorage Area Borough assembly in the 1960s. As per the family, “Boniface” rhymes with “face,” not “fuss.”

Harold DeArmoun (1924-2020) was the 11th name called in that lottery. His lack of frontier experience fostered some somewhat naïve optimism in the young Californian. He only claimed 80 of the possible 160 acres, intending to claim another 80 acres on the Kenai Peninsula. That dream evaporated when he and his wife, June, discovered the difficulty of maintaining and improving a single homestead. Their parcel had no water source, and they were a mile from the nearest road. In 1950, he and a friend used a tractor to blaze a route to the homestead, the road that bears the family name today. Though Harold and June later moved to Mat-Su, they remained in Alaska for the rest of their lives, dying only four months apart.

The long history of Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue begins in September 1986 when the Anchorage Assembly voted 10-1 to name the new downtown performing arts center after the assassinated civil rights leader. At the time, Rev. Alonzo Patterson of Shiloh Baptist Church said, “This is significant and meaningful. It is a good honor.” Then, he presciently added, “But I am going to be watching until I see that name up on the building.”

The Assembly vote came amid a national trend to honor King. The first Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed that January. In Anchorage, however, former Assembly member Don Smith led an opposition movement, including a petition drive for a referendum to reverse the naming decision. In 1987, Anchorage residents overwhelmingly voted — more than 72% — against naming the performing arts center after King. Subsequent suggestions to rename 9th Avenue and part of Minnesota Drive failed. In 2010, the section of road continuing south from Boniface Parkway before turning west toward Elmore Road was named for King. Coincidentally or not, no one lives on the road.

Bragaw Street is named after Robert Bragaw Jr., a homesteader, photographer, and Anchorage’s first Rotary Club president. The Bragaw family left Anchorage in 1944, leaving behind Robert Bragaw Sr., who died in 1928 and is buried in the downtown Anchorage Memorial Cemetery.

Lake Otis Parkway is named after the literal lake, which is in turn named for an early Anchorage resident who developed it into a skating rink circa 1919. Local newspapers described him as “Mr. Otis,” likely the Frank L. Otis (1870-1928) in the area then. For many years, the road was also called the Hillstrand Road, after Earl Hillstrand (1913-1974), who owned land near the road’s northern end. Hillstrand was a member of the Territorial Legislature and founder of the Land’s End Resort at the end of the Homer Spit.

The alphabetical series of streets in Fairview, from Barrow to Orca, were once far more confusing. Before 1945, there were both east and west letter streets. For example, there was both a West D Street and an East D Street. In some places, it was even more complicated than that, as there once was a West G Street, East G Street, now Gambell Street, and East G Place, now Hyder Street. In two stages, in 1945 and 1954, the streets were renamed after existing Alaska placenames. Ingra was the second choice to replace East H Street after Imtuk, which was already in use within the city.

Fifteenth Avenue cuts through the alphabetical streets in Fairview. It is named so because of Spencer Lee, the 15th Earl of Leicester, a British lord known for his dreams of ice and just making sure everyone is still paying attention.


Several notable Anchorage roads are named as subtly as Anchorage itself. Streets like Ocean Dock Road, Bluff Drive, Northwood Street, International Airport Road, Pine Street, Raspberry Road, Strawberry Road, Birch Road, and Hillside Drive are self-explanatory. Even Arctic Boulevard reflects a prominent aspect of the state. Its current appearance aside, Fireweed Lane was named for the towering fireweeds that once lined its shoulders before development cleared it out on the way south.

At its western terminus, Fireweed Lane meets Spenard Road. Every good Anchorage resident knows that the crooked Spenard Road is named for the town’s foremost early crooked businessman, Joe Spenard (1879-1934). From 1916 to 1917, he spent about 20 months in town. In that brief period of time, he ran a combination taxi and delivery service, organized the illegal construction of his namesake road through what was then national forest land, illegally sold that lumber, squatted on a parcel he did not own at Lake Spenard, and there built a resort at which all manner of illegal and immoral acts took place, safely away from watchful eyes in the city proper.

From Fireweed, Spenard Road heads down and over Northern Lights Boulevard, which is another self-explanatory street name. Before its current moniker, the boulevard was the KFQD Road, since it ventured west to the KFQD station. And before that, it was the Woronzof Road, since it ventured west toward Point Woronzof.

Directly south and parallel to Northern Lights Boulevard is its companion road, Benson Boulevard. The road was completed in 1974 and, during planning, was tentatively referred to as the 30th Avenue Couplet. Other names considered included Andromeda, Aurora, Orion, Southern Lights, Chatham, Constitution, Muktuk, and Sydney Laurence. John Ben “Benny” Benson Jr. (1912-1972), who designed the Alaska flag at age 14, passed away during the early planning stages, so his name was prominent in many Alaskan minds.

The honor was commendable, but the initial execution was embarrassing. While the official name was Benson Boulevard, the first signs called it Benson Avenue. Worse, they spelled his name as “Bensen.” These errors were rectified, but other incorrect name spellings survive here and there about Anchorage, including Klevin and Irwin Streets in Mountain View, which should be Kleven and Erwin given who they are named after. Illiamna Avenue in the West Anchorage neighborhood of Turnagain has an extra L for no good reason.

Campbell Airstrip Road today extends south from Northern Lights Boulevard, over the north fork of Campbell Creek. The “Campbell” part of the name derives from the creek, which takes its name from the point. Point MacKenzie and Point Campbell were both named during George Vancouver’s 1794 Cook Inlet voyage by Vancouver himself or Joseph Whidbey, shipmaster for Vancouver’s HMS Discovery. Point MacKenzie is most likely named for Scottish astronomer and politician James Stuart MacKenzie. And Point Campbell is then likely named for MacKenzie’s wife, Elizabeth Campbell — husband and wife separated by the Inlet.


In 1942, the Army built a 5,000-foot gravel runway, an auxiliary airfield in case an attack damaged Fort Richardson and Merrill Field. At the same time, the Army built the road that forded the creek and connected the site to greater Anchorage, thus the Campbell Airstrip Road. Around the Campbell Airstrip Trailhead, the road becomes Basher Drive, the Anchorage road with the greatest name origin. Part two next week will pick up with the tale of the one true Basher.

Key sources:

Abbott, Jeanne. “How the Names of Anchorage’s Past Fare Today.” Anchorage Daily News, June 13, 1982, D4.

Carlson, Phyllis, Mike Kennedy, and Cliff Cernick. Anchorage the Way t Was. Anchorage: Municipality of Anchorage Historic Landmark Preservation Commission, 1981.

Edge, John. “Anchorage Road Dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Alaska Public Media, August 4, 2010.

“Fairview Street Changes Endorsed.” Anchorage Daily Times, October 6, 1954, 5.


Hollinger, Kristy. Homesteads on Fort Richardson, Alaska. Fort Collins, CO: Center for Ecological Management of Military Lands, Colorado State University, 2001.

Hunt, Daniel W. Greater Anchorage Area Guide Map. Anchorage: D.W. Hunt, August 1954.

“Many Veterans Win Choice Land.” Anchorage Daily Times, May 11, 1949, 1, 6.

McBride, Rhonda. “The Proper Pronunciation Debate of Boniface Parkway.” KTVA, January 8, 2014.

Montgomery, Nancy. “Voters Reject Naming Arts Center for King.” Anchorage Daily News, October 7, 1987, A1.

NorthonI, Cherie. A Cultural and Historical Geography of Campbell Creek. Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage: Alaska Humanities Forum, 2007.

“Obituaries—Paul R. Boniface.” Anchorage Daily News, June 7, 1991, B8.

“Obituaries—Ruth E. Baxter, 83.” Anchorage Daily News, November 19, 2000, B-7.


Orth, Donald J. Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, Geological Survey, Professional Paper 567. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1971.

Postman, David. “PAC Named for Slain Civil Rights Leader.” Anchorage Daily News, September 3, 1986, A1.

“Resolution.” Anchorage Daily Times. September 10, 1945, 7.

Stadem, Catherine. “Founder of Tudor Road Left Alaskan Heritage.” Anchorage Times, December 14, 1985, C1, C6.

Van Horn, Walter, and Bruce Parham. “Whitney, John D. ‘Bud.’” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage 1910-1940, 2015.

David Reamer | Histories of Alaska

David Reamer is a historian who writes about Anchorage. His peer-reviewed articles include topics as diverse as baseball, housing discrimination, Alaska Jewish history and the English gin craze. He’s a UAA graduate and nerd for research who loves helping people with history questions. He also posts daily Alaska history on Twitter @ANC_Historian.