Early Wasilla -

A Great Little Town

By Vic Kohring, November 12, 2014 

I moved to Wasilla 38 years ago in 1976, the year I graduated from Dimond High School in Anchorage. My family had recently purchased 8-1/2 acres on Airport Heights Drive - now called Lucille Street - for a little over 20 grand. Today, a tiny half-acre lot along Lucille sells for as much as 50 thousand. We were seeking opportunity and adventure while anticipating the relocation of the capital to Willow approved by voters that year. Our property was part of a large tract of land once owned by the Fred Nelson family, long-time Wasilla residents from decades ago.

Wasilla was a quiet little frontier town of about a thousand residents in '76, about a tenth of today's population. It was considered Alaska's fastest growing area per capita, but still very small and quaint. You felt safe and never worried about locking your front door or leaving car keys in the ignition. Today, Wasilla is the fourth largest city in Alaska, behind Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage.

Our residence, one house up Lucille from the Heath family (Sarah Palin, et al), was considered "outside town." Now it's practically in the middle of town and well within city limits. I used to play baseball and catch football with my siblings on our street, there was so little traffic. A car would pass once every five minutes, unlike today where thousands use Lucille to access the many subdivisions and hundreds of homes toward Crestwood Avenue, Spruce Street and beyond. It has the feel of a California neighborhood with a plethora of apartment buildings and expensive houses squeezed together.

Lucille Street, which dead-ended near Seldon Road, was a narrow dirt road in the mid-'70's. The hill near Nelson Street heading north by the old airstrip was so steep you had to get a fast running start in winter to clear the top. In spring, it became a serious mud hole with ruts that were difficult to maneuver.

We kept our horse "Tawny" on our property within a fenced acre. My family often rode her down the middle of Lucille and on trails through woods near Crestwood and Ponderosa Loop that today is heavily developed. We also raised chickens, ducks and turkey's. Our "guard geese" would run out and greet guests who came in the driveway. And we always had a big garden that my mother and younger brother tended. The summer of 1977 was so warm that we successfully grew sweet corn and even small watermelons without a greenhouse.

Our first couple of years were rough. We started off in a 19-foot camper and by winter, moved into an old 1950's trailer house heated with wood. We had no electricity, used an outhouse and hauled water from Gary Weber's Wasilla Chevron and Cottle's Texaco. There were no malls or major grocery stores back then, so we relied on two little locally owned stores - the historic Teeland's (formerly Herning's) at the corner of Main Street and the Parks Highway (a two-lane road at the time) and Speedies where Great Valley Thrift Tire is now located. It was a sad day in town when the giant landmark cottonwood was cut down at the Main/Parks intersection to make way for widening the road.  

The post office was a tiny place at Lucille and the Parks where Wasilla Chiropractic is. Our box number issued - 515 - was one of the first of several hundred in town. Our family was part of a group of a half-dozen families who founded Wasilla Bible Church in '76, which initially met in donated space inside a day care business on Knik Street before purchasing land to build at the corner of Spruce and Lucille, 300 yards from our home. My dad was a member of the church's board of directors who hired Pastor Larry Kroon in 1978. Today, Wasilla Bible is the Valley's biggest church and Pastor Kroon is now a 36-year veteran of the ministry.

My brother Chuck and I fished Lake Lucille with excellent results. It was loaded with salmon-sized rainbows and land-locked silvers. We took Chuck's homemade canoe and usually had the entire lake to ourselves, typically catching our limit within an hour. Cottonwood Creek was always a hot spot for reds and is where I caught my first salmon on my ninth birthday. Moose were everywhere. I remember once a bull with a 60-inch rack chasing our dog Sparky through the yard. We saw moose daily during winter and occasionally had them step on our front porch in search of food or out of curiosity. Even peering in our windows.

My father and I were in the drywall contracting business in the '70's and involved with the construction of several of Wasilla's most prominent structures. We helped drywall the Value Village Mall (then the D&A Super Mall), the mall housing Charter College (then B&J Sporting Goods which also included the town's first movie theater) and the building which today houses Alaska Industrial Hardware. We also drywalled well known developer Burt Johnson's chalet on the hill overlooking the old Wasilla airport that's now a city park. Johnson's home contained Wasilla's first indoor swimming pool.

We turned our eight acres into "Kohring Subdivision" in the late '70's, a 14-lot subdivision where I live to this day. The day after my high school graduation on May 27, 1976 as a 17-year old, I was atop a 1940's Caterpillar D7 cable dozer and began cutting in our driveway through thick woods which we later named Flag (as in U.S. flag) Circle. Always the patriots. Our equipment consisted of a Kaiser M51A2 military dump truck, a Case 580B backhoe with loader and the old cable rig. I spent hundreds of hours running the equipment we used to install a community water system, road and septic systems on individual lots. As we worked our land, we often found old blackened tree stumps from the early 1900's when the railroad burned wide swaths of land to clear for laying new track.

I feel fortunate to have lived here since my youth and to be a part of Wasilla's history. It's a great town with a rich and exciting past and enormous future potential.