Most everyone knows the story of the naming of Homer, and how in April 1896, 50 men and one woman, Della Banks, came with the Alaska Gold Mining Company and settled on the Homer Spit. Needing a name for a post office, the crew decided to name it after Homer Pennock, one of the group.
Not as well known, though, are earlier incarnations of Homer: Uzintun, or “extends out into distance,” the Dena’ina name for the Spit; Mys Ugolnoy, or Coal Cape, the Russian name; Coal Bay, a mining camp at the base of the Spit; and even Andersonville, a tent camp.
At 2 p.m. Saturday at Coal Point Park, the Parks and Recreation Commission celebrates its annual Parks Day with historical presentations and exhibits about Homer’s early history. Now connected to the Spit trail, there also will be a walk along the trail with food available from harbor vendors.
From 1892 to 1902, the Spit hummed with activity as a series of companies explored for and mined coal. Coal Point, the end of the Spit the Russians called Coal Cape, became the hub of business. At one point, a 300-foot dock, a railroad roundhouse, a store and about 20 buildings once stood at what’s now the mouth of the Homer Harbor and Land’s End Resort.
In 1967, the city of Homer and the Alaska Centennial Commission established one of Homer’s first parks, Coal Point Park. A spot of green at the end of Fish Dock Road, the park has a few benches, some landscaping and a plaque noting the history of the area. Dave Brann, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said the city will be sprucing up the park a bit. With no sign directing people to the park on the Spit Road, Coal Point Park is hard to find. Brann also is a local expert on the early mining days of Coal Point.
“Most people don’t know there’s a park there,” Brann said. “It’s just a place to park your car.”
Kachemak Bay’s north shore doesn’t have a lot of prehistoric archaeological sites, but historian Janet Klein said one site, a shell midden, was found at Green Timbers, the forested park destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. The Dena’ina called the Spit “Uzintun,” meaning “extends into distance.” In 1852, Russian explorer Capt. Mikhail Tebenkov named the Spit “Mys Ugolnoy,” or Coal Cape.
In 1892, the North Pacific Mining and Transportation Company and the Alaska Coal Company established a town at the base of the Spit near Kachemak Drive they called Coal Bay. Maps now show Coal Bay to be the land between the Spit and the shore, with Mud Bay the inner bay closest to the road. Coal Bay had several houses and a store. In 1895, when William Dall visited Kachemak Bay with a U.S. Geological Survey expedition, he found Coal Bay abandoned, but the two mining companies working at McNeil Canyon and Eastland Canyon.
In 1896, mining picked up again with Pennock’s crew. They weren’t the only visitors to Homer, though. Brann said that spring about 14 ships sailed into Cook Inlet, taking miners up to the Hope and Sunrise gold fields on Turnagain Arm. Thick ice blocked the way.
“One of the captains dropped the miners off here at the end of the Spit and said, ‘We’ll see you,’” Brann said.
That was the Utopia, with Capt. John Anderson. The 800 miners begged Anderson for old sails to build tents. The temporary tent city was called Andersonville.
“They were the original Spit Rats,” Brann said.
By 1897, the North Pacific and Alaska Coal mining companies quit operating. In 1899, another company got a patent to area coal fields and came up that spring. The Cook Inlet Coal Fields Company had a lot of ambition. It built not only a 300-foot dock, but 20 buildings, a roundhouse and about an 8-mile small gauge railroad from the Spit along the beach and bench to Coal Creek, now known as Bidarka Creek, near the bottom of West Hill Road. No. 2037, an HK Porter 040 Saddle Tank Engine, hauled coal. In 1902, the CICF went bankrupt.
“There were a lot of issues that had to do with coal leases,” Brann said. “It was one of those political mining deals.”
A succession of companies bought CICF’s rolling stock and the town. Eventually the Miller Machinery Company hauled the railroad and engine back to Seattle. By 1905, Homer’s first postmaster, Steven Penberthy, was the town watchman and only inhabitant.
So what happened to the original town buildings?
Some stories say a fire in the 1910s burned down the abandoned CICF buildings. A photo taken in 1931 by archaeologist Frederica de Laguna shows the town still standing. Klein said she thinks later settlers salvaged the buildings.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Coal Point Park
Parks Day Celebration
2 p.m. Saturday
End of Fish Dock Road on the Homer Spit
Historical presentations, model locomotive display, historic photos
History of Coal Point and Coal Bay
1852: Russian explorer Capt. Mikhail Tebenkov names the end of the Homer Spit “Mys Ugolnoy,” or “Coal Cape.” The Dena’ina call it “Uzintun.”
1892: The North Pacific Mining and Transportation Company and the Alaska Coal Company establish the town site of Coal Bay at the base of the Homer Spit.
1896: Homer Pennock and the Alaska Gold Mining Company arrive at the Homer Spit. They agree to name the town “Homer” after Pennock. Capt. John Anderson drops off 800 miners on the Spit and they build a tent camp.
1897: The North Pacific Mining and Transportation Company and the Alaska Coal Company cease operating.
1899-1900: The Cook Inlet Coal Fields Company (CICF) builds the first town of Homer and an 8-mile small-gauge railroad track to Coal Creek, now known as Bidarka Creek. It goes bankrupt in 1903.
1904-13: The Miller Machinery Company eventually buys CICF and ships its rolling stock to Seattle.
1905: Stephen Penberthy, part of Pennock’s crew, remains as the lone caretaker on the Spit.