Web posted Saturday, April 20, 2002

photo: culture

Whether you walk or drive, the Homer Tour will give you insight into life in a small Alaska town in its infancy.

Homer Tour: Close-up look at Homer's history The Walking Tour

"To many, small Alaskan towns such as Homer contain nothing worth preserving because they contain no high-style architecture, no Gothic spires. However, to those who take a second look, almost all the buildings represent local response to historical issues and environmental situations, and often exemplify ingenious solutions to physical needs...."

-- from "An Historic Walking Tour of Homer, Alaska,"

by Janet Klein and Donna Lane

To walk or drive through Homer paying attention to some of the details that have weathered nearly a century on Kachemak Bay is to bear witness to the work that created this town. Homer's architectural style developed out of necessity and convenience, based on the materials at hand and the expertise available. The earliest buildings were spruce logs cut on site or salvaged from docks and wooden boats; some still bear the tracks of shipworms. Many of the frame buildings show evidence of prior use -- scars of fire, or of having been torn down and reused.

Here is a tour of some of Homer's most historic buildings. Park at the Homer Chamber of Commerce on the Homer Bypass, and take some time to see Homer's history.

1. On lower Main Street near the Homer Bypass is the Hansen House. Built of spruce logs on one of the islands in Kachemak Bay in the 1920s or earlier, it was dismantled in the early 1930s and barged to Homer, then reconstructed. Bert and Inga Hansen opened one of the first grocery stores in Homer in one of the rooms, saving residents the boat ride to Seldovia.

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Inlet Trading Post

2. At the corner of Main Street and Bunnell Avenue is the old Inlet Trading Post. The two-story building was constructed around 1937 by Maybelle and Arthur Berry. Known as "Berry's" it had a grocery store on the lower floor and a hotel above. Throughout the years it had several owners but remained a general merchandise store, and eventually was named Inlet Trading Post. It continued to operate through the early 1980s as a hardware store when it closed for good. The owners have preserved its historical flavor, and the building now houses shops, offices and Bunnell Street Gallery.

3. On Bunnell Avenue is the Driftwood Inn. It looks like a single building, but behind the exterior lie a multitude of Homer businesses. The first business started around 1930, but was moved to its present site around 1940. Among its uses were a school, Homer's first cold storage facility, private residence and the Inlet Inn hotel.

4. At the west end of the Driftwood Inn you'll find the Olson Lane Cabin. The tiny building is something of a mystery, as early Homer residents remember it well but don't recall who built the log-and-frame structure or when. It is said to have been the casket storage building for a while, and now is a private residence. Previous owners added the many exterior decorations that give it its photographic appeal.

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Pratt House

5. On Pioneer Avenue between the Homer Bypass and Bartlett Street is the Pratt House, built in 1939 by Sam Pratt. It was arguably the first building in Homer with architectural style, owing mostly to Sam Pratt's skill as a builder. It contains built-in arched bookcases and a built-in curved telephone seat, among other details.

6. At the Pratt Museum on Bartlett Street is the Harrington Cabin, built in 1935. The log structure is one and a half stories tall and has been used by numerous Homer families over the years. The Pratt Museum has an award-winning audio documentary about some of those residents, who share their memories of early Homer. It eventually became the art studio of artist Toby Tyler, who donated it in 1991 to Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. That group donated it to the Pratt.

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Sherry-Martin House

7. Almost at the top of Bartlett Street is the Sherry-Martin House. Built circa 1948 this one-and-one-half story log home has a steep gable roof, T-floor plan and uses three-sided logs. It features a hand-poured concrete fireplace and chimney.

8. At the southwest corner of Pioneer Avenue and Main Street is the Kranich House. Arleen Kranich drew the design for this attractive two-story wood house on wrapping paper. She and her husband, Robert, then cut the lumber at their Diamond Ridge Road sawmill and hauled the materials into town to erect a home in 1944. Since then it has been home to a variety of businesses, including Homer Artists.

9. Kitty-corner from the Kranich House is the Homer Cash Store. This 30- by 60-foot rectangular building was one of Homer's premier grocery stores. It opened in August 1936 with a full stock of general merchandise and a rousing celebration on the second story. In the early years a dance hall occupied the top floor, but eventually it was converted to living quarters. The current owners have renovated the building to look much as it did in 1936, and plan to reopen it this year as the Old Town Mercantile.

10. Farther down Pioneer Avenue is the Heady Hotel-Heritage Hotel. In July 1946, Al and Esther Heady began their hotel, a large three-story building constructed of three-sided spruce logs on a poured concrete first floor. It opened for business in April 1948.

11. Across Pioneer Avenue is the Jones House. This simple frame structure pre-dates 1940. It was first erected in Halibut Cove, where the exceptionally heavy flooring, floor joists and framing pieces were salvaged from old herring saltries. The building was dismantled and all but the exterior lumber was barged to Homer, hauled by team and wagon and re-erected. It currently houses Profession of Esca.

12. Alaska Wild Berry Products has been in business since 1946, retaining its commercial use. Originally it consisted of a single narrow-gable bay built of vertical logs.

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Homer Post Office

13. On the same lot is the old Homer Post Office. In 1927 this tiny log cabin was built as a community project for a post office on Tom Shelford's homestead near the mouth of Beluga Slough. In 1936 a new post office was erected so this one was abandoned. The one-room log cabin has changed little in appearance over its 60-year life span.

14. Continuing out East End Road about 1 mile and across from Mariner Drive and the Calvin and Coyle Trail is the Thorn-Stingley House. Built in 1945 by well-driller Hal Thorn, it is one of the first frame houses built in Homer, and the first with an attached garage. It currently is Historic B&B, and is listed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

15. The last building on the tour is a landmark on the Spit, the Salty Dawg Saloon. The complex is built from three small log structures relocated to their present site after the 1964 earthquake. The tower originally housed a water tank. It is believed that the bar once was a grocery store, post office and the offices of Cook Inlet Coal Fields Co., which operated from 1898 to 1902. The smallest building, formerly the Salty Pub, is said to have been an early Homer post office. The third building was reportedly an early Homer school house. This school was trucked to the Spit in the late 1950s.

Greater detail on these and many other Homer buildings is available in "Historic Homer," compiled by Janet Klein and Donna Lane, at the Homer Public Library.