We’re a funky place, there’s no doubt about it. Between Alaska’s animals, diverse cultures, and wild weather, the state remains a mystery in the minds of many visitors. Thank goodness for museums like the three I chose, below; little places, fun and kitchy buildings, full of history I bet you never even considered. I know I didn’t.
AKontheGO strives to encourage those who visit Alaska to break out of the usual museum route, to boldly go where few have gone before in support of small-town historical societies and all-volunteer organizations working hard to preserve a lifestyle and memories of their kinfolk.
To visit a small community means to totally immerse yourself, and your kids, in the way things used to be (and sometimes still are). Odd hours of operation, slow-talking, yet deliberately kind hosts, musty-smelling books and outhouses with flies; these are the things and people woven into the fabric of Real Alaska, the one I can’t make up if I tried. And once you visit, you’ll see what I mean.
Try these places, being sure to offer a little donation to the cause, even if the admission sign says “Free”:
McCarthy-Kennicott Museum: The term “downtown” has a completely different meaning when we’re talking about McCarthy, home to approximately 30 year-round souls at last count (and probably as many dogs). Constructed in the early 1900’s to support the efforts of the mining community of Kennicott, 5 miles up the hill on the side of a mountain, McCarthy is as rugged as it gets, but simply oozing with Alaska-ness. Getting here, of course, is half the fun, since you’ll have to drive 70+ miles along a dirt road just to reach the town. Find the museum almost immediately upon walking across the bridge (yes, walking – read our blog post about a visit to the town last fall, HERE); look for the boxcar and friendly volunteers inside. Take a peek at life miles and miles away from civilization, view photos of the 196-mile railroad to Cordova, built to carry copper from Kennicott to market, and see how well your kids can do the math for weighing samples of bright copper. We spent an hour wandering the little building, and then another 30 minutes chatting up the volunteer who took our names for the guestbook. Free admission, donations welcome. Give kids a little scavenger hunt – ask them to find photos of kids playing, medicines a doctor would have used, a bed, all sorts of fun stuff is inside. Special note: Find the 4th of July party schedule of events- it’s a riot.
Talkeetna Historical Society Museum: Located in beautiful downtown Talkeetna, another community famous for its atmosphere and family-friendliness. A mere 2.5 hours from Anchorage, however, Talkeetna is much more accessible, and just as much fun, too. Stop by the museum in the “Little Red Schoolhouse” any day in the summer between 9 a.m.-5 p.m., pay your $3/adults (kids 12 and younger are free), and spend at least an hour wandering the three buildings making up the museum property. Pick up a walking tour brochure for later, then explore the creaky old schoolhouse, interesting facts about Talkeetna’s history and industry, then head out back to the excellent exhibit about mountain climbing, most notably mighty Denali (Mount McKinley). My son loves the diversity of this museum, bouncing back and forth between buildings, and no one gives it a second thought. They’re just glad we’re there. I love reading the collection of old newspapers in the reading room, and usually get caught up in the photos and stories about kids “back then.” Plan your visit around the NPS ranger talks, at 10:30 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. It’s a great way to learn more about the town, Denali National Park, and the folks who have lived here for so many years.
Cooper Landing Historical Society Museum: Poor Cooper Landing, seems like folks only drive through, unless they’re fishing, and then nobody’s thinking about things like museums. But they should, because Cooper Landing has a fascinating history, starting with the road you use to drive there (Sterling Highway). The museum itself is housed in two buildings; one is the former cabin of Jack Lean, built in the 1920’s, the second is the former schoolhouse, built in 1955 and used until 2001. Inside, take a look at some pretty interesting stuff from life in early days, from clothing to desks the kids used for reading, writing, and arithmetic. We really enjoyed the old tins for kitchen use; baking powder, salt, flour, and such, kept in colorful cans. AK Kid laughed at the bed from Jack Lean’s cabin, wondering how a grown man could possibly be comfortable in such a squeaky, creaky, shaky metal frame. He also enjoyed seeing the reconstructed skeleton of a bear, put together by the kids at Cooper Landing School. This museum is a nice break during the long drive to Homer; and we always enjoy a stop here. Free admission, but donations are certainly welcome. The Cooper Landing Museum is open Wednesday-Monday, noon-5 p.m. through September 15.
Read about more family-friendly museums in Alaska: