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Orville George "O.G." Herning (1868--1947)
The Unsung Alaskan Pioneer Who Saw Promise
in the Matanuska Valley Before the
Towns of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seward,
Wasilla or Palmer Existed

Wasilla, Alaska turns 100 Years Old


Written by Coleen Mielke 2017


Protected by Copyscape

Introduction

Orville Herning came to Alaska in 1898 and worked placer claims in the Willow Creek Mining District of the Talkeetna Mountains for the next 30+ years. He also owned a trading post at Knik from 1905 to 1917 and a general store called "Herning's Place" in the new railroad town of Wasilla from 1917 to 1947.

Herning was a meticulous record keeper who also kept a daily diary. His diaries provide a rare first hand account of mining life, trading post life, weather extremes, births, deaths, marriages, law enforcement, Alaska Railroad construction, Athabascan life, Cook Inlet travel, ocean steamer travel, the growth and demise of Knik and the birth of Anchorage, Wasilla and Palmer.

 
"Herning's Place"  in Wasilla, Alaska
Owned by  Orville and Mattie Herning  1917-1947


In an effort to preserve the information in Mr. Herning's diaries, I typed all 800,000+ words into a digital format. The project took me 7+ years to finish (because his handwriting was very hard to read), but the project was very rewarding and I came away from it feeling as though I personally knew the man. The information in the following story comes from Herning's diaries and correspondence from 1898 to 1947.

~~~~~



Orville George "O.G." Herning
1898


"Gold Fever" struck Herning in 1898. That spring, he was hired to manage a ten man Alaska gold exploration team for the Klondike & Boston Gold Mining Company (KBGM). The men hired to go with him were:

Edward C. Kirkpatrick of West Medford, Massachusetts
Fred M. Young of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts
William H. Thorne of Winchester, Massachusetts
George F. Butler  of Winchester, Massachusetts
Michael Dineen of West Surrey, Massachusetts
H. P. Daniels  of Concord Junction, Massachusetts
Daniel Coleman of  Wellesley, Massachusetts
George H. Brown of  Hope Valley, Rhode Island
George F. Burrows of Bedford Basin, Halifax, Nova Scotia


KBGM gave Herning 2 weeks to prepare for the trip to "Cook's Inlet". First, he made sure that his wife Mattie and their 3 year old son Elmer were secure in Naugatuck, then he purchased 5 weeks of Aetna life insurance and collected the following items for the trip north:

2  jersey shirts
1   tool chest and tools
2  suits heavy underwear
1   stencil  complete
1/2 dozen all weather sox
1   revolver and 150 rounds cartridges
1/2 dozen medium  sox
1/2 dozen Turkish  towels
2   pair wool pants
2   common towels
2   wool blankets
1   muffler
1   rubber blanket
1   hyd.  outside coat
1   pair rubber mittens
1   compass
2   pair rubber boots
2   dozen bachelor buttons
1   pair rubber ankle boots
1   suit   hyd.   wool
1   pair  hyd. oil tanned shoes
1   water proof hat
1   pair  felt knit boots
2   suits overalls and coats
1   hunters knife
1   sail bag
hooks and lines
2   snow glasses
1   magnifying glass
1   water proof sleeping bag
1   barber sheers
1   money  belt
1   barber brush
1   sweater
3   saw files
2   money bags
230 sheets writing paper
6   pair creepers
1   account  book   and   receipt book
1   suit mackinaw
1   oil stone and razor strap
10  asbestos shirts
1   hair clippers and  comb
1   4'  man  saw
needles and thread
1   box CR  rivets
3/4 dozen handkerchiefs
1   auger
1   flannel  shirt
transparent    window   glass
medicine   outfit
2 lb. citric  acid
2  spools    wire
Dutch   oven
16 yards   sail cloth
mosquito netting
100 lb.   12 cut  nails
magnet
24  lb.   fig    bars
5 cakes   tar   soap








Herning and his men left Boston, by train, on 3/23/1898 and arrived in Seattle five days later. They had reservations to sail on the SS Whitelaw, but were told that she had been destroyed by fire in Skagway earlier that week. It took the team 12 more days to find passage aboard the SS Dirigo, which left from Yesler's Wharf on 4/12/1898.




SS  DIRIGO
(165' Steam Powered Schooner)


Two days north of Seattle, the Dirigo entered the protected waters of Alaska's Inside Passage. She bypassed the village of Wrangell and made a short stop at the small mining town of Juneau before sailing north on the 2,000' deep Lynn Canal. At the northern extremes of the canal, the ship swung wide around a small island known as Eldred Rock, where the 150' SS Clara Nevada had exploded 9 weeks earlier, killing all 65 aboard. Once safely around the uncharted rock island, the Dirigo steamed to the northern reaches of Chilkoot Inlet, then veered east into Taiya Inlet and docked at Skagway, the largest town in Alaska (population 10,000). Here, the men inspected the remains of the burned out SS Whitelaw as well as the partially submerged "Mercury", a 193' wooden bark that had fallen victim to Skagway winds 4 days earlier. They also took a short side trip to Dyea (population 5,000) to see the infamous Chilkoot Pass where thousands of men (and a few hardy women) were climbing the torturous Pass with dreams of striking it rich in the Yukon Territory.

From Skagway, the Dirigo backtracked south on Lynn Canal and into the Icy Straits where she experienced mechanical problems and anchored for repairs near the Tlingit village of Hoonah Mission on the north shore of Chichagof Island. The chief engineer diagnosed the ships problem as a faulty condenser, so the Dirigo limped 40 miles back to Juneau and ordered the new part. While the team waited 8 days for the new condenser to arrive from Seattle, they enjoyed a working tour of the Treadwell Quartz Mine on Douglas Island.

Finally repaired and on her way out of Juneau, the Dirigo accidentally rammed a coal transport vessel called "Czarina". The hole in Czarina's side was so large that she had to be beached at Douglas Island to avoid sinking.

As the Dirigo left Juneau, she sailed past Glacier Bay and Brady Glacier before entering open ocean for the first time in her journey north. The next scheduled stop was the Port of Valdez on the Valdez Arm of Prince William Sound. Six miles from Valdez, the Dirigo ran aground at low tide, leaving her bow high and dry and her stern in 16' of water; there she lay stranded until the next high tide released her and she sailed into Valdez for the night. The following morning the ship left Valdez in a blinding snowstorm and sailed through Prince William Sound where a foot of dense white snow floated on the waters surface.

The SS Dirigo was originally built as a two masted schooner but was converted to steam power in 1897. When the small ship entered the Gulf of Alaska, she encountered a heavy storm that rolled her, repeatedly, from gunnel to gunnel for two days. The waves were so relentless that a young Massachusetts man named Burrows (from the Revere Expedition Party) died (reportedly of seasickness) and was buried at sea at the mouth of Cook Inlet.

~~~~~

Herning's first Alaska destination was the Athabascan village of Tyonek, 70 miles from  Knik. In 1898, Tyonek had about 100 Athabascan Indians, a dozen or so non-Natives, an Alaska Commercial Company (ACC) store with a Post Office. From Tyonek, would-be prospectors headed north (in small boats) to Knik, where they re-supplied and hit the trails on foot to the Big Susitna River or the Iditarod District.

The trip from Seattle to Tyonek had taken 25 days; 15 days longer than expected. Freight was lightered ashore from the Dirigo and left on the muddy beach. Herning's team went to work moving their supplies to a location above the high tide line and then built a series of tents for cooking, sleeping, and storage.

The teams first objective was to find Gold Creek, a branch of the Susitna River. Because there were NO maps of this area in 1898, Herning signed a contract with J.N.Johnston (the ACC agent at Tyonek) for the use of his sail boat and an Indian guide to get them to Gold Creek as soon as the ice was out of the rivers; it cost the team $400 (a whopping $11,000 by todays dollar value).

More prospectors
arrived at Tyonek every day and before long, there were 300+ hopefuls camped on the beach. Expectations were high and tall tales of secret gold strikes were the talk of the day. Flimflammers, selling imaginary claims and "guaranteed" treasure maps were abundant. The beach looked like a makeshift shipyard with hundreds of novice boat builders scratching their heads in confusion.

Herning decided that his team was going to need a good boat to move their supplies from Tyonek to the mouth of the Susitna River where they hoped to build a camp. The most economical way to obtain a boat was to build it, but there was no lumber available  and stories about newly constructed boats disintegrating as soon as they hit the rough Cook Inlet waters concerned the team.

Herning decided to purchase a boat, for $75, from the ACC agent at Tyonek (J.N. Johnston) who assured him that it was originally built for seal hunting and was very strong and safe. T
he men took the boat out for a quick trial run on a sunny afternoon; it handled nicely as the team rowed out into the deep waters of Cook Inlet, but without warning, the sunny weather turned into a late afternoon gale force wind. The waves brutally battered the small boat while the men rowed as hard as they could. Once safely back on land, they all agreed that a lesser boat would have cost them their lives; the little sea otter boat proved to be a very wise purchase. The experience also gave the team a lifelong respect for the weather and waters of Cook Inlet.

Two prospectors died the first week that Herning's team was at Tyonek. One (unnamed) man died from natural causes. The second one, a young man from the Patterson Expedition Party of Kansas, became gravely ill after eating desiccated cabbage. With no medical help available, the men on the beach did what they could to comfort the dying man. One of Herning's men played his violin while the rest of the team sang "In the Sweet By and By". The young mans death was a sobering experience for everyone, even the most hard-bitten old timers.

In late May, word arrived that the rivers were free of ice; it was time to look for Gold Creek. Herning chose the most practical route, which began with a two part sloop ride to Knik Station. Part one took the men from Tyonek to Fire Island at the head of Cook Inlet (30 miles). There they spent the night on the beach and waited for the next high tide. Part two of the journey took the men from Fire Island to Knik Station, an additional 40 miles.

Knik Station was barely a spot on the map i
n 1898; it had a small ACC trading post, 36 Athabascan residents and 3 non-Native residents. Here, Herning's team learned about a system of ancient Athabascan trails that laced through south central Alaska. The trails were traditionally used by seasonal hunting parties and were narrow and hard to find. Herning hired two Athabascan guides, at the going rate of $6, to lead his men on foot, over the trail from Knik Station to their new destination of Willow Creek. It took them 3 days to reach the foothills of Bald Mountain but their 4th day's progress was not as good. After 10 hours of climbing their way over and around the snowy remnants of last winter's avalanches, the Native guides seemed to be hopelessly lost. In an effort to summon help, they set a dry spruce tree on fire and shot their rifles into the air. Receiving no reply, the team set up camp for the night.

The next morning, the guides had regained their sense of direction and led Herning's team to Grubstake Gulch, a branch of Willow Creek. There, they found 5 men working claims: Lester H. Herndon, Billy Morris, Eddie Brainard, a man known only as "E'Van" and the Capt. Andrews family which included the Captain, his wife, mother-in-law and six month old daughter. Also in the area were 2 Mexican men who had been working a Grubstake Gulch claim for the last three years.  

Herning and his men spent the next week under the guidance of Capt. Andrews. They staked 15 full placer claims (300 acres) and built a sluice box that produced a good sample of placer gold, a piece of silver, and reportedly, one ruby. On June 11, 1898, Herning, and his men joined the other Grubstake Gulch miners and officially establish the Willow Creek Mining District and appointed Lester Herndon as recorder. The end of this historic meeting was punctuated with a strong earthquake that shook the gold dust off of the recorder's table.
 
After two weeks at Willow Creek, Herning and two of his men left on a supply run to the mouth of the Susitna River. Travel on foot was slow and the men were plagued with clouds of voracious mosquitoes that emerged from the wetlands along the creek's edge. Without the aid of netting, the insects were unbearable; with every breath, they inhaled mosquitoes and their only relief was a nightly smudge fire or the hope of a good wind.

At the end of the 3rd day on the trail, the men could smell heavy smoke. Thinking it might be a nearby forest fire; they found refuge on a sandbar in the middle of a side stream and waited. Within 30 minutes, they could hear the roar of the approaching fire. The men buried their blankets and supplies in the wet sand and crouched in the shallow water as the flames raced down the banks on both sides of the stream. The men were surrounded by fire and slapped frantically at the sparks that ignited their clothing. Once the fire had consumed all of the dry vegetation in the immediate area, the danger seemed to be over and their damages seemed limited to wet blankets, holes in their clothing and singed hair. To celebrate their survival, as well as the subsequent demise of the mosquitoes, the men said a prayer of thanks and shared a drink of Jamaica Ginger before retiring for the night.

The next morning, as soon as the men had traveled outside of the burned area, the mosquitoes returned with a vengeance. So intolerable were the biters that Herning decided to build a raft and float the Susitna River for relief. It didn't take long to fall the trees then build and launch the raft. However, on the second bend in the river, the hastily built raft struck the bank and fell apart, dumping the trio into the swift cold water. The men struggled their way to shore then decided it would be safer to continue their journey on dry land in spite of the mosquitoes.

Travel along the river was slow and food was short. The three men had hopes of buying food at the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC) store at Susitna Station, but they weren't sure exactly where the Station was; they only knew that it was on an island roughly 30 miles from the mouth of the Susitna River. Tired and hungry, but fearing another broken raft disaster, the men continued down river on foot for two more days. They passed dozens of small islands and at each one, they let out signal whoops but received no reply. On the sixth day, they ate the last of their food. . . one piece of bacon for each man.

In hungry desperation, the men decided to try their luck building another raft. It took two hours to fasten three 24' spruce trees together. Herning wrote their names on the tree stumps as well as the log ends of the raft. If their attempt failed, and no one lived to tell their story, the names written on the trees would record their fate. The plan was for one man to stand on the bow of the raft with a long pole and keep it from hitting the banks; a 2nd man would stand on the stern with a 16' oar, and propel the raft; the 3rd man would stand on the side midsection to help steer. The trio pushed the raft out into the swift current of the Susitna River and before long, they were traveling at (what Herning guessed to be) 10 miles per hour. Floating hour after hour, the men came to a section of the river where the current overpowered their control of the raft. The raft was now steering itself and picking up speed; they were totally at the mercy of the river. A group of Athabascan Indians, from a village down river, heard the men screaming and came to their rescue. Paddling birch bark canoes at a high rate of speed, the valiant Native men caught up with the raft, threw the men a towline and began the heroic struggle of pulling the raft to shore against the fast current. Overjoyed with their escape from certain death, Herning eagerly paid the rescuers to take his men to the Station, a distance of 2 more miles.

The 3 men were a sorry sight when they arrived at Susitna Station: one man had no shoes and his pants and shirt were nearly gone; the other 2 men only had the soles of their shoes left and their pants were worn off to the knees. The ACC agent, James Cleghorn, fed the men a welcome banquet of pork and beans, corned beef, bread, butter, cheese, canned peaches, canned apricots, crackers and tea with cream and sugar. After dinner, Herning hired some Native  men to transport the team to the mouth of the Susitna River, a 30 mile, 3 hour canoe trip, he paid them $6.

~~~~~

In mid-July, Herning decided to try a solo (unguided) trip to Willow Creek. He packed 65 pounds of provisions and left Knik by boat at 8:30 PM, to take advantage of the tides. He arrived at Cottonwood 2 hours later and camped for the night. The next morning, he left Cottonwood at 10:30 AM, on a horse he borrowed from a man named Lee and arrived at Big Lake at 5:45 PM, where he made camp, cared for the horse and slept in the rain under a tarp. He left Big Lake at 8:30 the next morning, and traveled due north to the Little Susitna River, arriving there at 1:00 PM. After a brief rest and a dinner of fried ptarmigan, he continued on to the base of Bald Mountain, where he spotted some caribou, but he wasn't close enough to shoot one. The next day, he reached the summit of Bald Mountain at 1:00 PM, where he arranged to have Lee's horse taken back to Knik by a prospector that was going that way. From the summit of Bald Mountain, it took Herning 3 more hours to snowshoe over to his mine.

Herning's team spent a total of 80 days working the ground at Grubstake Gulch that first summer. It produced 39 ounces of gold. . . not bad considering most of their time was spent staking claims, hauling tons of supplies up to Willow Creek, building dams, and whip sawing enough lumber to build a cabin and 12 sluice boxes which measured 12' long x 16' wide x 6" deep.

In late August, with the mining season winding down, Herning's team wanted to build two food caches south of Knik Station for future use. The first cache was built at Goose Bay. The 2nd food cache was built at (what Herning called) Crescent Bay, directly across from Goose Bay. He predicted major growth for Crescent Bay; with its plentiful fresh water, wood, game, and deep bay, he predicted it would someday be the "Skagway of Cook Inlet".

With the food caches completed, the men headed for their main supply camp at the mouth of the Susitna River. En route, they stopped on the beach, just west of the Little Susitna River, to inspect an abandoned Alaska Commercial Co. store building precariously perched  in shallow water at high tide. The 1898 Lake George flood had washed the building from its original Knik River foundation and floated it, intact (including merchandise) down the Knik Arm to the Cook Inlet mud flats. The building and its contents would soon be devoured by scavengers and the Cook Inlet tides.

~~~

Herning's wife Mattie had always been a very social person who loved the bustle of city life. In 1901, she reluctantly came to Alaska, only to discover that she would be the only non-Athabascan woman in Knik. She spent weeks at a time, alone with their 6 year old son, while Mr. Herning worked on his gold claim some 35+ horse miles away. Their home was a tiny log cabin with few amenities and no plumbing (water was hauled from a nearby lake).



Martha Amelia "Mattie" Herning

In 1904, the Herning's spent the winter in Seattle and were told by a doctor that their son, Elmer, had a weak heart and diabetes. Elmer loved life at Knik where there were dozens of Athabascan children to play with. Mr. Herning often took him up to the gold claims where the men made him miniature sluice boxes and took him hunting for ptarmigan.

By 1904, the Herning's were expecting a second child and Mattie decided to spend that winter in the new railroad town of Seward where there was a doctor. They bought a 30' x 100' Seward lot (on Third Avenue) for $250 cash and had a 20' x 26' (6 room) cottage built on it.

That winter, while waiting for the new baby, the Herning's hatched a plan to open a trading post at Knik. Over the next couple of months they ordered $1,500 worth of groceries and hardware (almost $40,000 by today's dollar values) and stockpiled it in the attic of their new cottage.

The new baby, George Stanley, was born in Seward two months prematurely, delivered by Dr. Sleem on 12/6/1904.


George Stanley Herning


The spring of 1904, Herning went back to Knik by himself and turned their cabin into a trading post then added 3 rooms onto the side of the store (where the family would live). They called the store, the Knik Trading Company.


Knik Trading Company  1905-1917


In the fall of 1906, 10 year old Elmer Herning was seriously ill and the nearest doctor was 200 miles from Knik by boat. Herning tried valiantly to save his son but nothing worked. He wrote in his journal:

8/11/1906  Elmer's condition normal up to evening, heart beginning to weaken, gave whiskey and strychnine for heart. Gave him sponge bath. At times he's not right in mind.

8/12/1906  Elmer very weak, refused to take food, in a coma, pulse 120, no fever.

8/13/1906  Up all night with Elmer, temperature was normal, up to 7:30 AM, when his heart action began to grow weak and heart stimulants would not revive him. Gave him 4 hypodermics of whiskey and strychnine. He gradually grew weak and the poor little fellow breathed his last at 8:30 AM. The poor little man was unconscious the last 36 hours, he died very peacefully, age 10 years 9 months, 26 days. Cause of death, heart trouble and diabetes. Never forgotten.

8/14/1906  Very sad day for Herning family. Had Forty Mile Miller make Elmer's casket, stained walnut and varnished. Bobby Kreidler acted as undertaker and knew his business. Lined casket with white satin and ribbon. Had Elmer's grave dug at NE corner of lot in back of store, lot covered in oats. Had grave lined with canvas and flowers.

8/15/1906
 Got ready for Elmer's funeral. Lined store with white cloth and Elmer's friends viewed him in the store AM. Had casket sealed in galvanized iron case which was set inside another case finished in walnut. Buried Elmer at 3:30 PM. Judge Goodell read the service, Mrs. Rowe and Howard and Goodell, Glen Names, Kreidler, Whitney, Will Row and the Judge sang. This event will never be forgotten.


Elmer Herning  1895-1906

The egg, whiskey and strychnine treatments mentioned above sounded strange to me, so I consulted Gregory J. Higby from the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy about it. He told me: "These are pretty typical treatments for the time, especially considering Herning's location." He said that "strychnine, which today we consider a poison, was a common stimulant given in very small doses. Whiskey, as well, was considered an
invigorating medicine and was official at the time. Back then, a doctor did not wait around, hoping something would work, instead, he gave all the medications he could think of to a dying patient."

~~~~~
Herning resigned his position with the Klondike and Boston Gold Mining Company shortly after his son died. He spent the next two years improving his trading post and trading with local Athabascans for bear, wolf, fox, lynx and beaver hides. In the fall, he bought barrels of cranberries and hundreds of (5' and 6') snowshoes made by villagers which he sold to the Seattle markets.

Herning hired local Athabascan's for a wide variety of jobs; whip sawing lumber, guiding, delivering mail and freight, building cabins at his gold claim, making sleds and sewing skins. He bought moose meat from them for 5¢ a pound and whole salmon for 25¢. He also paid them to make rabbit and "parky" squirrel robes as well as moose hide mittens.


In 1915, Knik was the fastest growing town in south central Alaska. Residents were banking on the hopes that the railroad tracks would come through (or near) Knik. The town had 3 general stores (1 was owned by Herning), 2 hotels, 2 saloons, an assay office, laundry, dog kennel, 2 blacksmith shops (1 owned by Herning), a boat shop, jail, church, candy store, pool hall, barbershop and more.


Knik, Alaska in 1916


When the Alaska Engineering Commission built a railroad construction camp(called Wasilla) at mile 15 of the Carle Wagon Road, it became obvious that Knik was not going to be on the main railroad route.

The town of Knik quickly became a ghost town and everyone dismantled their buildings and moved them to Wasilla or the new town of Anchorage by boat or horse and wagon. By summers end only 2 or 3 buildings remained in Knik.

Herning's diaries recorded many "firsts" in Wasilla from 1917 to 1920. The railroad tracks first reached Wasilla on 5/2/1917; on 5/23/1917, the first automobile arrived by train (it was a "Western Auto Truck" ordered for Fred Nelson). Four weeks after that, on 6/20/1917, the first passenger train came through Wasilla and the Alaska Engineering Commission sold the first building lots in downtown Wasilla:


6/20/1917  
First auction for Wasilla building lots



BLOCK
LOT
PURCHASER
ADDRESS
PRICE
1
1
Orville G. Herning
Wasilla
$50
1
2
Orville G. Herning
Wasilla
$25
1
3
Thomas M. Cavney
Wasilla
$25
1
4
Oliver Cromwell Miller
Wasilla
$25
1
5
Harry C. Shough
Wasilla
$25
1
6
Judson Allen Clark
Wasilla
$25
1
7
Clark E. Davis
Wasilla
$25
1
8
Harry R. Brown
Knik
$25
1
9
Alfred W. Lueders
Anchorage
$240
1
10
William A. Smith
Anchorage
$130
1
11
Clark E. Davis
Wasilla
$130
1
12
Henry Rohde
Anchorage
$155
1
13
Albert  Lee
Anchorage
$160
1
14
Harry C. Shough
Anchorage
$190
1
15
John H. Finley and B. Killie
Anchorage
$190
1
16
Ernest J. Warner and Alfred Renson
Anchorage
$210
1
17
Ernest E. Hartman
Wasilla
$215
1
18
Orville G. Herning
Wasilla
$280
2
1
Howard W. Wilmoth
Wasilla
$260
2
2
Charles Carlson
Anchorage
$150
2
3
John A. Carmody
Anchorage
$160
2
4
Thomas D. Corlew
Anchorage
$175
2
5
Harry R. Brown
Knik
$175
2
6
J. Harry Lander
Wasilla
$100
2
7
Charles H. Kidd
Wasilla
$125
2
8
Evan W. Edwards
Anchorage
$135
2
9
William A. Smith
Anchorage
$155
2
10
Otto H. Frisk and Iber Nearhouse
Anchorage
$280
2
11
Egbert McDonald
Wasilla
$75
2
12
George Zink
Wasilla
$50
2
13
Fred Nelson
Wasilla
$55
2
14
Louis Lawsen
Anchorage
$50
2
15
James  E. Stone
Miller House on Valdez Trail
$55
2
16
Joseph  C. Brassel
Wasilla
$50
2
17
Lawrence  F. Linden
Wasilla
$50
2
18
Oliver  W. Evans
Anchorage
$140
3
1
Oscar Tryck
Wasilla
$130
3
2
Gus Swanson
Knik
$70
7
1
John Lunstedt
Anchorage
$250
7
2
Eser Wikholm
Anchorage
$140
7
3
Mathew W. Diedrick and Alfred Shyman
Anchorage
$110
7
4
John   Hylin
Wasilla
$80
7
5
John McIlroy
Wasilla
$110
7
6
Don  S.  Rae
Wasilla
$25
7
7
Don  S.  Rae
Wasilla
$25
7
8
Matt Rooney
Wasilla
$55
7
9
Abe Reising
Wasilla
$60
7
10
Nell  Beattie
Matanuska
$105
8
1
Christian Beck
Wasilla
$25
8
2
Harry R. Brown
Knik
$25
8
5
John   H.  McCallie
Wasilla
$25
8
6
Edward    M.  Spaulding
Wasilla
$75
8
7
Eser  Wikholm
Anchorage
$90







In the summer of 1917, Herning hired Fred Nelson to build a 24' x 80' general store for him on Main Street. Wasilla was growing and that fall, there were 10 school aged children living in the area and talk turned to building a school. An unofficial school board election was held on 8/2/1917 and 36 votes were cast; Mr. Herning was elected treasurer. He immediately started gathering bids and estimates for labor and supplies to build a school, the lowest bids totaled $3,100. Herning wrote the funding request and wired it to the Alaska Territorial Governor on 10/1/1917; four days later he received a return wire saying that the project had been approved.


Two weeks after the funding approval, the lumber for the school arrived by train from Anchorage and construction started immediately.The first day of school was on 11/26/1917, with Miss Ora Dee Clark as teacher. From "pipe dream" to first day of school took, just shy of 4 months.


Wasilla's  First  School  Built 1917

~~~~~


In 1936, after living in the back of the families Wasilla store for 20 years (with no electricity or plumbing), Mr. Herning drew up plans for a "modern house" for his wife Mattie. In 1937, Fred Nelson and Jakob Metz were hired to build the house and put in the plumbing. Bill Stolt (later owned Stolt Electric in Anchorage) wired the new house, even though electricity would not reach Wasilla until 1942. As promised, the home had many modern conveniences like appliances, a 500 watt Onan generator, a modern coal furnace, hard wood floors, a lawn and above all, it had a well (the first building in Wasilla to have running water).

There was just one problem with Herning's new "high tech" house. Mrs. Herning refused to live in it. Instead, she chose to remain in the family store apartment, wash clothes by hand and use an outhouse. She often told friends that she would only move out of the store if she could live in Seattle or Anchorage.

When Mr. Herning died in 1947, the store and house were sold to Walter and Vivian Teeland. When the Teeland's retired in 1972, the buildings were sold to the Julian Mead family. Today, the buildings are on the U.S.National Register of Historic Places and  have been moved to the Wasilla Historic Town Site behind the Museum.

~~~~~

Right from the beginning, Herning was always generous with his time and talents. He had a well stocked supply of pharmaceutical ingredients, and knew how to use them since he worked as a pharmacists assistant as a youth. He was often called on to care for  sick or injured people(or animals)and occasionally carried out the job of coroner in early Knik.
In 1898, Herning and J.N.Johnston published the first detailed map of the area between Hope and Mt. McKinley, showing rivers, trails, boat routes and gold claims. Before law formally arrived at Knik, Herning was part of an informal court that dealt with local scofflaws. He was also instrumental in building the first school at Knik in 1912.

Herning acted as the "unofficial bank" of Wasilla for thirty years. He cashed  dchecks, collectedebts for people, carried lines of credit and held money and valuables for people in his store safe. He was well respected, hard working, and scrupulously honest. He had a strong memory and never forgot someone that did him a favor or dealt him a dirty deal. He is the unsung patriarch of the Wasilla we see today and the quintessential Alaskan pioneer.



Orville George "O.G." Herning born 1868 Eyota, Minnesota died 1947 Anchorage, AK
Martha Amelia "Mattie"(nee Rogers) Herning born 1869 Naugatuck,CT died 1958 Anchorage,AK
Elmer Herning (son) born 1895 Naugatuck,CT, died 1906 Knik, AK
George Stanley Herning (son) born 1904 Seward, AK died 1987 Berry County, Missouri



HERNING     DIARIES

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HERNING  FAMILY TREE

Orville George Herning born: 7/30/1868 Eyota, Olmsted County, Minnesota  died 4/18/1947 Anchorage, Alaska
                       father: Elmer S. Hurning b. 1844 New York  
                       mother: Abigail "Abbie" Kendall b.1849  Rushford, Winnebago County, Wisconsin
                                   1 sister: Clara born: 12/17/1865 (married Richard Smith)
                                   1 half-brother: Roe S. Herning b. 6/26/1888 (no children?)
                                                                  from Elmer's 2nd wife Mary R. Stafford

                       Wife: Martha Amelia "Mattie" Rogers born: 10/30/1869 Naugatuck, Connecticut
                                                           died: 1/6/1958   Anchorage, Alaska
                       Children:
                       1.  Elmer Herning  born: 10/18/1895 Naugatuck, Connecticut  
                                          died: 8/13/1906  Knik, Alaska

                       2.  George Stanley Herning  born: 12/6/1904  Seward, Alaska
                                                   died: 1987 Cassville, Barry County, Missouri
                                                   Wife: Eva Marie Fleckenstein b. 1904 California
                                                   Children:
                                                   1. Marie Martha Herning born 4/2/1932
                                                   2. George Stanley Herning born 12/23/1936



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