This year's Fourth of July festivities in Wasilla are not only celebrating America's independence, but also the 100-year anniversary of the town's founding.
Several events are being held around town on the Fourth of July and the following weekend, including the annual parade through downtown. On Tuesday, the parade begins at 11 a.m., leaving from Wasilla High School and coming down Main Street, before turning onto Herning. There are great places to watch the parade on the entire route. Following the parade, the annual Mayor's Community Picnic will take place from 1-3 p.m. at Iditapark. The Fourth of July winds down at 11 p.m. with fireworks at Wonderland Park.
The following weekend is just as jam packed with centennial celebrations. The City of Wasilla and the 49th State Street Rodders are presenting a vintage car show from 4-8 p.m. on July 7, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on July 8 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 9, all at the Menard Center. Admission is free all three days. Also at the Menard Center is the Wasilla Centennial Rodeo, which starts at 6 p.m. on July 8 and 2 p.m. on July 9. Admission is $12.
Thousands are expected in town for the Fourth of July festivities, but Wasilla's beginnings were much more humble.
Prior to the founding of Anchorage and Wasilla, Knik served as a supply hub for the Southcentral Alaska region. But once Anchorage was founded in 1915 and construction began on the Alaska Railroad, Knik's viability as a trading outpost was in jeopardy. In 1917, a government land auction was held in what is now Wasilla. It was established as a central supply hub for the mines in the Talkeetna Mountains and the Willow Creek Mining District. Wasilla immediately prospered, as (incomplete) records show that almost 625,000 ounces of gold, worth nearly $18 million, were produced in the early years.
During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation and set up the Matanuska Colony in what is now Palmer. More than 200 families were relocated to the area, and services were necessary to keep the Colony viable. Palmer suddenly eclipsed Wasilla as the main supply hub for the region.
In the 1970s, the Parks Highway (Hwy. 3) was constructed and provided a transportation route directly from Anchorage to Fairbanks, essentially bypassing Palmer but running through Wasilla. This led to a boom of sorts, as Wasilla appealed to those looking for a suburban community. That growth continued through the "oil boom) of the late 1970s and 1980s, and Wasilla grew exponentially. Today, it's the largest community in the Mat-Su Borough.