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Kenai Old Town history tour to get a refresh

Holy Assumption of Saint Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Old Town Kenai was built in 1894-96. In 1970, the church site was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Redoubt Reporter
Many of the local historical societies have their own museums — like the Kenai Historic Cabin Park in Old Town Kenai.

Come summer, as salmon crowd into the mouth of the Kenai River below, visitors fill the narrow streets of Old Town Kenai. Schools of tourists divide their attention between the vestiges of Kenai a century ago and the walking tour map printed in the Kenai Visitors Guide directing them to each point of interest.

Turns out, the salmon have a more reliable guide in their summer travels. Tourists relying on just the old walking tour map would be up a creek.

Kenai Chamber of Commerce Director Samantha Springer says the popular walking tour map won’t be printed in the Kenai Visitor Guide this summer. Springer joined the chamber in May. In a project to take photos to create a virtual walking tour, she and chamber staff realized the existing guide is inaccurate.

“The first two buildings were correct. But then, after that, on the map, I think only three out of all 19 or 20 buildings were correctly numbered," Springer said. "There was quite a few places where there was no sidewalk. There was quite a few places where there was nowhere to cross the road, so no crosswalk area. Quite a few areas where it was easy to get lost because the map’s not very detailed. If you've looked at it before, it just kind of gave you an idea of how to get there.”

She said there isn’t time to remedy the problems by the visitor guide print deadline in January. Instead of the full tour, the guide will include descriptions some of the obvious historic sites, like the Holy Assumption of Saint Mary Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1896, and the replica of Fort Kenay, the U.S. Army installation originally built in 1869.

Springer would like to see updated and accurate signage, addresses and directions, pedestrian safety upgrades, plus more interpretive information, including QR codes that bring up additional information about the buildings. Springer says she’s working with the city, Kenia Rotary Club, Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Kenai Historical Society.

“It would be pretty much impossible to get everything ready by this summer. So I'm guessing this is going to turn into quite a project. But what's nice is everyone who went to that meeting was hopeful and excited to actually turn it into something that we could be proud of again,” she said.

Another notable feature of Old Town is showing its age. The Moosemeat John Cabin is closed for the foreseeable future. “Moosemeat” was a homesteader in Nikiski in the 1920s, after moving to Alaska from his native Sweden around 1898. So named for his skill at hunting and generosity with his meat supply. His hand-hewn homestead cabin was acquired by the Kenai Chamber and moved to its current home at the corner of Main Street and Overland Avenue.

Springer had an inspection done and was shocked at the 40 pages worth of repairs. She says electrical work alone is going to be over $10,000. Then there’s the rotting floor and the leaking roof.

“I know that the roof hasn't been replaced. Probably ever. They've just kind of patched it. I know that there is damage to the structure, as far as some rot, and there's some mold inside and stuff like that. So, we found a lot of problems,” she said.

The chamber owns the cabin and it sits on land leased from the city. Springer says the chamber offered to donate it to the Kenai Historical Society or the city, thinking other organizations might have an easier time raising money for repairs. But no takers, she said. For now, until there’s a full renovation plan and cost estimate, the structure is closed.

"I'm just trying to do what's right and make sure that one we can preserve the building, but that also somebody doesn't get hurt,” she said. “I think that's the biggest thing is that we're not trying to ruin anything. I'm not trying to take anything away from Od Town. I'm not trying to take away history. I'm literally trying to preserve it. So, patience would be really appreciated right now.”

For now, there are written descriptions of Old Town’s historic buildings on the city of Kenai’s website.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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