Wednesday, November 2, 2011

History lurks underground in Palmer

Photo by Rindi White
Tour participants got a glimpse of the famed Palmer tunnels. 

In keeping with this spooky season, Palmer Arts Council recently held its second annual "Palmer Underground" tour.

The tours are kind of a behind-the-scenes glimpse of early Palmer. On a gorgeous sunny Saturday, more than 40 people criss-crossed downtown to ramble around in basements, old buildings and historic homes to learn more about Palmer's roots. The Post was allowed to attend for free as a member of the media. Everybody else paid $25 a person.

Topping the list of sites to see were the fourth and fifth (!!) floors of the Colony Inn, both underground. Inn owner Janet Kincaid told tour participants about her first, frightening visit to the Inn's first and second basements before she purchased and renovated the building. She also shared a few interesting facts about the giant boiler in her lower basement (it heated the town at night!). Check out the video for clips of Kincaid's tour of the Inn.

At another stop on the tour, participants learned about the former scientists, since passed on, who knock around in the old Kremlin building. That's the circa-1949 University of Alaska Fairbanks office building on Fireweed Avenue. No longer open to the public, the building houses more than 100 years of agricultural research and plant studies.

Photo by Rindi White
Pipes in the tunnels below Palmer leave little room for mischief.
One of the most popular stops on the tour was to the former Colony generator building, a nondescript concrete block that housed generators and the large boilers that provided heat to homes and businesses in the city. The city water supply was also treated there and the building provided a spot for farmers to stop for a hot shower.

The generator building also houses one of the only remaining access points to the underground tunnels that carried heat and hot water to buildings throughout town. Long rumored as a hide-out and playing spot for teens, the access tunnel proved to be crowded with pipes that left little room for mischief.

The tour stopped at two private homes, inspected the lower level of Rusty's at Dahlia Street and learned of the building's varied past as a shooting range, potato sorting area, staging spot for U.S. Marshals and ballet practice space. They also were treated to a piano recital on the first concert grand piano brought to Palmer and toured the former city jail, in the basement of Palmer City Hall.

Palmer Arts Council plans to hold another underground tour about this time next year. Tickets for the three-hour tour generally sell out quickly. The arts council is considering offering other tours, such as the spiritual geography of Palmer (touring local churches) and an earth, wind, and fire tour that would stop at the Tsunami Warning Center and visit Sherrod Elementary's wind turbine, among other spots. People who are interested in these or other tours should contact Palmer Arts Council at 745-7735.

-- Rindi White

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