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Cultural Resources at Fort Wainwright
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Annual Report: Archaeological Survey and Evaluation, Donnelly Training Area, Fort Wainwright, Alaska 2005

Annual Report: Archaeological Survey and Evaluation, 2005

Annual Report: Archaeological Survey and Evaluation, 2004

Cold Missions: The U.S. Army Air Forces and Ladd Field in World War II

Annual Report: Archaeological Survey and Evaluation, 2003

Archaeology on Fort Wainwright

Ladd Field NHL

Donnelly Training Area

Nike Hercules Operations in Alaska: 1959-1979

Fort Wainwright Downloads

To obtain additional information regarding cultural resources on U.S. Army Alaska contact Meg Thornton.



For thousands of years, people have left their mark on the landscapes of Ft. Wainwright and its training areas. These cultural remains range from prehistoric hunting and fishing camps to more recent sites: roads and trails, roadhouses, homestead locations, World War II buildings and structures, and Cold War complexes. Today’s human activities continue to shape the landscape and leave a physical record for future generations.

A Continuum from the Ancient to the Present

Archaeologists estimate that habitation of Alaska’s Interior began sometime before 12,000 years ago. The period between this time and the arrival Euro-Americans has been divided into three successive cultural periods or traditions: the American Paleoarctic Tradition, thought to reflect the movement of peoples into Alaska from Siberia beginning prior to 12,000 years ago; the Northern Archaic Tradition, thought to reflect the movement of peoples from Canada as boreal forests spread north 6,000 years ago; and the Athabascan Tradition, beginning about 2,000 years ago and continuing into the 19th century. These broad traditions have been developed based on radiocarbon dating and the presence or absence of different types of stone tools at archaeological sites. The archaeological record of Fort Wainwright lands stretches back nearly 10,000 years and contains sites attributable to all of these periods.

At the time of Euro-American contact, the portion of the Tanana River valley now occupied by Army training lands was occupied by bands of Lower-Middle Tanana Athabascans. These include the Salcha and Big Delta-Goodpaster bands and the Wood River or Chena Band. These groups traveled widely throughout the year in small groups to fish and to hunt sheep, moose and caribou.

Russian and English fur traders began arriving in the Interior in the early 1800s, and after the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867, American traders and prospectors entered the region in greater numbers. In 1903 the town of Fairbanks was established as a result of a gold rush to the Tanana Valley. The Richardson Trail was subsequently built connecting Valdez and Fairbanks, and roadhouses sprang up along the way to serve travelers. Between 1900 and 1904 the Army constructed the Washington-Alaska Military Cable Telegraph System (WAMCATS) to provide better communications. Agriculture also gained a foothold in the Tanana Valley, and by the 1920s, the Alaska Railroad and commercial aviation were expanding transportation in the Interior.

In 1939, construction began on Ladd Field, an Army Air Corps cold weather test station adjacent to Fairbanks. During World War II, Ladd Field played a pivotal role in the transfer of U.S. lend-lease aircraft to the Soviet Union. Following the war, Ladd Field was known as Ladd Air Force Base, and was responsible for air defense operations in Alaska’s northern sector. Its other Cold War missions included photo, electronic, and weather reconnaissance; cold weather testing; logistic support of auxiliary sites; and support of scientific research and the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory. In 1961, Ladd Air Force Base was turned over to the Army and renamed Fort Jonathan Wainwright. As an Army post during the Cold War, Ft. Wainwright hosted aviation, infantry, and artillery units participating in the defense of Alaska. With the activation of the 6th Infantry Division (Light) in 1986, worldwide deployment was added to the mission. The evolution of the Army’s role continues today under USARAK and the SBCT transformation.

Resources from the Distant and Recent Past

Today Fort Wainwright includes a cantonment and three major training areas: the Donnelly Training Area, Yukon Training Area, and Tanana Flats. Cultural resources on Ft. Wainwright and its training lands include archaeological sites and districts, as well as historic buildings and structures which provide tangible links to the activities of the past.

The Ladd Field National Historic Landmark, designated in 1985, commemorates the national significance of the World War II missions at the airfield. In recognition of the significance Ladd Air Force Base played in the early years of the Cold War, 1947-1961, a historic district consisting of Cold War properties has also been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

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