• Public invited 2 p.m. Saturday to Coal Point Park
By Naomi Klouda
Coal Point Park carries the memories of Homer’s first settlement, a tip on the Homer Spit that bustled in the early 1900s by regular runs of railroaded coal to load on waiting barges. For a short time, Homer’s coal warmed people in San Francisco and other points south.
Relics from Homer’s coal town beginnings remain scattered around Homer, including an original building serving patrons of the Salty Dawg Saloon and rusting rail cars that hauled coal. Another remembrance tucked away amid busy fishing industry labors is a park the City of Homer hopes to spotlight in new attentions.
The Homer Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission plans its Park Day Celebration this Saturday, starting at 2 p.m. at Coal Point Park. The park is on Fish Dock Road near the end of the Homer Spit; a hidden jewel described as a “lovely small park next to the fish dock with excellent views of the harbor. This is a great spot to watch the boats come and go from the harbor and see fish being unloaded at the Fish Dock,” by the City of Homer.
“The primary reason we picked this park to highlight is repurposing it as the Coal Point Park,” said Parks and Rec Commissioner Matt Steffy. “It’s a big part of Homer history. We want to put up interpretive signs that explain the history and the railroad that came here because of the coal industry.”
Watch for the signs a bit later, as the Pratt Museum and the Commission will collaborate to select material, Steffy said.
At the turn of the 20th century, the point of land boardering the harbor’s entrance saw a lot of coming and going in the fitful starts and stops of the coal industry. The industry closed in 1905. Several natural barriers kept the jutting piece of land from being an ideal town site.
Historian Janet Klein wrote that life on the Homer Spit proved difficult. To get fresh drinking water, one had to travel by boat to the base of the Spit or to a waterfall on the other side of Kachemak Bay.
Transportation also proved difficult. as did the prevailing winds of summer and cold, blustery winters.
Della Murray Banks — wife of an Alaska Gold Mining Co., crew member and the only woman on the Spit in 1896 — recalled it was the most desolate spot she had ever seen.
In her diary, Banks gives the account of how Homer was named.
“It was about this time (1896) that the question arose as to the name of our settlement,” she wrote. “The post office we expected to have couldn’t just be termed ‘The Spit.’ In the general room the men discussed several names and J.E. Guilbault exclaimed, ‘Why not call it Homer after you, Pennock?’”
Pennock apparently liked the idea rather well.
And so Homer took the name of a not-too-successful promoter, whose talents rested in others area. He was known as “the most talented confidence man that ever operated on this continent,” Klein wrote, quoting a 1922 author named Bruce Cotten.
Today, the small Coal Point Park, wedged between the Fish Dock and what remains of the famous fish processing facilities on the Homer Spit, is an often-overlooked public place, said Parks and Rec Commissioner Roger MacCampbell.
“A lot of people don’t know it is there,” MacCampbell said. “This is a chance for public education and to take a day hike or walk on the new trail.”
Each year, the commission highlights a different park or the volunteers who prove indispensable to their maintenance. Last year, Steffy said they chose to cast their appreciation for volunteers through a series of newspaper advertisements thanking individuals. The year before, the commission celebrated Karen Hornaday Park, which brought the entire community together to build a new playground.
This year, the Coal Point Park celebration ties in with marking the completion of the Homer Spit Trail in a walk to the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon. The trail was built from cruise ship tax money and ties in with the existing Homer Spit Trail that attracts bicyclists, joggers, pedestrians and marks the Homer Spit Run route from the Spit’s base.
The Pratt Museum also plans to offer historic photos and presentations to impart stories about the role the area played as Homer’s first community.
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