In 1914, farmer John Bugge started his farm where the intersection of the Palmer-Wasilla and Glenn highways are now.
Although the Federal Department of Agriculture broke ground on the experiment station in 1917, Palmer didn’t become a bustling community until 200 colonist families arrived in 1935.
The Federal Emergency Relief Administration, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal relief agencies, established the Matanuska Colony. Each family drew lots for their 40-acre tracts. The more robust families, who were able to adjust to life in Alaska, soon realized a good profit could be made in farming. Many of the structures they built are now Historical Landmarks.
While the colonists had varying degrees of success with the project, Palmer is the only Alaska community that developed from an agriculture economy. To this day, farming plays an important role in the Mat-Su Valley.
Palmer also served as a homesteading area for miners who had returned from the Nelchina gold stampede in 1913 to lead an agricultural lifestyle. Development of the coal mines north of Palmer, Eska and Chickaloon, and the influx of gold miners heading to Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass contributed to the increase in population.
With the arrival of telephone and electric utilities, the town became even better established. Palmer became the center of economic activity by growing and processing agricultural products and by building a local hospital.
Fortunes declined during the late 1960s and early 1970s when the coal mines closed and the creamery was moved to Anchorage. Once serving as a direct connection between Anchorage and Fairbanks for the Alaska Railroad, Palmer was entirely bypassed with the rerouting of the Parks Highway.
Palmer was the seat of government until the incorporation of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in 1964.
Since the late 1980s, Palmer has experienced steady growth. Many improvements have been made in the areas of sewer, water, streets, sidewalks, and police and fire protection. Expansion of the airport and the industrial park areas has also contributed to local growth.
While Palmer has seen slower growth than neighboring Wasilla, it has retained the small-town feel and charm that sets it apart and draws visitors year after year.