The Sutton Community Hall is located between Jonesville Road and Eska Creek less than a quarter of a mile north of the Glenn Highway. The Sutton-Alpine area is between mileposts 52 and 72 of the Glenn Highway, 11 miles northeast of the City of Palmer, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The community is unincorporated. In 2004, 1,154 people lived in the area, a little over a third in a radius of a mile of the community hall.
The building that became the community hall was constructed in 1927 and used as a mess hall or dormitory at the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project until 1930. It was moved to Sutton in 1954. A local land owner, Phil O’Neill, dedicated the land to the community as long as the building was maintained and available for community use. Area residents used the hall for social, recreational, education and political activities from 1956 until October 1998. In December 2004 the O’Neill heirs quitclaimed the land to Hobbs Industries, Inc.
The one-story front gable wood-frame building measures 40 by 70 feet. At an undetermined time a Quonset hut was added at the north end of the west elevation. The original building is on a concrete block foundation and has a full basement. A front gable arctic entry was added on the west end of the front, or north elevation. Another arctic entry was placed in the center of the south elevation, also in the early 1960s. There is a shed awning with diagonal supports over a door in the center of the east elevation. Several elevations are covered with asphalt shingles and one with vertical board and batten wood siding. The windows are wood framed and have single pane glass that is not original. The windows appear to have been regularly spaced on each elevation and only on the north elevation does it appear a window opening has been changed. The exterior doors are metal. The gable roof has a 3/12 pitch. It is now covered with metal.
The interior is a single large room with a kitchen area in the northeast corner, two restrooms in the southeast corner, and a stairway to the basement in the northwest corner. The lighting was updated in 1976 and the walls and ceiling covered with sheetrock around the same time. Both arctic entries have closets. There is a second stairway to the basement that is accessed from outside the building at the southwest corner. Community groups cleared around the building and planted grass and flowers between 1974 and 1976. This provided for parking and outdoor activities at the site.
Community members maintained the building until 1999. Today the building is in need of repair. Most serious are leaks in the roof. The residents in the Sutton area have not replaced the community hall and currently have no building available for community activities. The school is not available during the school day or after six p.m. The library can accommodate twenty people at most. Residents are interested in restoring the building and using it for the same purposes it served when they sought, found and adapted it to serve as a community center in 1954.
The Sutton Community Hall is significant to the people living at the Sutton, Eska and Jonesville areas, fifteen miles east of the City of Palmer in southcentral Alaska. The residents worked together in 1956 to find a site and building, build a foundation, and move the building to have a public gathering place for area residents. For over forty years after it was moved to the site in 1956, the Sutton Community Hall was used by area residents as a social hall, public meeting site, place to vote, and emergency shelter. The hall represents the start of a community and was important in development of civic life for area residents. The period of significance is 1954, the year the hall opened at Sutton.
The criteria consideration for moved buildings does not apply because the building is being nominated for its significance after being moved to its current site which happened just about fifty years ago.
People moved into the Sutton area around 1918 to work at coal mines that started when the Alaska Railroad’s Matanuska Branch spur line was constructed. The name Sutton is after a local homesteader. The railroad spur went from the main line, about twenty miles west, to the U.S. Government’s coal mine at Chickaloon about fifteen miles further east of Sutton. In addition to the area’s few small coal mining operations, between 1920 and 1922 the federal government built and operated a coal washery at Sutton. Soon after the government’s mine closed in 1922, the small private operations did as well. The railroad stopped using the spur line in the early 1930s.
Some years later, between 1941 and 1945, Sutton was one of the major camp’s for construction of the Glenn Highway. The highway incorporated the old railroad bed. A post office opened at Sutton in 1948. The road, along with a need for coal at the military bases and the growing city of Anchorage, revived coal mining in the area. The privately owned Evan Jones, Jonesville, and Eska mines operated until 1968 when the military bases converted their power systems from coal to oil.
In the 1950s there was no place between miles 52 and 72 of the Glenn Highway area residents to meet or hold community activities. The residents found an available building at Eklutna, about 30 miles away, that had been a dormitory for workers on the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project from 1927 to 1930. A Sutton resident, Phil O’Neill, offered a piece of his land for the proposed community hall. When they finished their shifts at the mine, residents, among them Chuck Shaver, Chuck Baim, Paul Johnson, John Leppanen and Harvey Hiber, hauled water from the coal mines and mixed concrete by hand in boxes they built and constructed a concrete basement and foundation for the building. Women provided food for the workers. When the basement and foundation were complete, the building was moved to the site in two pieces. The men built a small addition on the right side of the front with stairs to the basement where there was a storage room and two-seater indoor privy. The main room on the first floor was open with a kitchen area at one end.
Charles (Chuck) Baim helped raise money to fund the project. He asked the Evan Jones Coal Company owners to allow miners to buy shares in the project for $100 a share and have payments deducted from their paychecks. The shares were due to be paid back with interest in ten years, but at that time the mine was closing and those holding shares forfeited collection of their money.
It soon became apparent an organization to oversee the hall was necessary. In 1957, the Alpine Civic Club organized as a non-profit social and civic corporation. Original members included Charles Baim, Yolanda Baim, Pat Boyle, Darrell Callison, Ruth Callison, Richard Diedrich, James Harris, Elvera Hiber, Edna Johnson, George Johnson, Rodney Johnson, Florence Killian, Oliver Killian, Letha Kruscavage, Daisy Kudlecek, William Kudlecek, Eino Kuoppala, Florence Mayr, Walter Mayr, Harvey Meyers, Rosetta Meyers, Donnis Michaels, Gloria Michaels, Jean O’Neill, Phil O’Neill, Shirley Sorenson, Primo Tirapelli, Betty Tucker, Robert Tucker, Catherine Wansor, and Charles Wansor.
Over the years, residents went to the hall to vote. They held community meetings. Educational activities took place in the hall before Sutton Elementary School was built in 1987. The hall served as headquarters for the community school programs. Community college classes, gymnastics, martial arts, baton, dance and music classes were held there. Training for hunter safety classes were held in the hall. Youth had retreats there. Meetings of most local organizations including the Alpine Civic Club and Community Council, 4-H, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts used the building. Residents exercised and roller skated at the hall.
Local fairs, the annual Sutton Days celebration, festivals, concerts, church services and vacation Bible schools, garage sales, trade fairs, bingo and card games all happened at the hall. When travelers were stranded or groups visited, they slept in the hall. The building was used for weddings, funerals, birthday parties, and other celebrations.
Community members maintained the building until 1999. Bingo, turkey shoots, community breakfasts and dinners, and other fund raisers were held over the years to pay the bills. In the early 1970s the local 4-H Club applied and received two grants for a total of $5,000 to repair the wiring, replace lights, install linoleum in the back half of the room, replace the outside steps, and landscape the site. During the 1980s, the Civic Club received block grant funds to sheetrock the walls, add bathrooms, cover the roof, and carpet the hall. The hall closed in 1999, but has not been replaced in the community. Area residents want to repair the building and return it to use. The current owner, since 10/08/2007, is Alpine Civic Club Board.