The Dena'ina Indians have occupied this area historically, living in semi-permanent villages. The community got its start when gold was discovered on Willow Creek in 1897. Supplies and equipment were brought in by boat to Knik. From there, a 26-mile summer trail went northwest, up Cottonwood Creek, and across Bald Mountain to Willow Creek. The winter sled trail went north, crossing the present line of the Alaska Railroad at Houston, and up the west end of Bald Mountain for 30 miles. This trail, dubbed the "Double Ender Sled Trail," is still being used by skiers, hunters, backpackers and snowmobile enthusiasts. The sleds then followed a trail along Willow Creek in an easterly direction, now Hatcher Pass Road. The Talkeetna Trail also passed through Willow and was used by dog teams and pack horses. Cabins to accommodate freighters and mail carriers were located at Nancy Lake, Willow and other points north. This route was the forerunner of the Parks Highway.
During construction of the Alaska Railroad, surveyors, construction crews, homesteaders and other settlers came to Willow. A Railroad station house was constructed in 1920. During World War II, a radar warning station and airfield were built. The Trail's End Lodge was built in 1947; it subsequently became a post office in 1948. By 1954, Willow Creek was Alaska's largest gold mining district, with a total production approaching 18 million dollars. Land disposals, homestead subdivisions, and completion of the George Parks Highway (in 1972) fueled growth in the area. In 1976, Alaskans selected Willow for their new State capital site. However, funding to enable the capital move was defeated in the November 1982 election.
To Community Histories Index Alaska DCCED Community Database Online
History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development