Anderson, Alaska’s failed homesteading experiment

Anderson, Alaska: Home of the free [land] of the brave.


Anderson, Alaska might have expected a population explosion after the town offered free 1.3-acre lots to anyone willing to build a house on the land.

But two years later, the town (population 300) is foreclosing on 18 of the 26 lots, after the majority of the owners failed to develop the plots as required. (Under the rules of the giveaway, prospective owners could claim one of the 26 plots with little more than a nonrefundable $500 deposit, but had to agree to build a house measuring at least 1,000 square feet within two years.)

Of course, the town’s first mistake was pursuing a development plan concocted by local high school students, who, with just a smidgen of Internet research, could have learned that such a scheme has already failed elsewhere in similarly rural locales.

Or perhaps the town really did have the right idea, it’s just that the new owners didn’t realize the day they claimed the land (in March 2007) was relatively balmy by Anderson standards (minus-25 degrees Fahrenheit). Or that winter temperatures in Anderson—75 miles outside Fairbanks—can fall as low as minus-60 degrees.  

Or they simply didn’t think through their decision, forgetting that free doesn’t really mean free.

At any rate, Anderson Mayor Keith Fetzer says he doesn’t regard the scheme as a total disaster. With construction extensions factored in, he believes the project could eventually approach a 25 percent success rate.

“It wasn’t a complete failure,” he recently told the Associated Press. “It was a learning process.”