HOPE, Alaska — A Southcentral Alaska community came together Saturday to recognize the 25th anniversary of the town’s library. Dozens of locals and visitors flocked to the Hope Community Library for a sunny afternoon of book signings and art sales.
Library director Susan Anderson says she’s lived in Hope for about 35 years, during which she’s seen the library become a social center for the town.
“Well, I think that when I first moved here, there were about 60 people living here, and we didn’t have a meeting place except for the social hall,” Anderson said. “But we did need someplace for the community to get together, and that started it -- and then, of course, that evolved into people being dependent on the library for everything.”
Hope, a former gold-mining town established in 1896, is now home to about 150 people. Just 16 miles off the Seward Highway near its junction with the Sterling Highway, it’s now a popular tourist stop and weekend attraction for visitors from Anchorage.
Just as the town has reinvented itself over the years, the library has done the same. When it opened, it took over a building that had served as Hope’s schoolhouse since 1935.
“It started in 1986, here in this little one-room schoolhouse, which is one of the last territorial school buildings left standing in the state,” said Sharon White-Wheeler, a co-founder of the library and a member of its board of directors.
In addition, White-Wheeler says a former generator shed nearby became the home of a library gift shop in 1991. The shop, run as an artists’ co-op, sends 20 percent of its profits to the library’s operating budget.
With the onset of summer, the library’s staff has grown to eight volunteers from the usual five in winter, with a new hire keeping the library open five days a week. Anderson says tourist season is swelling the library’s patronage.
“We have a lot,” Anderson said. “We get people really wanting to use the facilities here, and we have wireless (Internet) now, which for us is a big thing, and we just have an amazing amount of people wanting to use that.”
According to Anderson, though, computers aren’t the only reason people come to the library.
“And they want to check out books while they’re here,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of our readers who come through, and so we find that we try to cater to these people because -- you know, they have a long way to go for everything that they want from us.”
Another popular draw for tourists is a map of Hope and the surrounding area dating back to the early 1900s. It used to be on display at the Anchorage Museum, until state Rep. Mike Hawker successfully moved it to Hope.
“I believe that this piece was at the Anchorage Museum for a number of years, and they decided this would be better placed in Hope -- maybe a better place for it,” Anderson said. “So a couple years ago they donated this to us, and since then we’ve had all kinds of people wanting copies of it, because it does tell the history of the area -- and probably from the early 1900s, I believe.”
White-Wheeler said authors at the library were signing Alaska-related books, while cake was served throughout the day. Arts and crafts were also on sale in nearby tents and galleries as part of the town’s monthly First Saturday Art Walk -- but she said the event had another purpose.
“To thank Susan for her 25 years of contributions to the community of Hope,” White-Wheeler said.
“Well, I think the experience has been wonderful, having this historical building here; people seem to be drawn to it,” Anderson said. “It’s been wonderful for the community to be able to keep up -- I think that’s the most important thing we can say.”
If you go:
Hope is located at Mile 18 of the Hope Highway, which is off the Seward Highway at Mile 70.7. There are several hiking and boating opportunities in the town, located on the opposite shore of Turnagain Arm from Anchorage.