Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek

Exploring the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area: Old Primrose Bridge

f19-11964 EARTHQUAKE / LIFE IN THE 1960’s

Location:    Old Primrose Bridge, just south of Mile 17

Turn off at Primrose Campground.  Stop at end of pavement.

Short Description: This site is marvelous for honing the detective skills.  There are enough clues that just hint to a bigger story about life in the early 1960s.

Required Equipment: Curiosity and brain cells

Suggested Equipment: Clipboard for observations

Safety Consideration: Students will be in a rough area between road bed and slough. Water isn’t deep but it is wet.

Other Info: Tell students to begin taking observations immediately after turning into Primrose, off the highway.

Instructional Suggestions: 

As soon as the bus leaves the highway, students should be making observations. The main one that they should note is that the road is improved and paved but then this stops abruptly at a corner. (Park at the pull off at the junction of the paved/gravel road).


After disembarking the bus, find power pole T-190 (this a short distance down the road.) Caution students about off road footing (steep and loose gravel) and to stay back from slough. Have them enter this area and make their own careful observations. There’s a story here . . . can they figure it out.


Inquiry Prompts:  What’s Going On Here?

There are several visual clues in the immediate area that the students might observe.  The main ones are these:

  • Concrete Bridge Abutment
  • Pilings in water (some intact; some are not)
  • Telephone cord
  • Trees between abutment and slough appear younger than adjacent trees.
  • There’s more . . . but these are the main ones to help tell the story.

The Story: 

This bridge was from the original Seward Highway. The paved portion that the bus first traveled on was the original roadbed. The road turned sharply here then bore straight across in a 1/2 mile long wooden piled bridge across the Snow River.

It stood the test of time and lived through many jakaloupes and raging floods. But it couldn’t withstand the power of the 1964 earthquake.

This bridge, like others in the area, failed and dropped down, forcing the pilings  through the roadbed. In order to restore traffic, the Army Corps of Engineers built a gravel pad to serve as a temporary roadway for traffic.

But alas . . .  the rest of the story:

(As conveyed by Tom Gillespie life long Seward resident)

Did you notice the telephone cord? That factors into the story as well.

Tom Gillespie was friends with John Deck whose family was one of those who lived in the Primrose area. Now John’s father was one of about 300 long shore men that worked in the Seward harbor (remember, prior to the earthquake, Seward truly was the gateway to Alaska, being the major port for the transport of materials into the state.)

None of the families had phones in their homes but there was a community phone — right under the bridge abutment. Every day John’s father needed to go down to the bridge and make a call to see if any boats were in that day.

In a time of high speed internet and cell phones, it’s important to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that communication was not so wide spread or simple.

Want More?


Assemble back at the roadway and look across the valley to the mountains above the Snow River. There are two things you might notice. First, a large swath of new vegetation covering a slide area. This land slide happened in the early 70s during heavy rainfall. The debris covered both the railroad tracks and the highway closing the transportation route to and from Seward for several days.

Keep looking higher and perched on the shoulder of the mountain and you’ll see a small square structure. This apparatus was a relay station for television in the 1960s. According to Gillespie, reception was often compromised— especially during heavy snows.