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Roadtrippin’: Spending time on the Kilcher Family Homestead

Published: Jun. 1, 2021 at 7:00 AM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 10:44 PM AKDT
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HOMER, Alaska (KTUU) - So many people who move to Alaska dream of a life living off the land and carving their own destiny. At the Kilcher Family Homestead, that’s not only what the founder Yule Kilcher did back in the ’40s, it’s what his children and grandchildren continue to do to this day.

For those who want a taste of life on the frontier, they can venture out there themselves and learn how to do the same.

The homestead is brimming with history, and visitors are lucky enough to be able to hear it from the Kilcher family themselves. Yule Kilcher and wife Ruth ended up having eight children.

Yule Kilcher was a man of many talents, based on his children’s description of him. He was originally from Switzerland and a scholar. He knew how to speak 10 languages, which came in handy.

When he founded the homestead in the ’40s, he began to make documentary films about life on an Alaskan homestead. He would go back to Europe to present them across the continent and lectured about them in whatever language they spoke there.

He did not do it alone. Yule Kilcher was joined by his soon-to-be wife, Ruth. She came because Yule had a “vision” of what life could be like on a homestead, according to his children.

“My father and mother were a part of a young group of Swiss idealists that wanted to leave Europe and start a place which was sustainable,” said his youngest child, Catkin Kilcher Burton.

Ruth followed Yule to Alaska right before World War II broke out. Stellavera Kilcher, the second youngest, said Yule was a man of philosophy. She said her father felt tension rising in Europe and noticed that throughout history, civilizations would crumble after becoming too urbanized. Hence, he wanted to build up a homestead.

He needed money, though. Catkin said Ruth’s dowry took care of that. So they started their homestead on 160 acres of land by Kachemak Bay and an abandoned cabin from a fox trapper.

From there it grew by the hands of Yule and Ruth, as well as the eight children they had. As the family grew, so did the homestead. Now it’s about 600 acres.

That’s how it will stay. Yule went on to be one of the first Alaska state senators and made it a point to put laws in place to protect the natural wonder of Alaska as well as homesteading through the Homestead Act.

Before he died, all the land in the homestead was put into a trust. His children are on the board, and the youngest and oldest children are the trustees. The land cannot be split up, nor can certain structures and buildings be built on it.

So it remains the peaceful place it’s been for more than 80 years. On the 600 acres, Yule gave each of his children a 5-acre portion for private homes.

The trust includes a 50-acre plot of land meant for a living museum where visitors can come for tours and workshops put on by the family. There, people can learn how to do what Yule and Ruth did, and what his children grew up learning to do.

People can learn how to tend crops in Alaska, build cabins with nothing but an axe — which Yule and Ruth did — which plants can be eaten and how you can store them, and more.

The Kilcher Family Homestead is a well-documented place. On top of Yule’s documentaries, there have been articles, other documentaries, and even reality TV shows produced about it.

In all the articles written and pictures taken, one person who the Kilcher family believes doesn’t get enough credit is their mom.

She paid for the initial homestead in the first place. After that, her children said she did just as much work as Yule did, clearing the land and building the homestead up. In that whole time, she was also raising eight children.

The sixth Kilcher child, Otto Kilcher, said this about his mom and dad.

“It takes an idealist to get it to the ground, and then it takes a doer to make it happen,” he said, “And so he was the idealist, I think. Growing up, mom was more the doer.”

Another point made by Mairiis Kilcher, the oldest sibling, is that there were six girls and two boys growing up on the homestead and all of them did the same work. So really, the Kilcher family is trying to make it known that the homestead is there in large part, thanks to strong Alaska women.

It doesn’t seem like the original “vision” of living with the land and creating a harmony between humans and nature won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Grandchildren like Otto’s son, August Kilcher, still live on the homestead. Granted, while many have left to do other things, August said the homestead has left a deep impression on him and his roughly 20 cousins.

“Every single one of us, despite having maybe gone off and started families elsewhere, still loves this place for what it is and what we truly believe it can be,” August said.

For those who want a taste of life on the homestead, there are even cabins available to rent.

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