Anchorage Pioneer Nellie Brown

Nellie brown and her husband Jack first came to Anchorage in 1912, even before the railroad and tent city. A fascinating story.

Nellie Brown

In the late 1960s, one of Anchorage’s early pioneers could be found at Club 25 in downtown Anchorage located just a block up the street from the old Anchorage Times offices.

As the story goes, when the Anchorage Times Newspaper reporters got off work, they would head over to Club 25 where they would buy Nellie Brown a beer (her favorite was Olympia) and she would tell stories about the very early days of Anchorage.

The Cordova, Alaska Connection

John “Jack” Brown met Nellie Edythe Shepard in Cordova, Alaska in 1911.

The two were married on May 1, 1912 in Cordova and soon after traveled by boat to upper Cook Inlet and Ship Creek, where Jack began working as a Forest Ranger.

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Ship Creek Flats in 1912

A tent on Ship Creek that served as the Forest Service office was also the Brown’s home when they first arrived in what would become Anchorage.

Early homesteaders, J.D. “Bud” Whitney and his wife Daisy, had built a 10-foot by 14-foot cabin that later become the Brown’s home. The Browns made their furniture out of grocery store crates.

When Nellie Brown spoke of the area back then she said:

“It was very peaceful and quiet. Nothing unusual happened.”

Things were very spread out in those days. The Browns got their mail in Eagle River at a road house along the Iditarod Trail. And for supplies they had to go all the way to Knik.

In 1913, Jack and Nellie built their own three-room cabin on Ship Creek flats.

Alaska Railroad Days

In 1914 things changed when the railroad set up camp and a “tent City” full of railroad workers sprang up on the muddy banks of Ship Creek .

Have You Heard of “Green Lake”?

In 1920 the Brown’s moved to a homestead about five miles out of Anchorage on Green Lake where they built a log cabin and a chicken house. They named the area “Alderbrook”.

In 1940, the land was selected by the U.S. Army Air Force to become Elmendorf Field, now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The Browns sold the Alderbrook homestead for $2,500 dollars.

A Famous Friend

Alaskan artist Sydney Laurence had met Nellie’s family in Cordova and remained a close friend of the Browns, who had a collection of Sydney Laurence paintings.


Check out the fascinating life of Alaska artist Sydney Laurence right now.

Government Hill

Nellie and Jack returned to Anchorage in 1925 and in 1927 they moved into a cottage on Government Hill at 349 Harvard Avenue where they stayed for most of their lives.

Nellie’s Diner

In the 1940s, a surplus railroad passenger car became “Nellie’s Diner” in Anchorage. It was a success. Nationally known comedian Joe E. Brown even ate there when visiting Anchorage.

The Story

There is so much more to this story. But we’ll have to leave the Browns this way.

Jack Brown passed away in 1972

Nellie Brown continued to live on Government Hill until she moved to the Alaska Pioneer Home in Palmer. She passed away in 1978 at the age of 86 after living over 60 years in Anchorage.


You can read more about Jack and Nellie Brown right now.

North Star Gene Wilson commented on our Anchorage Memories VIP Newsletter about Joe Spenard.

“My memories of Spenard are wonderful.

Our band was the house band for The Lake Shore Club, later the Fancy Moose, the Flying Machine, etc.

The Youngbloods (“Get Together) with Jesse Collin Young played there and named a song on their album for beautiful lake Spenard.”

Did you find the story of Jack and Nellie Brown fascinating?

Be sure to check out their whole story, you’ll be happy you did.

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Until Next Time

Mike and Mary