The town of Sitka, located on
the west coast of Baranof Island, overlooks the calm waters
of Sitka Sound and the sloping Mt. Edgecumbe, a 3,102-foot
by Megan Litwin).
image for a larger view.
Location: Lat. 57E 03' N,
Long. 135E 20' W
Area: 2,882 square miles
Industry: Fishing, fish processing, tourism,
government transportation, education, health care.
Access: Air, sea, year-round ferry
Alaska Native Affiliation: Tlingit
Alaska Native Regional Corporation: Sealska
Weather: Summer temperatures range between 48 and 61
degrees Fahrenheit, winter temperatures between 23 and 35
degrees. Average annual precipitation is 96
- Sitka, originally a large Tlingit
community, was called "Shee Atika." The name may have
meant "bend of the branch or edge," referring to the
perceived shape of that part of Baranov Island occupied by early
- In 1799, Alexander Baranov of the Russian
American Company arrived in Sitka with a band of Russian solders
Baranov and his men bargained for land that they settled and
named Archangel. A large Tlingit army stormed and burned the
warehouse at Archangel in 1802.
- In 1804, Russian reinforcements,
led by the returning Baranov regained the area, destroying the
near-by Tlingit Village. The Tlingits
retreated and did not return to the area to live for more
than twenty years. The Russians built a town on the site, seven
from the original settlement. They called it New Archangel,
although it was known locally as Sitka. In 1826, the Chief Manager
it was simpler to allow the people to return to part of their
old village where he could keep an eye on them. A stockade
to divide the two parts of the town.
- In 1808 Sitka was declared the colonial
capital of Russian America when the Russian American Company
moved its headquarters
- Education opportunities flourished early
in Sitka. The first school at Sitka opened in 1810. A school
for girls opened in
1839. Presbyterian Minister Sheldon Jackson founded a school in 1878.
- With increased
shipping traffic, Sitka soon became a town with an international
feel. It was not uncommon to find Sitkans fluent in English, Russian
and French, and to visit homes graced with Flemish linen or British plate.
Theater and art
flourished in a town that was known, for a time, as "the Paris
of the Pacific."
- In 1867, Sitka was again designated
the capital when the United States purchased Alaska. It held
this honor until
government operations were
moved to the boomtown
of Juneau, 1902-1906.
- By 1900, Sitka had passed its heyday
as a major port when fish and furs were shipped from its docks.
- Harriman passengers
disembarked the Elder mid-morning in a downpour.
They were impressed by the colorful, bulbous spires of
the Russian Orthodox church and the interesting mix of
Tlingit and European influences in the town.
- Several in the Harriman party noted that
the townspeople were different from the rough-edged sort they had encountered
at previous stops. The people were more educated and refined, and many
had come from the U.S. before the gold rush. But Sitka's Tlingit population
occupied the lowest social position. They lived in rough huts on the
outskirts of town, and were required to attend strictly segregated schools
and churches. William Dall posited that, though the segregation was
a questionable practice, it was better than the treatment the Tlingits
in this area had received under Russian rule.
- At the turn of the century Sitka's major
industries were fish processing, port services and timber. Quartz and
gold mining bolstered and diversified this economy, as did the whaling
industry, based at nearby Port Armstrong. In the 1920s, the U.S. Whaling
Company took 315 whales from surrounding waters, using the carcasses
for oil and fertilizer. Commercial fishing is still a major industry,
with 600 commercial fishing permits in town. Health care, education
and government are also significant employers in the area.
- During World War II, a naval
base was built on nearby Japonski Island, and 37,000
military civilians and civilian personnel settled in the
area.. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to be a major
- Another long-time major
employer, Alaska Pulp Corporation, closed in the early
1990s, leaving 400 people jobless. Luckily, the diverse
economy was able to cushion this blow, and the town has
recovered, partly because of its growing tourist trade.
Always a magnet for visitors, Sitka is now a central port
of call for cruise boats. Over 200,000 passengers visit
each summer, and the cruise industry brings approximately
$11 million to Sitka each year.
- Access and transportation
are of concern in Sitka these days. Currently the Alaska
Marine Highway, a system of coastal ferries, is the sole
transportation infrastructure for roadless southeastern
Alaska, but trips to Juneau and Ketchikan can take up to
twenty hours. By 2003, Sitka will have a new "fast ferry"
system, one that cuts twelve hours off that travel time.
Faster service will mean access to cheaper goods and
better services, but it will also mean more traffic in a
town already taxed by tourism.
the Sitka daily log entry)