June 27 – Sitka, Alaska

Our ship arrived off Sitka early this morning and, unlike other ports of call, it was necessary for it to back in to its berth

where all of the freight and supplies for the residents arrives and where a small army of private and commercial boats come and go

some five miles south of the city.

Glancing down as the ship’s mooring lines were being tightened, we notices several orange/red colored jellyfish.

However, Sitka’s greeting for tourists arriving by cruise ship begins at the pier.

The City and Borough of Sitka or New Archangel under Russian is located on Baranof Island and the southern half of Chichagof Island, part of the Alaskan Panhandle.  With a land area of 2,9 square miles, Sitka has a population of 8,881 (2010 census).

The Russians settled Old Sitka in 1799, calling it Fort Saint Michael . The governor of Russian American, Alexander Baranov (1747-1819),

arrived in 1790 under the auspices of the Russian-American Company, a colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Pail I.  In June 1802, Tlingit warriors destroyed the original settlement, killing many of the Russians, with only a few managing to escape.  Baranov was forced to levy 10,000 rubles in ransom for the safe return of the surviving settlers.

Baranov returned to Sitka in August 1804 with a large force, and bombarded the Tlingit fort but was not able to cause significant damage.  The Russians then launched an attack on the fort and were repelled.  However, after two days of bombardment, the Tlingit "hung out a white flag" and then deserted the fort. Following their victory at the Battle of Sitka, the Russians established New Archangel as a permanent settlement.  In 1808, with Baranov still governor, Sitka was designated the capital of Russian America.

As there are only 14 miles of roads in Sitka, we saw many of the residential areas during our bus ride into town.  While there are a few, seemingly high-end, homes along the water, most of the houses are quite modest and there are several mobile home communities.

Along the way, we passed several bald eagles … and once off the bus we noticed one perched high on the cross of St. Michael’s Cathedral (more later)

As the city is only a mile or so wide and half dozen blacks wide, we decided on a self-planned and self-guided walking tour.  After passing a statue of Baranov and a long Tlingit dugout canoe, we had a view of a lighthouse across a channel between Sitka and one of its small neighboring islands

an abandoned house on another island,

and spotted a flotilla of kayakers.

Heading for Castle Hill, we passed the “Cottage by the Sea” (now the Sitka Women’s Club), built in 1897

and the Sitka Hotel

After a short climb, we arrived at the summit of Castle Hill with its panoramic views of Sitka.  The hill was an early stronghold of the Kiks.adi clan. Later, successions of Russian buildings occupied the site including Baranov’s Castle from 1837 to 1894.  It is also the location where the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States occurred on October 18, 1867.

Aside from two cannon,

several plaques describe the history of Castle Hill

Descending, we passed Pioneer House, a state home for elderly Alaskans, built in 1934.  A massive pioneer bronze statue graces the front of the building.

Nearby is a grassy park containing a totem pole that displays the double-headed eagle of Sitka’s Russian heritage.  Originally proposed in 1940 and approved and funded several years later.

The symbols represent:

  • Alexander Baranov – Chief Manager of the Shelikhov and Russian-American Company settlement is North America from 1890 to 1818..
  • Russian Bear – the black bear is the national personification of Russia since the 17th century – representative ot Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and the present day Russian Federation
  • Katlian – a military leader of the Sitka Kiks.di clan against the Russians under Baranov and the Battles of 1802 and 1804, surviving both confrontations and was sued for peace by Baranov.
  • Raven – as incorrectly labeled “Crow” by the U.S. Forest Service, the Raven crest represents the Kiks-adi moiety, a kinship group equal and opposite to the Sitka Kaagwaantaan moiety, represented by the Eagle crest located under the Raven’s beak.
  • Russian Double-headed Eagle – originally intended as symbols of Imperial possession, eagle crests such as the one depicted were given by Russians to Kiks-adi clan leaders as peace offerings to ratify agreements.
  • Brown Bear with Frog Emerging from Knothole –  represents a clan of the Kaagwaantaan, whereas the frog crest is shared by both the kiks.adi and Kaagwaantaan clans

Nearby are the Sheet’ka Kwáan Naa Kahidi Sitka Tribe of Alaska Community House,

and the Sheet’ka Kiks.adi Clan’s Herring Rock.  The original Herring Rock is located on the waterfront on the waterfront of the Sitka Indian Village.  This portion was removed in 1973 to its present location.

On an adjacent hill is a replica of a blockhouse, typically on the corners of forts, of a former Russian fort which housed cannons and protected sentries from wind and rain.

Yakov Netsvetov became the first Orthodox priest of Alaskan Native heritage in 1828.  After 234 years of hard work as a missionary, nearly blind and impoverished, Father Netsvetov died in 1864 while serving as priest at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Sitka.  His grave is commemorated by a nearby monument.

We stopped by the Russian Cemetery, over 200 years old with many headstones crafted from the ballasts of Russian ships.

And grave of Princess Maksoutoff, wife of the last Russian governor, Dimitri Maksoutoff.

The Cathedral of Saint Michael was constructed in Sitka in 1848 and became the seat of the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Kamchatka in the Aleutian Islands.  The original church burned to the ground in 1966, but was restored to its original appearance, with the deliberate exception of its clock face, which is black in photographs taken before 1966, but white in subsequent photos.

Notethe coffee pot in the rear … probably not from the Russian period

Original key to the Cathedral


Ceremonial Bride and Groom wedding crowns

Throne for the first Bishop of Alaska

Today, this historic cathedral is in desperate need of repair!

Leaving St. Michael’s we passed a lonely golden for his master,

one of Sitka’s two traffic lights,

a stylized bike rack outside the Visitor’s Center, apropos for a community so dependent on the sea

and the Hanlon-Osbakken House, built in 1895.

The Russian Bishop’s House, built in 1842, by the Russian American Company as a residence for the Bishop of the Orthodox Church, it is the oldest intact Russian building in Sitka.

Orthodox Bishop Innocent lived in Sitka after 1840.  He was known for his interest in education and his house, parts of which served as a schoolhouse.   The Russian Bishop’s House, since been restored by the National Park Service.  Among the many artifacts housed at the Bishop’s House;

This is the rarest of the Russian artifacts, the only marker recovered of the 20 known to have been buried.  Archeologists recovered it at the site of Redobt St. Michael, the Russian settlement destroyed by Tlingit Indians in 1802

The local middle school has an interesting mural and photos of its current students

While the high school is about the smallest we’ve ever seen … of course it's a small city.

A colorful mural graces a local supermarket (on of just two we saw in the town) where we picked up a couple of items, a cup of coffee and two cookies one for each of us).

We stopped by two other churches, the original St Gregory’s which is very small and locked

and St. Peters by-the-sea Episcopal Church

First service held on Thanksgiving 1899

Legends have circulated around the original of the beautiful stained-glass window on the front of the church; largely because it contains the Star of David.

Heading back toward the shuttle boarding area, we walked through a park along the waterfront

where three concrete marine animals make great climbing places for kids.

During the bus trip back to the cruise ship docks, we hope to catch a glimpse of Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano which hasn’t erupted on over 400 years located about 10 miles east of Sitka, on the southern end of Kruzof Island.

Unfortunately, its summit remained hidden in the clouds today

However, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, we can see what the mountain looks like when the skies are clear.

On April 1, 1974, a local prankster named Oliver "Porky" Bickar ignited hundreds of old tires in the crater, which he had flown in for an April Fool’s Day joke.   The dark smoke rising from the crater into a bright clear sky

convinced nearby residents of Sitka, that the volcano was erupting.  The hoax was soon revealed (Bicker had arranged to have a helicopter drop dozens of tires into the crater which then lighted), as around the rim of the volcano, "April Fool" was spray-painted on the snow in 50-foot letters.  It seems Oliver Bickar had been planning the prank for four years, and lists it among the ten best Aprils Fools hoaxes of all time.

Before reboarding the ship, we stopped to grab great clam chowdah lunch at

This evening we went to a terrific show featuring the comedy of David Crowe (very funny) and then wandered over to the Billboard on Board lounge where a couple played music form the 1960s.

Another great day … and at sea again this evening … with the ship rocking gently … a we head for Ketchikan.

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