Area: 2874.0 square miles
Population: 8,835 (2000 census)
Sitka, Alaska's historic Russian-American island city, is situated on the west side of Baranof Island. Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano that looks like Japan's Mr. Fujiyama, dominates the horizon and tiny flowerpot islands dot the harbor. Sitka is easily accessible as it is a scheduled stop on the Alaska Marine Highway System. and has daily jet flights from Seattle and Juneau. It is also a favorite stop for cruise ships during the summer.
The name Sitka, or "Shee Atika" in Tlingit meaning "people on the outside of Shee ("Shee" being the Tlingit name of Baranof Island). Looking back upon Alaska's historical happenings, it was indeed here that much of Alaska's history was written. Sitka was the headquarters for the Russian-American Company which colonized and exploited their new found possession. Sitka was the site of the historic transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States, and the location of Alaska's first capital.
Vitus Bering, commanding a Russian expedition, is credited with the discovery of Alaska. There were two vessels in his expedition—the "St. Peter" and the "St. Paul." The St. Paul commanded by Alexei Chirikof, drifted apart from Bering's vessel, the "St. Peter," in a storm and one month later landed "near the entrance of a large sound, surrounded by forested mountains, beneath the towering majesty of a cone-shaped peak." Since there seems little doubt that Chirikof's landfall preceded Bering's, Sitka has been accepted as the site of Alaska's discovery by Russia on July 15, 1741.
In 1799, Alexander Baranof built Fort Redoubt St. Archangel Michael six miles north of the present day Sitka (near the ferry terminal). This settlement was destroyed two years later by Tlingit warriors, and in 1804, Baranof returned from Kodiak to re-stake a settlement in the Sitka area. Following the battle at Indian River with the Tlingit, the Russians were able to settle in the former Indian site which is now Sitka, and the Indians evacuated the area until about 1822.
Flying the flags of many nations, explorers and traders followed on the heels of the discoverers, seeking the fur wealth of the sea-otter. The first major development effort, however, was that of Gregor Shelikof, the Russian Merchant Prince. Shelikof organized the Russian American Company and founded the headquarters on Kodiak Island in 1784.
Alaska was officially transferred to the United States at Sitka on October 18, 1867. Sitka remained the capital until 1912, when the territorial government was moved to Juneau.
Sitka's fortunes had ebbed to that of a small fishing hamlet, until the beginning of World War II brought a naval center to Japonski Island, with 30,000 military personnel and over 7,000 civilians. Today the naval center has been converted to Mt. Edgecumbe Educational and Medical Center, a boarding high school and hospital for native children from all over Alaska.
Sitka Convention & Visitors Bureau 303 Lincoln Street, Suite 4 (2nd floor), 907-747-5940. Hours: Mon.-Fri. 8 to 5. During summer season, visitor information can also be picked up at the Visitor Info desk in Harrigan Centennial Hall, 330 Habor Drive.
Emergency only 911: Sitka Hospital 747-3241, 209 Moller Drive; Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital 966-2411, 222 Tongass Drive.
Post Office: 1207 Sawmill Creek Road.
ATM: First Bank 203 Lake St.
Things To Do
Alaska Raptor Center has become Alaska’s foremost bald eagle hospital and educational center, as well as one of the state’s premier visitor attractions. Each year, the Alaska Raptor Center provides medical treatment to 100-200 injured bald eagles and other birds. The goal is to release the patients back into the wild; however, some are injured so severely they would not survive even after rehabilitation. These birds may join the Raptors-in-Residence, providing excitement and education for more than 36,000 annual visitors and for the 15,000 schoolchildren reached through the Adopt-A-Raptor program and classroom presentations made around the country.
The Alaska Raptor Center’s 17-acre campus borders the Tongass National Forest, a temperate coastal rainforest, and the Indian River and features award-winning natural habitats for the 25 Raptors-in-Residence. The first bald eagles flight-conditioned in the Flight-Training Center have been released successfully back to the wild, and several more are undergoing rehabilitation.
While construction of the flight center is completed, much work remains. They still need to raise about $300,000 for Phase II of the flight center project. If you’d like to help put the finishing touches on the facility, please send your contribution to: Alaska Raptor Center, Flying Again, P.O. Box 2984, Sitka, AK 99835
Harrigan Centennial Hall — Exhibits portraying Alaska's history, art and wildlife. New Archangel Dancers perform here. The Isabel Miller Museum run by the Sitka Historical Society is located in the Harrigan Centennial Hall houses Russian artifacts. The prize being a diorama depicting Sitka in 1867.
Isabel Miller Museum Learn about the lives and histories of the people of Sitka—the Tlingits, Finns, Russians, and early American settlers of the 19th century. There are informative and attractive displays, a diorma of early Sitka and great photographs. 907-747-6455 web: www.sitkahistory.org
Sheldon Jackson Museum — On the campus of Sheldon Jackson College, this fine museum has Alaska's largest collection of Eskimo masks and Tlingit ceremonial clothing, plus displays of Native and Eskimo material, handcrafted vehicles, totem poles and carvings. 104 College Drive; 907-747-8981.
Sitka National Historic Park — The 107 acre park, preserves and interprets the site of a Tlingit Fort and an important battle fought between the Russians and Tlingits in 1804. As a result of this famous battle, the Russians won an overseas empire, while the Tlingit lost their independence, much of their culture and their way of life. 106 Metlakatla Street; 907-747-6281.
When Visiting the Kenai Peninsula, reserve your suite in Homer: