My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

Sitka by the Sea, what a beautiful community

on April 20, 2012

I have been to Sitka several times since moving to Alaska in 1996, and even lived there from Jan-May 1997 working for the University of AK Southeast~Sitka for those months.  Sitka has a wonderful history and it shines through even today.  Sitka sits out on the open coast and is typically 5-10 degrees warmer than Juneau, so spring was really in the air when I was there April 10 and 11 to work with Pacific High School, the alternative HS in town.

The City and Borough of Sitka is located on the west side of Baranof Island and the southern half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean (part of the Alaska Panhandle. There are about 8000 people that live there, and it is one of Alaska’s bigger cities! The borough is the second largest incorporated city by area in the U.S., with a total area of 4,811.5 square miles (12,461.7 km2), with 2,874.0 square miles!

Sitka is a beautiful community on the sea.  They have an amazing arts program each summer for youth, the beautiful Totem Park to explore native totems, a raptor center that takes in birds (eagles mostly) that are ill or physically unable to care for themselves, and a large population of fisherman who love the land where they live!  Both the US Park Service, US Forest Service, and Coast Guard are in town as well as the UAS campus.  Along with the school district, South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) is the biggest employers.

One other noteworthy institution in Sitka is Mt. Edgecumbe High School.  I worked with staff at MEHS for 6 years and love the school.  It is a PUBLIC, statewide, boarding HS and up to 400 youth attend each year.  Students come from all across the state to attend the school and the graduates of MEHS (mostly Alaskan Native) go on to many of our states leaders in every imaginable profession!  It is a great school.  I even got to do the commencement speech there one year!

Some interesting history on Sitka:

The name Sitka comes from the Tlingit word meaning “People on the outside of Shee” and Shee was what the Tlingit’s called Baranof Island.

The Tlingit people have been in the area now known as Sitka for over 10,000 years.  However in 1799 Aleandr Baranov the governor of Russia America made this area a colonial trading area.  Battles ensued between the Tlingit’s and the Russians in 1802 and many Russians were killed or taken as slaves.  I found this about the next attack in 1827:

“The new Russian palisade atop “Castle Hill” that surrounded the Governor’s Residence had three watchtowers, armed with 32 cannons, for defense against Tlingit attacks.  Baranov returned to Sitka in 1804 with a large contingent of Russians and Aleuts with the Russian warship Neva. The ship bombarded the Tlingit fort but was not able to cause significant damage. The Russians then launched an attack on the fort and were repelled by Tlingit fighters and marksmen. However, the Tlingit gunpowder reserves had been lost before the Russian assault and the Tlingit were forced to leave the fort.

Following their victory at the Battle of Sitka the Russians established a permanent settlement in the form of a fort, named Novoarkhangelsk (Новоархангельск), or New Archangel, a reference to Arkhangelsk, the largest city in the region where Baranov was born. The Tlingit re-established a fort on the Chatham Strait side of Peril Strait to enforce a trade embargo with the Russian establishment. In 1808, with Baranov still governor, Sitka was designated the capital of Russian America.

Sitka was the site of the ceremony in which the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag raised after Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867 after the sea otter pelt trade died out. The flag lowering and raising ceremony is re-enacted in Sitka every October 18, known locally as Alaska Day.   Alaska’s first newspaper following the Alaska Purchase, The Sitka Times, was published by Barney O. Ragan on September 19, 1868. Only four issues were published that year, as Ragan cited a lack of resources available at the time. The paper resumed publishing the following year as the Alaska Times. In 1870, it moved to Seattle, where the year following it was renamed the Seattle Times (not to be confused with the modern-day newspaper of the same name). Sitka served as the capital of the Alaska Territory until 1906, when the seat of government was relocated north to Juneau.”

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