On an island on the outer coast of Alaska’s Inside Passage, the keys to Alaska were handed over from Russia to America. Each October 18th, the town of Sitka, Alaska celebrates the transfer, that very day in which the land was reassigned from Russia to the United States. At a measly price of roughly two cents per acre, Alaska became a part of the make up of America. The quintessential Alaskan town of Sitka saw that exchange first hand and commemorates October 18, 1867 with its Alaska Day celebrations. With ceremonies, a period costume ball, dances and a parade, the town pulls out the stops for the occasion. However, if you can’t visit for this year’s festivities, Sitka is still worth the trip to visit a number of its historic sites pertaining to the Russian-American period.
501 Lincoln St
For visitors looking to experience Sitka during the Russian American period, they can begin at the Russian Bishop’s House. Built by the Russian-American Company for Bishop Innocent Veniaminov, the structure was completed in 1842. It acted as the center of the Russian Orthodox Church in its day. Falling into disrepair, the National Park Service took over the property and restored it in 1973. Today, visitors can see one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America. A visit to the house showcases Russian building techniques while providing exhibits on the history of Russian America. The structure is also one of Alaska’s few remaining Russian built log structures.
240 Lincoln St
Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, St. Michael’s Church stands right smack in the middle of Sitka’s main street. Completed in 1848, the cathedral was the first Orthodox cathedral in the New World. The design of Bishop Veniaminov, St. Michael’s Cathedral boasts several miraculous icons, including many from the 17th century. While the original building burned down in a 1966 fire, residents were able to save a number of important Russian orthodox artworks and rare church treasures.
Visitor center located at the east end of Lincoln Street
Sprawling across 113 acres, the Sitka National Historical Park sits on the outer shore of Baranof Island. The park preserves significant sites and artifacts pertaining to the 1804 Battle of Sitka between Russian forces and the Tlingit tribe during the Russian-American period. Visitors can learn all about the Tlingit, Russian and Finnish people whom all shaped Sitka’s history. In addition, the Sitka National Historical Park tells of the history of Russia in America. A highlight of visiting is the park’s totem poles, many of which are the most skillfully carved Native totem poles in the state.