Sitka, Baranof Island

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Sitka, Baranof Island

by | Oct 19, 2018

The community of Sitka is located on Jamestown Bay, on the west coast of Baranof Island, about 95 miles (153 km) southwest of Juneau, and 185 miles (298 km) northwest of Ketchikan. Sitka was originally a village site inhabited by a major tribe of Tlingits who called the village “Shee Atika”, meaning “by the sea” or “on Shi”, the native name for Baranof Island.

In 1741, the Russian expedition led by Vitus Bering were the first Europeans to discover Sitka. A trading post and fort were built here in 1799, and the site was called “Mikhailovsk” for Saint Michael the Archangel. The Tlingits burned down the fort and looted the warehouse in 1802. A new Russian settlement was established in 1804 after the Battle of Sitka, several miles south of the old fort, and built around a new fortification on Castle Hill that was consequently named “Novoarkhangelsk,” or “New Archangel”. This became the headquarters of the Russian-American Company and in 1808, the capital of Russian-America. New Archangel was a major port on the north Pacific coast, with ships calling from many nations. Furs destined for European and Asian markets were the main export, but salmon, lumber, and ice were also exported to Hawaii, Mexico, and California. When Russian-America was purchased by the United States in 1867, the town was renamed Sitka and was the capital of Alaska until 1906 when territorial administration was transferred to Juneau.

During the early 1900s, gold mines contributed to significant growth, and the fishing industry brought in Filipino workers for the salmon canneries. During World War II, the town was fortified and the U.S. Navy built an airbase on Japonski Island with 30,000 military personnel and over 7,000 civilians. After the war, the Bureau of Indian Affairs converted some of the buildings into a boarding school for Alaska Natives, called Mt. Edgecumbe High School. A large mill began operations at Silver Bay in 1960 to produce pulp from trees cut in the Tongass National Forest. At its peak, the mill employed around 450 people before closing in 1993. Japonski Island is now connected to Baranof Island by the O’Connell Bridge and is home to the Sitka Airport, a branch campus of the University of Alaska Southeast, the Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, and the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maple. Read more here and here. Explore more of Sitka and Baranof Island here:

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