Nanwalek, English Bay

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Nanwalek, English Bay

by | Jul 22, 2019

Nanwalek is a community on English Bay, a small embayment off Kachemak Bay, on the Kenai Peninsula near the south entrance to Port Graham, about 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Seldovia, Alaska. This village was originally called Alexandrovsk, and later called Odinochka meaning “a person living in solitude”, then English Bay. In 1991, the name was officially changed to Nanwalek meaning “place by lagoon”. Many of the current residents are of mixed Russian and Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) heritage. Villagers speak Sugt’stun, a language closely related to Yup’ik.

A Russian fortress called Aleksandrovsk, the first Russian post on mainland Alaska, was established at the present site of Nanwalek by men of Grigorii Shelikhov’s company in 1786, while Shelikhov himself was still on Kodiak Island. In 1793, men from the company of the rivaling Pavel Lebedev-Lastochkin, who had in the meantime established themselves around the village of Kenai, attacked the Aleksandrovsk fortress with 60 men accompanied by Dena’ina warriors. Lebedev-Lastochkin’s men organized various provocations and beat the local Natives, took from them furs that would have been sent to Shelikhov’s men in Kodiak, but ultimately they could not capture the fort. In the summer of 1794, the fortress was moved to a new, higher place, since the old structures had rotted and had begun to collapse as a result of high tides indicating that the first fortress may have been located on the Nanwalek spit. In 1798, when the Dena’ina rose against the men of Lebedev-Lastochkin’s company in Kenai, Tyonek, and Old Iliamna, the timely arrival of a detachment from Aleksandrovsk saved the Kenai colony from total destruction, but the Tyonek and Iliamna colonies were destroyed. By 1818, the fortress in Nanwalek was closed down or possibly existed as an odinochka, or ‘one man post’, although this is not certain.

The villages of Nanwalek and Port Graham are located near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula and are separated by less than 5 miles (8 km). Both villages are accessible only by air or water. The Alaska Marine Highway System provides service to nearby Seldovia from Port Graham. A state-owned gravel airstrip at Nanwalek sits atop a natural spit that divides a small lagoon from English Bay. The village has dramatic views of the active volcanoes along the Aleutian Range. Mount Augustine is the most active volcano of the eastern Aleutian arc and is only 50 miles (80 km) due west from Nanwalek across Cook Inlet. The island volcano has erupted in 1883, 1986, and 2006. The 1883 eruption caused a collapse of the volcanic cone that sent a tsunami 20 feet (32 m) high across Cook Inlet but with no damage done. Read more here and here. Explore more of Nanwalek here:

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