March 27, 2010

Sitka, Alaska

I traveled to Sitka, Alaska in November of 2009.

Let me just say, I could move to Sitka.

Sitka, Alaska is a city located on the west side of Baranof Island, which is located in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean. Like Wrangell, Sitka is located in the Alaska panhandle. With just under 9,000 citizens, Sitka is the fourth largest city by population in the state of Alaska.

Interestingly, Sitka is the second largest incorporated city by area in the United States (4,800 square miles) following only Yakatat, Alaska (9,459 square miles).

Jacksonville, FL is the largest city in area in the lower 48 states (758 square miles).

Sitka was originally settled by the native Tlingit people, but was founded in 1799 by Alexandr Baranov, the governor of Russian America and auspices of the Russian-American Company, a colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Paul I. When Baranov arrived to Sitka, the Tlingit became immediately hostile "understanding that submission to the Russians meant slave labor to the fur trade company." The Tlingit killed almost every Russian and slave (Aleut Natives, whom were captured as slaves from the Aleutian Islands in the 1700s) at Baranov's post, which was just north of present day Sitka.

Baranov returned in 1804. For six days the Tlingit fought the Russians but were eventually outgunned and forced to leave the fort (this battle later became known as the "Battle of Sitka"). The Russians renamed the settlement New Archangel. What later became known as "Castle Hill," Russian Orthodox Church clergy "took up residency and fortress-like structures replaced native clan houses."

In 1808 Baranov designated Sitka as the capitol of Russian America.

Sitka originally grew due to gold mining and fish canning; however, it was not until the Navy built an air base on Japonski Island during WWII that Sitka really flourished. The air base brought approximately 30,000 service people to the area.

Sitka sits on two islands, Baranof Island and Japonski Island, which are connected by the O'Connell Bridge (shown above), the first cable-stayed bridge built in the Western Hemisphere.

Japonski Island (the island to the right in the above picture) is home to Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport, the Sitka branch of the University of Alaska Southeast (the main branch is in Juneau), Mt. Edgecumbe High School (a state run boarding school for Alaska Natives), a U.S. Coast Guard air station, and SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). SEARHC is a non-profit tribal health consortium of 18 native communities, serving the health interests of the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Native people of Southeast Alaska. Like other tribal health facilities in Alaska (and many of the health clinics I visit), SEARHC was established in 1975 under the Indian Self-Determination Act. This legislation turned over Indian Health Service (IHS) programs and facilities to tribal management.


While in Sitka, I stayed at Otter's Cove Bed & Breakfast (view from back of house B&B above, courtesy of Otter's Cove B & B). Otter's Cove is a contemporary B & B in the basement of a large home.


I stayed in the "Whale Room."

Otter's Cove is about 3 miles outside of Sitka and has a astonishing view of Mt. Edgecumbe (I took the above picture my first morning in Sitka), a dormant volcano on the southern end of Kruzof Island. At 1,301 ft high, Mt. Edgecumbe can easily be ascended in a day.

Strangely enough, on April Fool's Day in 1974, a local Sitka prankster named Porky Bickar flew into the volcano and ignited 100 old tires in the crater, convincing residents that the volcano was erupting (read more about the joke here:

One of the main streets in Sitka. The building to the right is home to "Old Harbor Books" and "The Backdoor" which is a book store and coffee shop, respectively. Allen and I stopped here for coffee both mornings.

A view of the Sitka harbor (above picture and below picture). How pleasant would it be to pass by this on your way to work every morning?!