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Sitka, Alaska

Tlingit: Sheetʼká
Russian: Ситка
Consolidated city-borough
City and Borough of Sitka
Downtown Sitka in 1984
Downtown Sitka in 1984
Map of Alaska highlighting Sitka City and Borough.svg
State  Alaska
Colonized 1799, 1804
Incorporated November 5, 1913 (city)
September 24, 1963
December 2, 1971
(unified municipality)
 • Consolidated city-borough 4,815.14 sq mi (12,471.16 km2)
 • Land 2,870.06 sq mi (7,433.42 km2)
 • Water 1,945.09 sq mi (5,037.75 km2)
 • Urban
2 sq mi (5 km2)
26 ft (8 m)
 • Consolidated city-borough 8,458
 • Density 2.95/sq mi (1.14/km2)
 • Urban
Time zone UTC−9 (Alaska)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−8 (Alaska)
Area code 907
FIPS code 02-70540
GNIS feature ID 1414736

Sitka (Tlingit: Sheetʼká; Russian: Ситка) is a unified city-borough in the southeast portion of the U.S. state of Alaska. It was formerly known as New Archangel (Russian: Ново-Архангельск / Новоaрхангельск) while under Russian rule from 1799 to 1867. The city is situated on the west side of Baranof Island and the south half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean (part of the Alaska Panhandle). As of the 2020 census, Sitka had a population of 8,458, the fifth-most populated city in the state.

With a consolidated land area of 2,870.3 square miles (7,434 square kilometers) and total area (including water) of 4,811.4 square miles (12,461 km2), Sitka is the largest city-borough by total area in the U.S.


The current name Sitka (derived from Sheet’ká, a contraction of the Tlingit Shee At'iká) means "People on the Outside of Baranof Island", whose Tlingit name is Sheet’-ká X'áat'l (here contracted to Shee).

Sitka's location was originally settled by the Tlingit people over 10,000 years ago.

Russian America

New Archangel, 1805
New Archangel, 1805
1827 illustration of Castle Hill (Old Sitka, Alaska) by Postels
Gajaa Héen (Old Sitka), circa 1827. The new Russian palisade atop "Castle Hill" (Noow Tlein) that surrounded the Governor's Residence had three watchtowers, armed with 32 cannons, for defense against Tlingit attacks.

The Russians settled Old Sitka in 1799, calling it Redoubt Saint Michael (Russian: форт Архангела Михаила, t Fort Arkhangela Mikhaila). The governor of Russian America, Alexander Baranov, arrived under the auspices of the Russian-American Company, a colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Paul I. In June 1802, Tlingit warriors destroyed the original settlement, killing many of the Russians, with only a few managing to escape. Baranov was forced to levy 10,000 rubles in ransom for the safe return of the surviving settlers.

Baranov returned to Sitka in August 1804, with a large force, including Yuri Lisyansky's Neva. The ship bombarded the Tlingit fort on the 20th, but was not able to cause significant damage. The Russians then launched an attack on the fort and were repelled. However, after two days of bombardment, the Tlingit "hung out a white flag" on the 22nd, and then deserted the fort on the 26th.

Following their victory at the Battle of Sitka, the Russians established New Archangel as a permanent settlement named after 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.

Bishop Innocent lived in Sitka after 1840. He was known for his interest in education, and his house, parts of which served as a schoolhouse, the Russian Bishop's House has since been restored by the National Park Service as part of the Sitka National Historical Park.

The Cathedral of Saint Michael was built in Sitka in 1848 and became the seat of the Russian Orthodox bishop of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands, and Alaska. The original church burnt to the ground in 1966, but was restored to its original appearance, with the deliberate exception of its clockface, which is black in photographs taken before 1966, but white in subsequent photos.

Swedes, Finns and other Lutherans worked for the Russian-American Company, and the Sitka Lutheran Church, built in 1840, was the first Protestant church on the Pacific coast. After the transition to American control, following the purchase of Alaska from Russia by the United States in 1867, the influence of other Protestant religions increased, and Saint-Peter's-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church was consecrated as "the Cathedral of Alaska" in 1900.

Territorial Alaska

Sitka was the site of the transfer ceremony for the Alaska purchase on October 18, 1867. Russia was going through economic and political turmoil after it lost the Crimean War to Britain, France, and Turkey in 1856 and decided it wanted to sell Alaska before it got taken over by Britain. Russia offered to sell it to the United States. Secretary of State William Seward had wanted to purchase Alaska for quite some time as he saw it as an integral part of Manifest Destiny and America's reach to the Pacific Ocean. While the agreement to purchase Alaska was made in April 1867, the actual purchase and transfer of power took place on October 18, 1867. The cost to purchase Alaska was $7.2 million.

Sitka served as the capital of the Alaska Territory until 1906, when the seat of government was relocated north to Juneau.

Alaska Native Brotherhood, Alaska Native Sisterhood

The Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded in Sitka in 1912 to address racism against Alaska Native people in Alaska. By 1914 the organization had constructed the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall on Katlian Street, which was named after a Tlingit war chief in the early period of Russian colonization.

World War II

In 1937, the United States Navy established the first seaplane base in Alaska on Japonski Island. In 1941, construction began on Fort Ray, an army garrison to protect the Naval air station. Both the Army and Navy remained in Sitka until the end of WWII, when the Army-base was put into caretaker status. The Naval station in Sitka was deactivated in June 1944.

Alaska Pulp Corporation

The Alaska Pulp Corporation was the first Japanese investment in the United States after WWII. In 1959 it began to produce pulp harvested from the Tongass National Forest under a 50-year contract with the US Forrest Service. At its peak, the mill employed around 450 people before closing in 1993

Sitka's Filipino community established itself in Sitka before 1929. It later became institutionalized as the Filipino Community of Sitka in 1981.

Gold mining and fish canning paved the way for the town's initial growth. Today Sitka encompasses portions of Baranof Island and the smaller Japonski Island (across the Sitka Channel from the town), which is connected to Baranof Island by the O'Connell Bridge. The John O'Connell Bridge was the first cable-stayed bridge built in the Western Hemisphere. Japonski Island is home to Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport (IATA: SIT; ICAO: PASI), the Sitka branch campus of the University of Alaska Southeast, Mt. Edgecumbe High School (a state-run boarding school for rural Alaskans), Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium's Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital, a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka, and the port and facilities for the USCGC Maple.


Sitka Harbor
A view of Sitka's Crescent Harbor, Indian River valley and, in the background, The Sisters.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough is the largest incorporated city by area in the U.S., with a total area of 4,811 square miles (12,460.4 km2), of which 2,870 square miles (7,400 km2) is land and 1,941 square miles (5,030 km2) (40.3%) is water.

Sitka displaced Juneau, Alaska as the largest incorporated city by area in the United States upon the 2000 incorporation with 2,874 square miles (7,440 km2) of incorporated area. Juneau's incorporated area is 2,717 square miles (7,040 km2). Jacksonville, Florida, is the largest city in area in the contiguous 48 states at 758 square miles (1,960 km2).


  • Sitka has an oceanic climate (Köppen Cfb) with moderate, but generally cool, temperatures and abundant precipitation.
  • Average annual precipitation is 131.74 inches (3,350 mm); average seasonal snowfall is 33 inches (84 cm), falling on 233 and 19 days respectively.
  • The mean annual temperature is 45.3 °F (7.4 °C), with monthly means ranging from 36.4 °F (2.4 °C) in January to 57.2 °F (14.0 °C) in August.
  • Only 5.1 days per year see highs at or above 70 °F (21 °C); conversely, there are only 10 days with the high not exceeding freezing.
  • Extremes range from a −1 °F (−18.3 °C) low overnight on February 16–17, 1948, and a high of 88 °F (31.1 °C) July 30, 1976.
  • The winters are extremely mild compared to inland areas of similar and much more southerly parallels due to the intense maritime moderation. The relatively mild nights ensure that four months stay above the 50 °F (10 °C) isotherm that normally separates inland areas from being boreal in nature. Overall, the climate is like that of Fort William in Scotland.
  • Due to the mild winter nights, plant hardiness is high for the latitude.
Climate data for Sitka, Alaska (Japonski Island, 1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 60
Average high °F (°C) 40.5
Daily mean °F (°C) 36.4
Average low °F (°C) 32.3
Record low °F (°C) 0
Precipitation inches (mm) 8.74
Snowfall inches (cm) 9.1
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 22.0 16.8 18.7 17.2 17.5 15.5 18.6 19.4 22.3 24.4 21.6 21.0 235
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 4.8 4.0 3.3 0.8 0.1 0 0 0 0 0.4 3.3 2.7 19.3
Source: NOAA


Sitka, 1805
New Archangel and Sitka, 1805

Mount Edgecumbe, a 3,200-foot (980 m) dormant stratovolcano, is located on southern Kruzof Island. It can be seen on a clear day from Sitka.

Adjacent boroughs and census areas

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 916
1890 1,190 29.9%
1900 1,396 17.3%
1910 1,039 −25.6%
1920 1,175 13.1%
1930 1,056 −10.1%
1940 1,987 88.2%
1950 1,985 −0.1%
1960 3,237 63.1%
1970 3,370 4.1%
1980 7,803 131.5%
1990 8,588 10.1%
2000 8,835 2.9%
2010 8,881 0.5%
2020 8,458 −4.8%
U.S. Decennial Census

Sitka first reported on the 1880 U.S. Census as an unincorporated village. Of 916 residents, there were 540 Tlingit, 219 Creole (Mixed Russian & Native) and 157 Whites reported. It was the largest community in Alaska at that census. In 1890, it fell to second place behind Juneau. It reported 1,190 residents, of whom 861 were Native, 280 were White, 31 were Asian, 17 Creole, and 1 Other. In 1900, it fell to 4th place behind Nome, Skagway & Juneau. It did not report a racial breakdown.

In 1910, Sitka was reported as two separate communities based on race: the village with mostly non-natives (population 539) and the part of the village with natives (population 500). Separately, they placed as the 15th and 17th largest communities. United, they would be 8th largest. For the purposes of comparison and the fact that the village was not officially politically/racially divided except by the census bureau report, the combined total (1,039) is reported on the historic population list. In 1913, Sitka was incorporated as a city, rendering the division by the census bureau for 1910 moot. In 1920, Sitka became the 4th largest city in the territory. In 1930, it fell to 7th place with 1,056 residents. Of those, 567 reported as Native, 480 as White and 9 as Other. In 1940, it rose to 5th place, but did not report a racial breakdown.

In 1950, it reported as the 9th largest community in Alaska (6th largest incorporated city). It did not report a racial breakdown. At statehood in 1960, it became the 6th largest community (5th largest incorporated city). With the annexations increasing its population to 3,237, it reported a White majority for its first time: 2,160 Whites, 1,054 Others (including Natives) & 23 Blacks. In 1970, it fell to 14th place overall (though 7th largest incorporated city) with 3,370 residents. Of those, 2,503 were White, 676 Native Americans, 95 Others, 74 Asians and 22 Blacks. In 1980, Sitka rose to 4th largest city with 7,803 residents (of whom 5,718 were non-Hispanic White, 1,669 were Native American, 228 were Asian, 108 were Hispanic (of any race), 87 were Other, 44 were Black & 7 were Pacific Islander).

In 1990, Sitka fell to 5th largest (4th largest incorporated) with 8,588 residents. 6,270 were non-Hispanic White; 1,797 were Native American; 315 were Asian; 209 were Hispanic (of any race); 60 were Other; 39 were Black and 18 Pacific Islanders. In 2000, Sitka retained its 5th largest (and 4th largest incorporated) position. In 2010, it slipped to 7th largest community overall (but still remained the 4th largest incorporated city).

As of the 2010 census, there were 8,881 people living in the borough. The racial makeup of the borough, based on one race alone or in combination with one or more other races, was, 64.6% White (including White Hispanic and Latino Americans), 1% Black or African American, 24.6% Native American, 8.1% Asian, 0.9% Pacific Islander, 1.8% from other races. In addition, 4.9% of the population were Hispanic and Latino Americans of any race.

There were 3,545 households, out of which 29.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.5% were married couples living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 6.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 37.6% were non-families. The average household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 3.01.

Arts and Culture

There are 22 buildings and sites in Sitka that appear in the National Register of Historic Places.

Annual Events

Alaska Day, October 18th

On October 18, Alaska celebrates Alaska Day to commemorate the Alaska purchase. The City of Sitka holds an annual Alaska Day Festival. This week-long event includes a reenactment ceremony of the signing of the Alaska purchase, as well as interpretive programs at museums and parks, special exhibits, aircraft displays and film showings, receptions, historic sites and buildings tours, food, prose writing contest essays, Native and other dancing, and entertainment and more. The first recorded Alaska Day Festival was held in 1949.

Sitka (Alaska) - NARA - 297241
Sitka in 1901

Twin towns – Sister cities

Sitka has the following sister city:


The Pioneer House Sitka
The Pioneer Home, one of Sitka's many historic structures, in May 2002

Sitka's attractions include:

The flora and fauna of Sitka and its surrounding area are popular. Day cruises and guided day trips (hiking) are large enterprises in Sitka. Floatplane "flightseeing" excursions are a way to view the area's sights from above.

Outdoor opportunities

Sitka's position between the Pacific Ocean and the most mountainous island in the Alexander Archipelago creates a variety of outdoor opportunities:

Looking down Sitka Channel in the early morning
  • The Baranof Cross-Island Trail, which leads to the small community of Baranof Warm Springs on the eastern side of the island, is a popular summer backpacking trip. Only serious and experienced backpackers, or those with an experienced guide, should undertake such a trip due to volatile weather conditions in the mountains and the required crossings of icefields with crevasses.
  • The dormant volcano Mount Edgecumbe is also a popular mountain to summit and features a seven-mile (11 km) trail up to the top. Guided day-trips are available, but the trip does not require much knowledge to undertake.
  • The officially unnamed, but informally named Peak 5390 (the name is derived from its height in feet) is the highest point on Baranof Island and a demanding climb. Few people undertake this peak; those interested should consult with one who has summited previously.
  • Kayaking is a popular activity and small guided day excursions are offered locally.
  • There are a number of maintained trails in the Sitka area, many of which are accessible from Sitka's road system.

In popular culture

  • Louis L'Amour penned Sitka, his fictional account of the events surrounding the United States' purchase of the Alaska Territory from the Russians for $7.2 million in 1867.
  • Novelist James Michener resided at Sitka's Sheldon Jackson College while doing research for his epic work, Alaska.
  • The 1952 film The World in His Arms has Russian Sitka as one of its settings.
  • Sitka is the opening setting in Ivan Doig's 1982 historical fiction The Sea Runners.
  • Sitka is mentioned in Chapter 53 of James Clavell's 1993 historical fiction about Japan Gai-Jin.
  • Mystery author John Straley described Sitka as " island town where people feel crowded by the land and spread out on the sea."
  • Part of the action in the novel César Cascabel by Jules Verne takes place in Sitka in May–June, 1867 during the transfer of ownership to the United States.
  • A fictionalized Sitka, with a population in the millions and the host of a fictional 1977 World's Fair, is the setting of the alternate history detective story The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon.
  • Sitka is a character in the 2003 Disney animated feature Brother Bear.
  • Sitka is a setting used in the 2009 feature The Proposal, although the scenes were filmed in Rockport, Massachusetts.
  • Sitka was featured in a 2012 episode of the Travel Channel's popular series Bizarre Foods, starring Andrew Zimmern. In this episode Zimmern ate herring eggs, stink heads, and sea cucumbers.
  • Sitka was named one of the Top 20 Small Towns to Visit in 2013 by Smithsonian magazine.
  • The Long Dark takes place in the area of the Sitka Islands.


In 2010, Sitka's two largest employers were the South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), employing 482 people, and the Sitka School District which employs 250 people. However, there are more people employed in the seafood industry than in any other sector. An estimated 18% of Sitka's population earns at least a portion of their income from fishing and seafood harvesting and processing. Many Sitkans hunt and gather subsistence foods such as fish, deer, berries, seaweeds and mushrooms for personal use.

Within the total 2010 population of 8,881 residents, an estimated 7,161 were over 16 years of age. Of residents aged 16 and over, an estimated 4,692 were employed within the civilian labor force, 348 were unemployed (looking for work), 192 were employed in the armed forces (U.S. Coast Guard), and 1,929 were not in the labor force. The average unemployment rate between 2006 and 2010 was 6.9%. The median household income in 2010 inflation adjusted dollars was $62,024. An estimated 4.3% of all families / 7% of all residents had incomes below the poverty level "in the past twelve months"(2010).

Sitka's electrical power is generated by dams at Blue Lake and Green Lake, with supplemental power provided by burning diesel when electric demand exceeds hydro capacity. In December 2012 the Blue Lake Expansion project began, which added 27 percent more electricity for the residents of Sitka. The project was completed in November 2014.


Sitka is the 6th largest port by value of seafood harvest in the United States. International trade is relatively minor, with total exports and imports valued at $474,000 and $146,000, respectively, in 2005 by the American Association of Port Authorities. The port has the largest harbor system in Alaska with 1,347 permanent slips.

During Russian rule, Sitka was a busy seaport on the west coast of North America, mentioned a number of times by Dana in his popular account of an 1834 sailing voyage Two Years Before the Mast. After the transfer of Alaska to U.S. rule, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company began tourist cruises to Sitka in 1884. By 1890, Sitka was receiving 5,000 tourist passengers a year.

Old Sitka Dock, located at Halibut Point, one mile south of the Old Sitka State Historical Park, commemorating the 1800s Russian settlement, and six miles north of downtown Sitka, is a private deep water port offering moorage facilities. A 470-foot-long floating dock for vessels up to 1100 feet was constructed there by its owners in 2012 and was first used in 2013. In Spring 2016, Holland America Line agreed to dock its ships at the Old Sitka Dock. Since then, the majority of the cruise ships calling on Sitka berth at the Old Sitka Dock, with the remainder anchoring offshore in Crescent Harbor and tendering their passengers to downtown Sitka. In the 2017 season, there were 136 cruise ship calls at Sitka with more than 150,000 passengers in total; of these fewer than 30,000 were tendered.

The United States Coast Guard plans to homeport one of its Sentinel class cutters in Sitka.


Colleges and universities

Sitka hosts one active post-secondary institution, the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus, located on Japonski Island in an old World War II hangar. Sheldon Jackson College, a small Presbyterian-affiliated private college, suspended operations in June 2007, after several years of financial stress. Outer Coast College, a private liberal arts college established in 2015, is currently in development as an undergraduate institution founded on the former campus of Sheldon Jackson College.


Sitka High School1
Sitka High School

The Sitka School District runs several schools in Sitka, including Sitka High School and Pacific High School, as well as the town's only middle school, Blatchley Middle School. They also run a home school assistance program through Terry's Learning Center.

Mt. Edgecumbe High School, a State of Alaska-run boarding high school for rural, primarily Native, students, is located on Japonski Island adjacent to University of Alaska Southeast.

One private school is available in Sitka: Sitka Adventist School, The SEER school has closed permanently.

Alaska State Trooper Academy

The Alaska State Trooper Academy — the academy for all Alaska State Troopers — is located in Sitka.


Sitka Public Library, formerly Kettleson Memorial Library is the public library for Sitka. It receives about 100,000 guests annually and houses a collection of 75,000 books, audiobooks, music recordings, reference resources, videos (DVD and VHS) as well as an assortment of Alaskan and national periodicals. Its annual circulation is 133,000. The library is well known by visitors for its view. The large windows in front of the reading area look south across Eastern Channel towards the Pyramids.

Until its closing, Sitka was also home to Stratton Library, the academic library of Sheldon Jackson College.



Sitka is only accessible by boat or plane as it is on a pair of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Vehicles are usually brought to Sitka via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system or the barge. However, a vehicle is not an absolute necessity in Sitka, as there are only 14 miles (23 kilometres) of road from one end of the island to another. Most everything is within walking distance from the downtown area which is where the majority of employers are situated. Public transportation is also available.

By air, Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport offers scheduled passenger jet service operated year-round by Alaska Airlines and seasonally by Delta Connection as well as commuter, charter, and bush air service provided by Harris Aircraft Services. Harris Air provides scheduled service to several smaller communities in the southeast as well as to Juneau.

Delays in fall and winter due to Sitka's weather are frequent. The airport is located on Japonski Island, which is connected to Baranof Island by the O'Connell Bridge. The O'Connell Bridge, completed in 1972, was the first vehicular cable-stayed bridge in the United States. The Sitka Seaplane Base is seaplane landing area situated in the Sitka Channel, adjacent to the airport.

Ferry travel back and forth to Juneau, Ketchikan and other towns in Southeast Alaska is provided through the Alaska Marine Highway System. The ferry terminal is located 7 miles (11 km) north of downtown and a ferry ticket costs about $49 per person each way to Juneau (as of July 2013). Vehicles, pets and bicycles can also be taken on the ferry for an additional charge.

Sitka's location on the outer coast of the Alaska Panhandle is removed from routes run through Chatham Strait. The tides of Peril Strait allow mainline vessels through only at slack tide.

Alaska Marine Lines, a barge and freight company, has the ability to move cars to other communities connected to the mainland by road systems.

A three-way partnership of non-profits (Center for Community, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and Southeast Senior Services) offers public bus transit, funded by the Federal Transit Administration and the Alaska Department of Transportation. All buses are fully accessible, with service from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

In 2008, the League of American Bicyclists awarded Sitka the bronze level in bicycle friendliness making Sitka the first bicycle-friendly community in Alaska. In 2013, the Walk Friendly Communities program awarded Sitka with a bronze award, making Sitka the first Alaska community with a Walk Friendly Communities designation. Sitka is the only Alaska community to have both a Bicycle Friendly Community and a Walk Friendly Communities designation.


There are no longer two hospitals in Sitka:

  • The former Sitka Community Hospital was purchased by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) in April 2019 and now functions as a long-term care facility for patients of Edgecumbe hospital.
  • Edgecumbe Hospital is across Sitka Harbor on Japonski Island about half a mile from Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport. The facility is part of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, a non-profit tribal health consortium of 18 Native communities. The hospital serves as a regional referral center for people throughout Southeast Alaska, and also provides primary outpatient care. Numerous specialty clinics are offered at the hospital that are not available in the smaller communities such as neurology, orthopedic, dermatology, ophthalmology and denture clinics.

Notable people

  • Augusta Cohen Coontz, American First Lady of Guam
  • Dale DeArmond (1914–2006), printmaker, book illustrator
  • Annie Furuhjelm (1859–1937), Finnish journalist, legislator
  • Sheldon Jackson (1834–1909), Presbyterian missionary in Alaska in late 19th century
  • Richard Nelson (1941–2019), cultural anthropologist, writer, activist
  • Teri Rofkar (1956–2016), Tlingit weaver
  • John Straley (born 1953), award-winning author

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