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Sitka
Sheet'ká
Consolidated city-borough
City and Borough of Sitka
Map of Alaska highlighting Sitka City and Borough.svg
Country  United States
State  Alaska
Colonized 1799, 1804
Incorporated November 5, 1913 (city)
September 24, 1963
(borough)
December 2, 1971
(unified municipality)
Area
 • Consolidated city-borough 12,460 km2 (4,811 sq mi)
 • Land 7,400 km2 (2,870 sq mi)
 • Water 5,030 km2 (1,941 sq mi)
 • Urban 5 km2 (2 sq mi)
Elevation 8 m (26 ft)
Population (2010)
 • Consolidated city-borough 8,881 ranked 4th
 • Density 1.2/km2 (3.1/sq mi)
 • Urban 6,982
Time zone Alaska (UTC-9)
 • Summer (DST) Alaska (UTC-8)
ZIP 99835
Area code 907
FIPS code 02-70540
GNIS feature ID 1414736
Website www.cityofsitka.com

The City and Borough of Sitka (Tlingit: Sheetʼká), formerly New Arkhangelsk, or New Archangel under Russian rule (Russian: Ново-Архангельск or Новоaрхангельск, t Novoarkhangelsk), is a unified city-borough located on Baranof Island and the southern half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean (part of the Alaska Panhandle), in the U.S. state of Alaska. As of the 2010 census, the population was 8,881. In terms of land area, it is the largest city-borough in the U.S., with a land area of 2,870.3 square miles (7,434 square kilometres) and a total area (including water area) of 4,811.4 square miles (12,461 square kilometres); however, it is the smallest of Alaska's boroughs. Urban Sitka, the part that is usually thought of as the "city" of Sitka, is on the west side of Baranof Island.

History

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.
Sitka Alaska Tribe Seal (2245005222)
Sitka Tribe of Alaska seal
Russian Orthodox Church
Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Sitka

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.

Geography

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).

Climate

  • 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
(15.6)
61
(16.1)
61
(16.1)
76
(24.4)
82
(27.8)
85
(29.4)
88
(31.1)
84
(28.9)
77
(25)
68
(20)
65
(18.3)
65
(18.3)
88
(31.1)
Average high °F (°C) 40.5
(4.72)
41.3
(5.17)
43.0
(6.11)
48.2
(9)
53.1
(11.72)
57.8
(14.33)
60.4
(15.78)
61.9
(16.61)
57.8
(14.33)
50.5
(10.28)
43.7
(6.5)
41.4
(5.22)
50.0
(10)
Daily mean °F (°C) 36.4
(2.44)
36.7
(2.61)
38.0
(3.33)
42.5
(5.83)
47.8
(8.78)
52.8
(11.56)
56.2
(13.44)
57.2
(14)
53.0
(11.67)
46.1
(7.83)
39.5
(4.17)
37.0
(2.78)
45.3
(7.39)
Average low °F (°C) 32.3
(0.17)
32.1
(0.06)
32.9
(0.5)
36.8
(2.67)
42.4
(5.78)
47.8
(8.78)
52.0
(11.11)
52.5
(11.39)
48.2
(9)
41.6
(5.33)
35.2
(1.78)
33.1
(0.61)
40.6
(4.78)
Record low °F (°C) 0
(-17.8)
-1
(-18.3)
4
(-15.6)
15
(-9.4)
29
(-1.7)
35
(1.7)
41
(5)
34
(1.1)
31
(-0.6)
20
(-6.7)
2
(-16.7)
1
(-17.2)
-1
(-18.3)
Precipitation inches (mm) 8.74
(222)
6.26
(159)
5.83
(148.1)
4.26
(108.2)
4.26
(108.2)
2.88
(73.2)
3.99
(101.3)
7.00
(177.8)
11.85
(301)
13.16
(334.3)
9.85
(250.2)
8.59
(218.2)
86.66
(2,201.2)
Snowfall inches (cm) 9.1
(23.1)
8.5
(21.6)
5.1
(13)
1.0
(2.5)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0.3
(0.8)
5.0
(12.7)
4.0
(10.2)
33.0
(83.8)
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

Geology

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

  • Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (part of Gulf of Alaska unit)
    • Saint Lazaria Wilderness (formerly Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge)
  • Sitka National Historical Park
  • Tongass National Forest (part)
    • South Baranof Wilderness
    • West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness (part)

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1900 1,399
1910 1,035 −26.0%
1920 1,175 13.5%
1930 1,056 −10.1%
1940 3,987 277.6%
1950 1,985 −50.2%
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%
Est. 2015 8,863 −0.2%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the 2010 census, there were 8,881 people residing 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

Further information: List of twin towns and sister cities in the United States

Sitka has the following sister city:

Attractions

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

Sitka's attractions include:

  • Alaska Raptor Center
  • Baranof Castle Hill
  • Sheet'ká Kwáan Naa Kahídi
  • Russian Bishop's House
  • Saint Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge
  • St. Michael's Cathedral
  • Sheldon Jackson Museum
  • Sitka Fine Arts Camp
  • Sitka Historical Museum
  • Sitka Jazz Festival
  • Sitka Lutheran Church
  • Sitka National Historical Park
  • Sitka Pioneer Home
  • Sitka Summer Music Festival
  • Swan Lake
  • Tongass National Forest

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

Further information: List of geographic features on Baranof Island

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

SitkaChannel
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 "...an 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.

Images for kids


Sitka, Alaska Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.