Sitka celebrates Alaska's Russian roots

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Sitka is marking the 150th anniversary of Russia selling the Alaska Territory to the United States with special events and celebrations from March to October.
Sitka is marking the 150th anniversary of Russia selling the Alaska Territory to the United States with special events and celebrations from March to October. Photo Credit: Jocelyn Pride
Mary Pemberton
Mary Pemberton

Alaska is celebrating its Russian roots this year, and nowhere will that special relationship be more on display than in the scenic town of Sitka.

It was 150 years ago that imperial Russia sold the Alaska Territory to the U.S. Sitka then was called New Archangel and was the capital of Russian America. After the sale, the island town nestled between the world's largest temperate rain forest and the Inside Passage was named the first capital city of the Alaska Territory.

Russia largely controlled what is now Alaska from the late 1700s to 1867. But the czar lost interest in the territory after fur traders depleted its once rich supply of fur seals and sea otters and Russia no longer profited from the colony. Russia decided to sell the territory -- about twice the size of Texas -- to the U.S. for $7.2 million, or about 2 cents an acre. With that, Russia ended its 126-year-old North American enterprise.

Sitka is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the transfer with special events and programs from March through October.

"The 150th, the sesquicentennial, will be an 8-month-long commemoration of the transfer, and our hope is that all the different voices will be heard," said Jeff Budd, who is helping organize the events.

The Sitka Sesquicentennial kicks off with Community Night on March 30. A Speaker's Series starts in early April. Plans also include a parade and transfer ceremony on Oct. 18, the day the treaty was signed in 1867. Also, on that day the Sitka Historical Museum will hold an Alaska Day Brew Festival.  

Sitka today is one of Alaska's top tourist destinations, drawing visitors with its blend of native Tlingit culture and Russian history, as well as its stunning scenery. There are 22 buildings and sites in Sitka that appear in the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Michael's Cathedral in Sitka, a Russian Orthodox church that will be on full display as the town celebrates its Russian roots and the sale of the Alaska Territory to the United States 150 years ago.
St. Michael's Cathedral in Sitka, a Russian Orthodox church that will be on full display as the town celebrates its Russian roots and the sale of the Alaska Territory to the United States 150 years ago. Photo Credit: Reinhard Pantke


History buffs will enjoy stopping in at St. Michael's Cathedral in the downtown, a still active Russian Orthodox church whose onion-shaped domes have dominated Sitka's skyline for nearly 200 years. Also a must-see is the Russian Bishop's House.

The National Park Service will be hosting an Alaska Sesquicentennial Commemorative Exhibit at the Sitka National Historical Park visitor center. The park also will host a series of programs including Russian tea demonstrations and ranger-guided, hour-long walking tours of the Russian colonial district from May through September. The tour will include stops at a number of historical locations, including Castle Hill, the location for the ceremonial transfer in 1867.

Visit www.sitka.org and https://www.nps.gov/sitk

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