Sitka, Alaska

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City and Borough of Sitka
—  City and Borough  —
View toward Sitka from the Pacific Ocean. Sitka is the only town in Southeast Alaska that faces the Gulf of Alaska head-on.
Coordinates: 57°3′5.62″N 135°20′19.11″W / 57.0515611°N 135.3386417°W / 57.0515611; -135.3386417Coordinates: 57°3′5.62″N 135°20′19.11″W / 57.0515611°N 135.3386417°W / 57.0515611; -135.3386417
CountryUnited States
Incorporated[1]November 5, 1913 (City of Sitka);
September 24, 1963 (Greater Sitka Borough);
December 2, 1971 (current City and Borough of Sitka, which combined the two)
 • MayorMim McConnell[2]
 • Total4,811.5 sq mi (12,461.8 km2)
 • Land2,874.0 sq mi (7,443.6 km2)
 • Water1,937.6 sq mi (5,018.2 km2)
Elevation26 ft (8 m)
Population (2011)[3]
 • Total8,952
 • Density3.13/sq mi (1.21/km2)
Time zoneAlaska (UTC-9)
 • Summer (DST)Alaska (UTC-8)
Area code907
FIPS code02-70540
GNIS feature ID1414736
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City and Borough of Sitka
—  City and Borough  —
View toward Sitka from the Pacific Ocean. Sitka is the only town in Southeast Alaska that faces the Gulf of Alaska head-on.
Coordinates: 57°3′5.62″N 135°20′19.11″W / 57.0515611°N 135.3386417°W / 57.0515611; -135.3386417Coordinates: 57°3′5.62″N 135°20′19.11″W / 57.0515611°N 135.3386417°W / 57.0515611; -135.3386417
CountryUnited States
Incorporated[1]November 5, 1913 (City of Sitka);
September 24, 1963 (Greater Sitka Borough);
December 2, 1971 (current City and Borough of Sitka, which combined the two)
 • MayorMim McConnell[2]
 • Total4,811.5 sq mi (12,461.8 km2)
 • Land2,874.0 sq mi (7,443.6 km2)
 • Water1,937.6 sq mi (5,018.2 km2)
Elevation26 ft (8 m)
Population (2011)[3]
 • Total8,952
 • Density3.13/sq mi (1.21/km2)
Time zoneAlaska (UTC-9)
 • Summer (DST)Alaska (UTC-8)
Area code907
FIPS code02-70540
GNIS feature ID1414736

The City and Borough of Sitka, formerly New Archangel (Russian: Ново-Архангельск or Новоaрхангельск, t Novoarkhangelsk) under Russian rule, 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. It is the largest city-borough in the US, with a land area of 2,870.3 mi2 (7,434.1 km2) and a total area (including water area) of 4,811.4 mi2 (12,460.8 km2). With a population of 8,881 in 2010, Sitka is the fourth-largest city by population in Alaska. Urban Sitka (57°03′5.62″N 135°20′19.11″W / 57.0515611°N 135.3386417°W / 57.0515611; -135.3386417), the part that is usually thought of as the "city" of Sitka, is situated on the west side of Baranof Island.

The current name "Sitka" (derived from Sheet’ká, a contraction of the Tlingit Shee At'iká)[4] 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. The Russians settled Old Sitka in 1799 under the name Redoubt Saint Michael (Russian: форт Архангела Михаила, t Fort Arkhangela Mikhaila). The governor of Russian America, Alexandr Baranov, arrived under the auspices of the Russian-American Company, a colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Paul I. In 1802, Tlingit warriors "clad in animal-headed helmets and armour" destroyed the original establishment, killing four hundred Russians and enslaving the rest, with only a few managing to escape.[5] Baranov was forced to levy 10,000 rubles in ransom for the safe return of the surviving settlers.[6]

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.

Baranov returned to Sitka in 1804 with a large contingent of Russians and Aleuts with the Russian warship Neva. The ship bombarded the Tlingit fort but was not able to cause significant damage. The Russians then launched an attack on the fort and were repelled by Tlingit fighters and marksmen. However, the Tlingit gunpowder reserves had been lost before the Russian assault and the Tlingit were forced to leave the fort.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

The Cathedral of St. 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 prior to 1966, but white in subsequent photos.[citation needed]

"As out of the way as it appears now, the settlement was once known as the "Paris of the Pacific;" for the first half of the nineteenth century, it was the most important port on the West Coast."[5]

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. Swedes, Finns and other Lutherans worked for the Russian-American Company,[7] 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 St. Peter's-By-The-Sea Episcopal Church was consecrated as "The Cathedral of Alaska" in 1900.[citation needed]

There are twenty two buildings and sites in Sitka that appear in the National Register of Historic Places.[8]

Sitka was the site of the ceremony in which the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag raised after Alaska was purchased by the United States. Russia sold Alaska to the United States for only $7.2 million, at 2 cents per acre, as a result of the sea otter fur trade, which had almost completely exterminated the sea otter population. The flag lowering and raising ceremony is re-enacted in Sitka every October 18, known locally as Alaska Day. Alaska's first newspaper following the Alaska Purchase, the Sitka Times, was published by Barney O. Ragan on September 19, 1868. Only four issues were published that year, as Ragan cited a lack of resources available at the time. The paper resumed publishing the following year as the Alaska Times. In 1870, it moved to Seattle, where the year following it was renamed the Seattle Times (not to be confused with the modern-day newspaper of the same name).[9]

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

The Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded in Sitka in 1912 to address racism against Alaska Native people in Alaska.[10] By 1914 the organization had constructed the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall on Katlian Street.[11]

Sitka's Filipino community established itself in Sitka before 1929. It later became institutionalized as The Filipino Community of Sitka in 1981.[12]

While gold mining and fish canning paved the way for the town's initial growth, it wasn't until World War II, when the Navy constructed an air base on Japonski Island (bringing 30,000 service personnel to the area), that Sitka finally came into its own. 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, and the port and facilities for the USCGC Maple.[citation needed]

The home rule charter of the City and Borough of Sitka was adopted on 2 December 1971[13] for the region of the Greater Sitka Borough, which was incorporated on 24 September 1963.[14] On October 23, 1973, the city of Port Alexander was detached from the borough.[15]


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 second largest incorporated city by area in the U.S., with a total area of 4,811.5 square miles (12,461.7 km2), with 2,874.0 square miles (7,444 km2) being land and 1,937.6 square miles (5,018 km2) of it, or 40.27%, being water. Yakutat is the largest incorporated area in the U.S.

Sitka displaced Juneau, Alaska as the largest incorporated city 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 data for Sitka, Alaska (Japonski Island, 1981-2010)
Record high °F (°C)60
Average high °F (°C)40.5
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)22.016.818.717.217.515.518.619.422.324.421.621.0235
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)
Source: NOAA[16]


Mount Edgecumbe, a 3,200-foot (980 m)-tall 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


In 2010, Sitka's two largest employers were the South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), employing 482 people, and the Sitka School District, employing 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.[17]

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).[18]

Sitka's 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 2010 a Texas company S2C Global Systems announced that it was moving forward with a plan to ship 2.9 billion US gallons (11,000,000 m3) to 9 billion US gallons (34,000,000 m3) of fresh lake water a year from Sitka (Blue Lake) to the west coast of India.[19] The deal would represent the world's first regular, bulk exports of water via tanker.[20] The water will be redistributed to places in India, southeast Asia and the Middle East. Sitka could earn up to $90 million a year in revenue.[20] As of January 2013, this project seems to have ended in failure.[21][22]


Sitka is the 6th largest port by value of seafood harvest in the United States.[17] 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.[23] The port has the largest harbor system in Alaska with 1,347 permanent slips.


During Russian occupation, Sitka was a busy seaport on the west coast of North America,[24] mentioned a number of times by Dana in his popular account of an 1834 sailing voyage Two Years Before the Mast. After transfer of Alaska to U.S. rule, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company began tourist cruises to Sitka in 1884. By 1890, Sitka was receiving 5000 tourist passengers a year.[25]


Historical populations
Est. 20118,9520.8%

As of the 2010 US 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, 74.2% White, 1% Black or African American, 24.6% Native American, 8.1% Asian, 0.9% Pacific Islander, 1.8% from other races. An estimated 4.9% of the population were Hispanic or Latino 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.[27]


Sitka is not accessible directly by road. Vehicles are usually brought to Sitka via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system.

Sitka's weather and location on the outer coast of the archipelago make transportation inherently difficult, expensive, and inconvenient.

By air, Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport offers service from jet and regional carrier Alaska Airlines and charter and bush community carrier Harris Aircraft Services. 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.

Slower ferry travel is provided through the Alaska Marine Highway System. The ferry terminal is located seven miles (11 km) north of downtown. Sitka's location on the outer coast of Alaskan Panhandle is removed from routes run through Chatham Strait. This, in addition to the tides of Peril Straits that allow mainline vessels through only at slack tide combine to result in no designated service by a vessel and minimal service overall. However, the AMHS is often the mode of transportation of choice when the schedule proves convenient because of its much cheaper cost.

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

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska offers public bus transit in conjunction with the Alaska Department of Transportation.

In 2008, the League of American Bicyclists awarded Sitka the bronze level in bicycle friendliness making Sitka the first bicycle-friendly community in Alaska.


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.


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 at Sitka Adventist School.


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.


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


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

Sitka's many attractions include:

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

Outdoor opportunities

Sitka's unique position of being straddled between the Pacific Ocean and the most mountainous island in the Alexander Archipelago creates an abundant variety of outdoor opportunities:

Looking down Sitka Channel in the early morning.



Sitka is served by the Daily Sitka Sentinel, one of the remaining few independently-owned daily newspapers in the state. Sitka also receives circulation of the Capital City Weekly — a weekly regional newspaper based out of Juneau.


The public radio station KCAW and commercial radio stations KIFW and KSBZ fill the airwaves. Low-power FM radio station KAQU-LP 88.1 is owned by the City and Borough of Sitka, and broadcasts whale sounds from a submerged microphone at Whale Park.


KTNL-TV (CBS) broadcasts out of Sitka on Channel 13 (Cable 6) serving Southeast Alaska. Additionally, KSCT-LP (NBC) Channel 5, KTOO (PBS) Channel 10 [3], and KJUD (cable-only ABC/CW) serve the region.

Notable residents

A replica of Russian Block House#1 (one of three watchtowers that guarded the stockade walls at Old Sitka) as constructed by the National Park Service in 1962.

Sister cities

Sitka has the following sister city:[28]

In books and films

See also

References cited

  1. ^ In the 1860s and 1870s, the earliest American settlers in Sitka established a "provisional city government," as Alaskan communities were prohibited from legally incorporating as cities until the U.S. Congress passed legislation allowing them to do so in 1900.
  2. ^ "Office Of The Mayor". City and Borough of Sitka, Alaska. Retrieved Oct 11, 2012.
  3. ^ "Estimates of the Population for All Incorporated Places in Alaska" (CSV). 2005 Population Estimates. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. June 21, 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-09.
  4. ^ Joseph, Charlie; Brady, I.; Makinen, E.; David, R.; Davis, V.; Johnson, A.; Lord, N. (2001). "Sheet’kwaan Aani Aya". Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Retrieved 27 October 2009.
  5. ^ a b Vaillant (2006), p. 169.
  6. ^ Chevigny, Hector (1942). Lord of Alaska: Baranov and the Russian adventure. Cornell University: Viking Press. pp. 320.
  7. ^ Sitka Lutheran Church.
  8. ^ National Register of Historic Places, Sitka, Alaska
  9. ^ (pdf) Guide to Alaska Newspapers on Microfilm. Juneau: Alaska State Library. 1998. pp. 324, 332. Retrieved October 29, 2011.
  10. ^ "ANB celebrates 100th at ANB/ANS Grand Camp in Sitka" (Press release). Raven Radio. 29 September 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
  11. ^ Sitka Maritime Heritage Society. Historic Sitka Harbor and Waterfront Self-Guided Tour:Points of Interest on Sitka's Historic Waterfront (Map).
  12. ^ Klaney, Carol Kelty (1995). Gunalcheesh!. Haines, Alaska: Ptarmigan Press, Inc.. pp. 77–78.
  13. ^ Home Rule Charter of the City and Borough of Sitka
  14. ^ Community/Borough Map: State of Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development
  15. ^ "Certificate of Organization of the Unified Home Rule Municipality of the City an Borough of Sitka" (PDF). Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA). 1990-06-18. Retrieved 2012-05-04.
  16. ^ a b c "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  17. ^ a b Sitka, Alaska: 2010-2011 Community Profile. Sitka Economic Development Association. pp. 3.
  18. ^ American Community Survey, 2006-2010 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau[1]
  19. ^ announces India world water hub, July 7, 2010.
  20. ^ a b "Alaska City Set to Ship Water to India, U.S. Company Announces", Circle of Blue, July 11, 2010
  21. ^ Walton, Brett (December 10, 2010). "Bulk Water Shipping Company Misses Deadline to Export From Alaska". Circle of Blue. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
  22. ^ Walton, Brett (February 2, 2011). "Alaska Bulk Water Company Receives Export Contract Extension, Wants to Split with Partner". Circle of Blue. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
  23. ^ Table of 2005 U.S. Port Rankings by Foreign Commerce Cargo Value: American Association of Port Authorities
  24. ^ Bunten, Alexis Celeste (2008). "Sharing Culture or Selling Out?: Developing the commodified persona in the heritage industry". American Ethnologist (American Anthropological Association) 35 (3): 382. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1425.2008.00041.x. ISSN 0094-0496.
  25. ^ Ashley, McClelland (31 March 2012). The Art of Innovation: The Effects of Trade and Tourism on Tlingit Dagger Production in the Nineteenth Century (Speech). Wooshteen Kanaxtulaneegí Haa At Wuskóowu / Sharing Our Knowledge, A conference of Tlingit Tribes and Clans: Haa eetí ḵáa yís / For Those Who Come After Us. Sitka, Alaska. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  26. ^ "Census Of Population And Housing". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-04-20.
  27. ^ [2] American Factfinder, U.S. Census Bureau data 2010 Census accessed, 12/16/11
  28. ^ Alaska sister cities index

General references

Postcard: Sitka in 1886
Looking past downtown Sitka, up Indian River valley. Probably taken from Castle Hill.
  • Andrews, C.L. (1944). The Story of Alaska. The Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, Ohio.
  • Fedorova, Svetlana G., trans. & ed. by Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly (1973). The Russian Population in Alaska and California: Late 18th Century - 1867. Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario. ISBN 0-919642-53-5.
  • Hope, Herb (2000) "The Kiks.ádi Survival March 1804." In: Will the Time Ever Come? A Tlingit Source Book, ed. by Andrew Hope III and Thomas F. Thornton, pp. 48–79. Fairbanks, Alaska: Alaska Native Knowledge Network.
  • Naske, Claus-M and Herman E. Slotnick (2003). Alaska: A History of the 49th State. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma. ISBN 0-8061-2099-1.
  • Nordlander, David J. (1994). For God & Tsar: A Brief History of Russian America 1741 - 1867. Alaska Natural History Association, Anchorage, AK. ISBN 0-930931-15-7.
  • Vaillant, John (2006). The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed. Vintage Canada. ISBN 978-0-676-97646-5.
  • Wharton, David (1991). They Don't Speak Russian in Sitka: A New Look at the History of Southern Alaska. Markgraf Publications Group, Menlo Park, California. ISBN 0-944109-08-X.
  • Wilber, Glenn (1993). The Sitka Story: Crown Jewel of Baranof Island. "Land of Destiny"—Alaska Publications, Sitka, AK.
  • Tlingit Geographical Place Names for the Sheet'ká Kwáan — Sitka Tribe of Alaska, an interactive map of Sitka Area native place names.

External links