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The City and Borough of Sitka (Tlingit: Sheetʼká), formerly Novo-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, it had a population of 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). Urban Sitka, the part usually thought of as the "city" of Sitka, is on the west side of Baranof Island.
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.
The Russians settled Old Sitka in 1799, calling it Fort 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 burned 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.
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 was 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 control took place on October 18, 1867. The cost to purchase Alaska was $7.2 million, 2 cents per acre (US Currency in 1897)
Sitka served as the US Government Capital of the Department of Alaska (1867-1884) and District of Alaska (1884-1906).
The seat of government was relocated north to Juneau in 1906.
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.
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.
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 Forest 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.
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. As a comparison, this is almost four times the size of the state of Rhode Island.
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).
Mount Edgecumbe, a 3,200-foot (980 m) dormant stratovolcano, is located on southern Kruzof Island. It can be seen from Sitka on a clear day.
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 which 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 which 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 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.
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 will create 27 percent more electricity for the residents of Sitka. The project was completed in November 2014.
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. The deal would represent the world's first regular, bulk exports of water via tanker. 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. As of January 2013, this project seems to have ended in failure.
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 less than 30,000 were tendered.
There are 22 buildings and sites in Sitka that appear in the National Register of Historic Places.
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.
The City and Borough of Sitka is a Unified Home Rule city. The home rule charter of the City and Borough of Sitka was adopted on 2 December 1971 for the region of the Greater Sitka Borough, which included Mt. Edgcome on Japonski Island and Port Alexander and Baranof Warm Springs on Baranof Island. The city was incorporated on 24 September 1963. On October 23, 1973, the city of Port Alexander was detached from the borough.
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.
Two private schools are available in Sitka: Sitka Adventist School, and The SEER School.
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 served by the Daily Sitka Sentinel, one of the few remaining independently-owned daily newspapers in the state. Sitka also receives circulation of the Capital City Weekly — a weekly regional newspaper based out of Juneau.
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).
Sitka has three radio stations, public radio station KCAW (Raven Radio), and commercial radio stations KIFW, and KSBZ.
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, and KJUD (ABC/CW) serve the region.
Sitka is only accessible by boat or plane as it is a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Vehicles are usually brought to Sitka via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system. 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. 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, 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 two hospitals in Sitka:
Sitka has the following sister city:
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.
Sitka's position between the Pacific Ocean and the most mountainous island in the Alexander Archipelago creates a variety of outdoor opportunities:
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