Sitka, Alaska’s historic Russian-American island city, is situated on the  west side of Baranof Island. Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano that looks like Japan’s Mr. Fujiyama, dominates the horizon and tiny flowerpot islands dot the harbor. Sitka is easily accessible as it is a scheduled stop on the Alaska  Marine Highway System and has daily flights from Seattle and Juneau. It is also a favorite stop for cruise ships during the summer.

The name Sitka, or “Shee Atika” in Tlingit meaning “people on the outside of Shee (“Shee” being the Tlingit name of Baranof  Island). Looking back upon Alaska’s historical happenings, it was indeed here  that much of Alaska’s history was written. Sitka was the headquarters for the Russian-American Company which  colonized and exploited their new found possession. Sitka was the site of  the historic transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States, and the location of Alaska’s first capital.

Emergency only 911: Sitka Hospital 747-3241, 209 Moller Drive; Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital 966-2411, 222 Tongass Drive.

Post Office: 1207 Sawmill Creek Road.

ATM: First Bank 203 Lake St.

Vitus Bering, commanding a Russian expedition, is credited with the discovery  of Alaska. There were two vessels in his expedition—the “St. Peter” and the “St. Paul.” The St. Paul commanded by Alexei Chirikof, drifted apart from Bering’s vessel, the “St. Peter,” in a storm and one  month later landed “near the entrance of a large sound, surrounded by forested mountains, beneath the towering majesty of a cone-shaped peak.” Since there seems little doubt that Chirikof’s landfall preceded Bering’s,  Sitka has been accepted as the site of Alaska’s discovery by Russia on July 15, 1741.

In 1799, Alexander Baranof built Fort Redoubt St. Archangel Michael six miles  north of the present day Sitka (near the ferry terminal). This settlement  was destroyed two years later by Tlingit warriors, and in 1804, Baranof returned from Kodiak to re-stake a settlement in the Sitka area. Following the battle  at Indian River with the Tlingit, the Russians were able to settle in the former Indian site which is now Sitka, and the Indians evacuated the area until about 1822.

Flying the flags of many nations, explorers and traders followed on the heels  of the discoverers, seeking the fur wealth of the sea-otter. The first major  development effort, however, was that of Gregor Shelikof, the Russian Merchant Prince. Shelikof organized the Russian American Company and founded the headquarters  on Kodiak Island in 1784.

Alaska was officially transferred to the United States at Sitka on October 18, 1867. Sitka remained the capital until 1912, when the territorial government was moved to Juneau.

Sitka’s fortunes had ebbed to that of a small fishing hamlet, until the beginning  of World War II brought a naval center to Japonski Island, with 30,000 military personnel and over 7,000 civilians. Today the naval center has been converted  to Mt. Edgecumbe Educational and Medical Center, a boarding high school and hospital for native children from all over Alaska.

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