Sitka is located on the west coast of
Baranof Island fronting the Pacific Ocean, on Sitka Sound. An extinct
volcano, Mount Edgecumbe, rises 3,200 feet above the community. It is 95
air miles southwest of Juneau, and 185 miles northwest of Ketchikan. It
lies at approximately 57░ 03' N Latitude, 135░ 20' W Longitude (Sec. 36,
T055S, R063E, Copper River Meridian). The community is located in the
Sitka Recording District. The area encompasses 2,882 sq. miles of land
and 1,968 sq. miles of water.
was originally inhabited by a major tribe of Tlingits, who called the
village "Shee Atika." It was discovered by the Russian Vitus Bering
expedition in 1741, and the site became "New Archangel" in 1799. St.
Michael's Redoubt trading post and fort were built here by Alexander
Baranof, manager of the Russian-American company. Tlingits burned down
the fort and looted the warehouse in 1802. In 1804, the Russians
retaliated by destroying the Tlingit Fort, in the Battle of Sitka. This
was the last major stand by the Tlingits against the Russians, and the
Indians evacuated the area until about 1822. By 1808, Sitka was the
capital of Russian Alaska. Baranof was Governor from 1790 through 1818.
During the mid-1800s, Sitka was the major port on the north Pacific
coast, with ships calling from many nations. Furs destined for European
and Asian markets were the main export, but salmon, lumber and ice were
also exported to Hawaii, Mexico and California. After the purchase of
Alaska by the U.S. in 1867, it remained the capital of the Territory
until 1906, when the seat of government was moved to Juneau.
A Presbyterian missionary, Sheldon Jackson, started a school, and in
1878 one of the first canneries in Alaska was built in Sitka. During the
early 1900s, gold mines contributed to its growth. During World War II,
the town was fortified and the U.S. Navy built an air base on Japonski
Island across the harbor, with 30,000 military personnel and over 7,000
civilians. After the war, the BIA converted some of the buildings to be
used as a boarding school for Alaska Natives, Mt. Edgecumbe High School.
The U.S. Coast Guard now maintains the air station and other facilities
on the Island. A large pulp mill began operations at Silver Bay in 1960,
and closed in 1993.