The Port of Sitka, one of Alaska's most famous communities, is located on the west coast of Baranof Island about 255 nautical miles (150 kilometers or 93 miles by air) southwest of Juneau. The only southeastern city on the Pacific Ocean, the Port of Sitka is some 544 nautical miles (1027 kilometers or 638 miles by air) southeast of Kodiak. The biggest contributors to the Port of Sitka's economy are fishing, fish processing, lumber, tourism, and regional health care.
The Port of Sitka is home to one of the outstanding collections of Native Alaskan and Russian artifacts, housed at the museum at Sheldon Jackson College. The Port of Sitka is a popular tourist destination, offering several different opportunities that include the annual WhaleFest, the raptor rehabilitation center, and the Sitka National Historic Park where the Tlingits and Russians did battle in 1804. In 2000, over 8800 people called the Port of Sitka home.
Before Europeans arrived, the area of today's Port of Sitka was home to the indigenous Tlingit people. In 1741, a Russian expedition explored the area. Fort St. Michael in "Old Sitka" was built in 1799 by Aleksandr Baranov, Alaska's first Russian governor, but the Tlingits destroyed the fort in 1802.
During the battle, the Tlingit killed 400 Russian settlers. The Tlingit were able to get 10,000 rubles as ransom for the survivors. Baranov came back to the Port of Sitka in 1804 with Russian soldiers, Aleut warriors, and the Russian Neva warship. Until the Tlingit's reserves of gunpowder ran out, the Tlingit were able to repel the Russians. In the end, though, the Russians forced the Tlingit to abandon the fort.
After the Russian victory, the modern Port of Sitka was established as "Novo Arkhangelsk" (or New Archangel) when the headquarters for the Russian-American Company were moved to the Port of Sitka from Kodiak. The Tlingit created a fort on Peril Strait as an attempt to block Russian transport goods.
In 1808, the Port of Sitka was named capital of Russian Alaska under the rule of Governor Baranov. Beginning in 1840, Bishop Innocent resided in the Port of Sitka. Known for his support of education, his house was also used as a school. Today, the Russian Bishop's House has been restored and is operated by the US National Park Service. In 1848, the Cathedral of St. Michael was built and made seat of the Bishop of Kamchatka. The Russians employed Scandinavians, and the Port of Sitka's 1840 Lutheran Church was the first Protestant church on the Pacific Coast.
For the first half of the 19th Century, the Port of Sitka was the most important seaport on North America's west coast. The village became known as Sitka after 1867, the year that the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. The Port of Sitka was the capital of the territory from 1867 until 1906. In 1868, Alaska's first newspaper, the Sitka Times was published by Barney O. Ragan in 1868.
When the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place, the Port of Sitka was the location for the changing of flags. Every Alaska Day (October 18), the ceremony is re-enacted in which the Russian flag is lowered and the US flag is raised.
Fish canning and gold mining were the base of the Port of Sitka's early growth. During World War II, the US Navy built an air base on Japonski Island (across the channel from the Port of Sitka), creating a population boom of 40,000 people. The O'Connell Bridge, connecting Japonski and Baranof Islands, was the first cable-stayed bridge to be built in the New World. Today, the air base is operated by the US Coast Guard.
The Greater Sitka Borough was incorporated in 1963, and the City and Borough of Sitka adopted the home rule charter in late 1971. With the 2000 incorporation of land in 2000, the Port of Sitka became the United State's largest incorporated city (covering some 7.0 thousand square kilometers or 2.7 thousand square miles).
The Port of Sitka's two biggest employers are the South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium and the Sitka School District. After government and healthcare, the seafood and tourism industries drive the local economy. Many residents of the Port of Sitka also depend on subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering (fish, deer, mushrooms, berries, and seaweeds).
In 2010, Texas' S2C Global Systems announced plans to ship fresh lake water from the Port of Sitka's Blue Lake to India. The first regular bulk tanker export of water in the world, this project could bring as much as $90 million in revenues to the Port of Sitka each year.
The Port of Sitka can only be reached by air or sea, although the weather and location on the Pacific Coast make transportation difficult. The Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport serves Alaska Airlines and local and bush charter carriers, although delays are common in fall and winter due to weather conditions. The Alaska Marine Highway System provides ferry service to the Port of Sitka, although the terminal is some 11 kilometers (7 miles) north of the city center. While access by sea is limited by the tides and rough seas, the ferry is a popular alternative to air travel due to its affordable cost.
A federally-recognized tribal government, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska serves over four thousand indigenous Alaskans that live in or near the Port of Sitka. Tribal citizens include the Tlingit, Haida, Aleut, and Tsimpsian. With authority encompassing all of Baranof Island and the southwestern half of Chicagof Island, the tribal government was created in 1934.
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