25 Fun Facts about Sitka, Alaska

by Janis on September 29, 2016

Sitka, Alaska in 1901.

Sitka, Alaska in 1901.

1. Sitka is Alaska’s first and oldest city. The area in Southeast Alaska was originally settled by the Tlingit people more than 10,000 years ago.

2. Today the City and Borough of Sitka, Alaska, encompasses 4,710 square miles, making it the largest city by land mass in the United States, with a population just under 9,000.

Map of Sitka, Alaska3. While the City and Burough of Sitka includes Baranof Island and the southern half of Chichagof Island, the area generally thought of as the city of Sitka is situated on the west side of Baranof Island.

4. Russians settled Old Sitka in 1799, setting up a colonial trading company chartered by Tsar Paul 1.

5. After winning a battle with the Tlingit’s in 1804, Alexander Baranov, the governor of Russian America, established a permanent settlement. Baranov named the town “New Archangel” after Arkhangelsk, a city in Russia near his birthplace.

New Archangel, 1805

New Archangel, 1805

6. Sitka became the capital of Russian America in 1808.

7. Led by Secretary of State William Seward, the United States agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia in April of 1867 for $7.2 million.

8. The official transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States took place at Sitka on October 18, 1867.

9. Sitka served as the capital of the Alaska Territory until 1906, when the seat of government was relocated north to Juneau. The move of the capital city followed the gold-rush fueled growth of Juneau combined with the decline in whaling and fur trade that had given Sitka its earlier economic prominence.

Russian Orthodox Church, Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Jeremy Keith.

Russian Orthodox Church, Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Jeremy Keith from Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom.

10. The Cathedral of Saint Michael was built in Sitka in 1848, the first Orthodox cathedral in the New World. Although the original church burned in 1966, it was restored to its original appearance.

St. Peter's-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Bob Keefer.

St. Peter’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Bob Keefer.

11. St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church is a Gothic Revival structure built of stone and wood in Sitka in 1899. The church is one of 22 buildings and sites in Sitka that appear in the National Register of Historic Places.

12. The population of Sitka grew dramatically during World War II when the United States Navy constructed an air base on Japonski Island, bringing 30,000 service personnel to the area.

The John O'Connell Bridge connects Japonski Island to Baranof Island in Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Thomson200,

The John O’Connell Bridge connects Japonski Island to Baranof Island in Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Thomson200,

13. Today the Sitka airport is located on Japonski Island. The John O’Connell Bridge, the first vehicular cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere when it was built in 1972, connects Japonski Island to Baranof Island.

14. Japonski Island is home to a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station and the port and crew housing facilities for the USCGC Maple, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender.

15. Mt. Edgecumbe High School, a State of Alaska-run boarding high school for rural students, is also located on Japonski Island. The high school, primarily attended by Native students, is known for its state championship-winning boys and girl’s basketball teams.

16. As a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean, Sitka is only accessible by boat or plane. Vehicles are usually brought to Sitka via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system.

View of Crescent Harbor in Sitka, Alaska. Photograph by Robert A. Estremo.

View of Crescent Harbor in Sitka, Alaska. Photograph by Robert A. Estremo.

17. Tourist cruises began arriving in Sitka as 1884 via the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. By 1890, Sitka was receiving 5,000 tourists via steamship a year.

18. Today Sitka remains a popular cruise ship port, with a project 150,000 visitors arriving via cruise ship in 2017. Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line all offer cruises that call on Sitka in 2017.

19. Despite Sitka’s large size in terms of land mass, the city only has 14 miles of roads.

20. The Alaska Department of Public Safety Training Academy — the training academy for all Alaska State Troopers — is located in Sitka. In addition to state troopers, it trains municipal police officers, state park rangers, fire marshals, and Village public safety officers.


21. Author Louis L’Amour penned Sitka , his fictional account of the events surrounding the United States’ purchase of the Alaska Territory from the Russians in 1867.

22. Novelist James Michener resided in Sitka while doing research for his epic book, Alaska.


23. The 2009 romantic comedy film The Proposal starring Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock and Betty White is set in Sitka, Alaska. The movie scenes depicting Sitka were actually filmed in Rockport, Massachusetts.

24. During an average year, it rains three out of every five days in Sitka, for a total of 132 inches a year.

25. The average monthly temperature in Sitka ranges from 36.4 °F in January to 57.2 °F in August.

Have you visited Sitka, or do you live there? What fun or interesting fact can you add to this list? 

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