Sitka National Historical Park
History and museums, Natural sights
Sitka National Historical Park (also known as Indian River Park and Totem Park) is a National Historical Park in Sitka in the U.S. state of Alaska. It was established on October 18, 1972 "...to commemorate the Tlingit and Russian experiences in Alaska."
The history of Alaska's oldest federally designated cultural and historic park dates back to June 21, 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison set aside the site of the Tlingit fort Shis'kí Noow (Tlingit for "Fort of Young Saplings") for public use. The site, located near the mouth of the Indian River, served in 1804 as the location of an armed conflict between the native Tlingit people and Russian fur hunters (accompanied by their Aleut allies), known today as the Battle of Sitka.
From 1903 to 1905, District Governor John G. Brady set about acquiring Native totem poles from all over Alaska for display at the park; the majority of the poles came from Haida villages located on Prince of Wales Island, while others had been on display at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Shortly thereafter, a group of influential Sitkans concerned about vandalism and the poor condition of the park in general pressured the federal government to declare the site a National Monument.
The Sitka National Monument was created on March 23, 1910 to preserve the fort site and totem pole collection. With the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, the monument fell under the new agency's care, though no significant appropriation was made until 1921. Many of the poles exhibited today along the park's two miles (3.2 kilometers) of wooded pathways are replicas of the deteriorating originals, now held in protective storage. Interspersed among the giant Sitka Spruce trees are a variety of ferns, shrubs and flowers. Salmon can be seen swimming up Indian River during spawning season.
The 113–acre (0.5 km2) park was placed under the control of the U.S. Army in 1942 and briefly occupied for defensive purposes, during which a series of military construction projects resulted in the removal of massive amounts of gravel from the park's river, shoreline and estuary. Environmental impacts from the gravel removal were to be a major resource issue for decades after. Responsibility for the park was formally returned to the Department of the Interior in 1947. In 1965, a new visitor center (the park's first true visitor facility, which provides space for exhibits and demonstrations of Alaska Native arts and crafts) was opened. The Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
In a groundbreaking arrangement, the Alaska Native Brotherhood assumed control of the demonstration program and established its focus on Southeast Alaska Native cultural arts in 1969; the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center celebrated its 30th anniversary in January, 2000. Many of the remarkable Tlingit artifacts in the collection were loaned or donated by local clans under agreements designed to ensure ongoing, traditional use.
Located approximately one–half mile from the Park, the Russian Bishop's House was constructed out of native spruce in 1841-43 by Finnish carpenters. It is one of only four surviving examples of Russian Colonial Style architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Bishop Innocent (Father Ivan Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov) of the Russian Orthodox Church, a clergyman, teacher, scientist, and linguist, occupied the residence until 1859. The Church operated the facility as a school, residence, and place of worship for another century, until the dilapidated condition forced its abandonment in 1972 and sale to the Park Service.
In 1973, the Park Service embarked on a 16–year restoration project to return the property to its former glory. Modern plumbing, heating, and electrical systems were installed, while at the same time keeping the structure as authentic as possible. The second floor was restored to its 1853 appearance, based on archaeological evidence and early diaries and drawings. Today, numerous exhibits and lavish icons in the "Chapel of the Annunciation" convey the legacy of Russian America.
The Russian Bishop's House is a National Historic Landmark; both it and the main area of the park are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.