post

Castle on a Hill

We woke up on the ferry. Gorgeous patterns in the wake as we cruised into Sitka.

Image of the water in the Sitka sound during a wave with an additional reflection

Wake from the ferry with reflection in the Sitka sound

I have wanted to come and photograph the totem poles for some time, and also visit some of the National Historic Landmarks (NHL) in town. I used to work for cultural resources in the regional office, for the National Landmark program. I am very familiar with the history in this small town.

We arrived in Sitka too early to check into our hotel, so we jumped into exploration. First we visited Castle Hill (NHL), then we drove around the St. Michael’s Cathedral (NHL), walked around town, watched the fisherman fish, visited the Sheldon Jackson Campus (NHL) and Museum, and an old Russian cemetery. We finished the day of exploring by walking the fishing docks and admiring the ships.

Castle Hill, or Noow Tlein (Tlingit), is a rocky hill that overlooks Sitka. The top of this location is significant to the history of this area. First the Tlingit, then the Russians built and lost forts in battles on this hill. It was on this very mound that the Russians lowered their flag and the American flag was raised, signifying U.S. ownership.

At this ceremony in 1867, a dual cannon salute was fired. The Russian flag got stuck in the lanyards as they tried to lower the flag. Several soldiers tried to climb the pole with no success. Eventually they got it down, but once it was untangled, it fell, landing on the Russian soldier’s bayonets. The American flag was raised with no incidents, and Alaska became part of the United States. Today, there are no sign of forts, structures, or bayonets. Two cannons still reside, and the space is a grassy spot with a view.

1827 illustration of Castle Hill in Russian-controlled Sitka. The hilltop building was an imposing fortification that overlooked the water and Tlingit areas. (Old Sitka, Alaska) by Postels. Source: Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

1827 illustration of Castle Hill in Russian-controlled Sitka. The hilltop building was an imposing fortification that overlooked the water and Tlingit areas. (Old Sitka, Alaska) by Postels.
Source: Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Image of the top of Castle Hill; a large open grassy area with park benches and an American flag with cannons

The top of Castle Hill today

In 1959, after Alaska was admitted as the 49th U.S. state, Castle Hill was the location where the first 49-star U.S. flag in Alaska was raised.

Sheldon Jackson (May 18,1834 – May 2, 1909) was a Presbyterian minister, missionary, and political leader. His history and legacy in Sitka is very interesting, particularly his interest in education. He is interesting enough that he should have a blog post all about him, but instead I will mention where my interests are. Sheldon was a collector, an early scientist and ethnographer, who believed in preserving the material objects from all his travels. He traveled extensively in early Alaska. I wanted to go to the museum to see some of these artifacts that remain in Sitka. I was not disappointed. If you ever get a chance to get to the Sheldon Jackson Museum, it is definitely a must! Some of the best artifacts I have seen in Alaska are here. I purchased a couple of books on Sheldon Jackson and toured the museum.

Image of Sheldon Jackson School

Sheldon Jackson School

Image of the center of the Sheldon Jackson Museum with three totem pole artifacts

Center of the Sheldon Jackson Museum has three totem pole artifacts

Image of collection cases in a museum surrounded by wooden oars

Collection cases in the museum

From the collection (I particularly like the masks):

Image of a piece of artwork; a carving of a person with a wolf

Image of a large wooden face
Image of a Native mask
Image of a black faced mask with large eyes and showing white teeth
Image of a wooden mask
Image of a wooden painted doll with crazy black hair
Image of a wooden art figure
Image of a piece of carved art of several men who look like they are rowing

We spent a good part of the afternoon enjoying the boats.

Image of several posts off of a high dock

Boats

Image of many boats in the water in a dock

and more boats…

Image of a boat in the water surrounded by a net next to a smaller boat with a fisherman standing in it

Fishermen

I glanced at a map and saw there was an old Russian cemetery in town. We opted to explore this graveyard. What an amazing find! The cemetery was overgrown and was very lush. The Russian Orthodox cross was to be seen in many places, and someone had been planting flowers randomly in the cemetery. We later ran into the security guard who told us a woman spends a lot of time in the place. She plants the flowers out of respect, and to add a touch to many of the mostly forgotten graves. The place was very peaceful and beautiful.

Image of a bright green forest with a fallen tree and several gravestones behind

Russian cemetery

Image of a bright green forest with scattered gravestones almost unnoticeable due to overgrowth

Mostly forgotten graves

Soon we will visit the totem poles; my primary reason for coming to Sitka.

A day of totem poles
I am AWARE
About Maya

My name is Maya, and I wander.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: