Russian Bishops House National Historic Landmark
Designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1962 the Russian Bishops House site was a cultural and educational center in Alaska from the 1840's to the mid-twentieth century. The Russian Bishop's House was the residence of Ivan Veniaminov, the great Russian religious leader and first Bishop of Alaska, and the administrative center for his and other Orthodox missionary efforts among the peoples native to Alaska. The great religious and moral influence exerted from this missionary center can be observed by the large numbers of Orthodox communicants living in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, and other Alaskan coastal communities. In addition to the historical significance associated with the site, the Russian Bishop's House is significant architecturally because of the high quality and unique construction characteristics of Russian vernacular design, such as the intricate joinery methods.
The Russian period in America extending from 1732 to 1867, while primarily economically motivated, resulted in numerous cultural transitions in Alaska. In the late 18th century, the abundance of sea otters in Alaska prompted settlement by Russian fur traders. In 1799 the Russian American Company (RAC) received a charter granting it exclusive fur trading rights in the Russian territories of the Pacific Rim. From then on it served as a quasi-governmental body within the territory. Novo-Arkhangelâ€™sk (Sitka) served as the capital of the Russian American colony from 1808 until 1867. The RAC charter compelled it to support the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska and fund construction of church buildings. The Russian Bishopâ€™s House was one of several buildings constructed in Sitka for the Russian Orthodox Church by the RAC.
The Russian Bishop's House served as the house for Russian Orthodox Bishops in North America from 1843 until 1969. In 1973, the National Park Service purchased the House and began a 15 year restoration. At the time the Russian Bishop's House was in very poor condition. Weathering, foundation problems, and leakage had taken their toll. Interior finishes were falling away while exterior siding rotted and buckled. The House was restored to the 1853 time period to serve as a museum. As part of its restoration a ventilation system was installed to control humidity inside the building. It has been very well maintained and is in excellent condition.