Series: World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska

World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska - Chapter 8: National Historic Landmark Evaluation

The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether the six World War II Aleut relocation camps in southeast Alaska qualify as a National Historic Landmark, or NHL. The NHL program is administered by the National Park Service (NPS) to identify and preserve “the nation’s most significant historic places...buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects [that] possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States in history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture” (U.S. Department of the Interior 1999:9). Unlike eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, which can be based on local or state significance as well as national significance, a NHL must have significance at the national level. The Secretary of the Interior has recognized less than 2500 NHLs in the United States since the program was implemented in 1960 (Mackintosh 1985:39-42).

In Alaska there are 49 NHLs, including archaeological sites, buildings, and battlefields (Table 2). Since 1962, several historical themes have been identified as of sufficient national interest to warrant NHL designation for Alaskan properties. Archaeological sites thousands of years old – evidence of early human migrations across the Bering Strait that populated North, Central, and South America, as well as those reflecting later prehistoric developments, form 13 NHLs. The colonization of Alaska by the Russian-American Company, not incidentally leaving a legacy of Russian Orthodox churches, has been recognized in 13 NHLs including the Seal Island (Pribilof Islands) Historic District. Other European and American explorations as well as Territorial military activity form the subject matter of several related NHLs. Alaska’s role in World War II is recognized with eight NHLs. Other themes are represented by fewer or only one NHL. NHLs are not distributed uniformly across Alaska; Sitka has eight, for example. All but five Alaska NHLs were designated between 50 and 20 years ago.
Table 2. Since 1961, 49 cultural properties have been designated as National Historic Landmarks in Alaska.
Cultural Property Location Designated
Ipiutak Site North Slope 1961
Iyatayet Site Nome 1961
American Flag Raising Site Sitka 1962
Skagway Historic District and White Pass Skagway 1962
Birnirk Site North Slope 1962
Chaluka Site Umnak Island, Aleutian Islands 1962
Palugvik Site Prince William Sound 1962
Old Sitka Sikta 1962
Wales Site Wales 1962
Yukon Island Main Site Kachemak Bay 1962
Russian-American Company Magazine Kodiak 1962
Russian Bishop's House Sitka 1962
St. Micahel's Cathedral Sitka 1962
Seal Island Historic District Pribilof Islands 1962
Holy Assumption Orthodox District Kenai 1970
Church of the Holy Ascension Unalaska 1970
Cape Krusenstern Archeological District Northwest Arctic 1973
Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall Sitka 1978
Anangula Site Ananiuliak Island, Aleutian Islands 1978
Bering Expedition Landing Site Kayak Island, Prince William Sound 1978
Cape Nome Mining District Discovery Sites Nome 1978
Dry Creek Archeological Site Healy 1978
Chilkoot Trail and Dyea Site Skagway 1978
Eagle Historic District Skagway 1978
Fort Durham Site Juneau 1978
Fort William H. Seward Haines 1978
Gallagher Flint Station Archeological Site North Slope 1978
Leffingwell Camp Site Flaxman Island, North Slope 1978
New Russia Site Yakutat 1978
Three Saints Bay Site Kodiak Island 1978
Sitka Spruce Plantation Unalaska 1978
Onion Portage Archeological District Kobuk River 1978
George C. Thomas Memorial Library Fairbanks 1978
Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base & Fort Mears, U.S. Army Unalaska 1985
Attu Battlefield and U.S. Army & Navy Airfields Attu Island, Aleutian Islands 1985
Japanese Occupation Site, Kiska Island Kiska Island, Aleutian Islands 1985
Kodiak Naval Operating Base and Forts Greely and Abercrombie Kodiak 1985
Ladd Field Fairbanks 1985
Kennecott Mines McCarthy 1986
Sitka Naval Operating Base & U.S. Army Coastal Defenses Sitka 1986
Adak Army Base and Adak Naval Operating Base Adak Island, Aleutian Islands 1987
Fort Glenn Umnak Island 1987
Russian-American Building #29 Sitka 1987
River Steamboat Nenana Fairbanks 1989
Brooks River Archeological District Katmai, Central Alaska 1993
Kijik Archeological District Lake Clark 1994
Kake Cannery Kake, Kupreanof Island 1997
Sheldon Jackson School Sitka 2001
Amalik Bay Archeological District King Salmon 2005
The list of NHLs (Table 2) illustrates the types of Alaskan properties judged eligible in decades past, and the question addressed in this chapter is whether the six World War II Aleut relocation camps warrant similar recognition. Except for the exclusion of local- and state-level significance as a factor, and the use of six rather than four significance criteria, the considerations are much the same as those for evaluating a property for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places. Usually excluded from NHL designation are cemeteries, birthplaces, graves of historical figures, religious properties, moved or reconstructed buildings, and properties whose significance pertains to the last 50 years or less (U.S. Department of the Interior 1999:11). But criteria for declaring exceptions to that exclusionary list are also identified in federal regulation, and so, for example, Alaska’s major World War II sites achieved NHL status between 1985 and 1987 (when less than 50 years old) because they had extraordinary national significance.

Once significance is established, a second factor comes into play – integrity. “Integrity is the ability of a property to convey its historical associations or attributes,” states the U.S. Department of the Interior (1999:36), though “the evaluation of integrity is somewhat of a subjective judgement.” The integrity of potential NHLs is evaluated using the same seven qualities used for National Register evaluation: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. Generally, NHL designation is reserved for cultural properties that are outstanding examples in some way.

Significance of the Six Properties

The association of the Funter Bay cannery and mine, Killisnoo, Wrangell Institute, Burnett Inlet cannery, and Ward Lake CCC Camp with the WorldWar II Aleut relocation event was demonstrated in earlier chapters. Though the Wrangell Institute was only a temporary staging area for villagers destined for Burnett Inlet and Ward Lake, all the camps were supposed to be temporary, and the school site justifiably joinsthe five longer-term camps as acontributing property to a potential NHL because of its firm historical association.

The six sites investigated are here evaluated only for their World War II significance. Each of the sites may deserve further consideration at a later time for potential eligibility to the National Register at the local or state level, within different historical periods and themes.

The World War II Aleut relocation experience is nationally significant in two contexts: Aleut Culture Change, and U.S. Military History.

Aleut Culture Change

The Aleuts of Alaska are a distinct culture and have occupied the Aleutian Islands for at least 9,000 years. However, the Aleut communities of St. Paul and St. George in the Pribilof Islands of the Bering Sea are a consequence of the Russian-American Company’s, and then the U.S. government’s, commercial exploitation of the fur seal rookeries there. Aleut workers and families from villages in the Aleutian Islands were moved to the otherwise uninhabited islands in the late 1700s, and though they maintained social ties with relatives in places like Nikolski and Unalaska, their lives were strictly controlled for commercial purposes by the government then holding the Pribilof fur seal franchise. Collectively, the Aleuts of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands had a long cultural history with two major interruptions: the arrival in the late 1700s of Russian explorers and merchants exploiting fur seals and sea otters for their pelts, and World War II.

The circumstances of the Aleutian Island villagers before compared to after World War II were very different, whereas those of the Pribilof Island villagers were much the same. The government-built concrete houses of St. Paul and St. George were occupied by Army and Navy troops during the war, and many were damaged along with their household contents, but able-bodied male villagers shipped back through the war zone in 1943 and 1944 to continue the annual Pribilof seal harvest (the fur sales were needed by the federal treasury to help fund the war) – along with federal overseers – were able somewhat to monitor military use. After the war the USFWS resumed management of the islands and their human and animal populations as before. Though their memories would be forever marked by the relocation, St. Paul and St. George villagers were largely able to resume the life they’d had prior to the war.

That was not the case for many of the Aleutian Island villagers. Prior to World War II they’d had limited exposure to federal or territorial government, and then it was mostly in the form of a territorial school teacher. Adjusting to the governmental restrictions of the relocation experience was more difficult, culminating with the government’s refusal to return the people of Attu, Kashega, Biorka, and Makushin to their original settlements. Like the village of Chernofski on the west end of Unalaska Island, which by 1940 “had already died as an Aleut village” (Petterson et al. 1983:36), the populations of the latter three villages had been dwindling for years ( Jones 1973:19). The forced amalgamation resulted in four Aleut communities – Atka, Akutan, Nikolski, and Unalaska – in all of the Aleutian Islands. The Unalaska to which many Aleuts returned was hardly recognizable, surrounded as it was with a large naval base, airstrip, and numerous other military installations. Atkans returned to a destroyed village adjacent to an Army airstrip and base, their burned and strafed houses framed by Japanese bomb craters on the hillside. Of all the Aleut villages, the people of Nikolski were best able to return to the traditional subsistence life they’d had before the war.

World War II caused a marked shift in settlement and subsistence for the Aleuts of the Aleutian Islands. Archaeological evidence for over 9,000 years of continuous settlement in the Aleutian Islands makes the Aleuts one of the nation’s oldest and most permanent Native peoples. The relocation experience during WW II marked a major transition for the Aleuts, and the event is the defining element in the culture’s recent past. In that regard the Aleut relocation experience is of national significance, and by association the six Aleut relocation camps are of national significance. The theme of Aleut Culture Change is embedded within the context of Social History, particularly Native American Social History.

World War II In Alaska

The invasion of the Aleutian Islands and attack at Dutch Harbor was meant by the Japanese to be a diversion, and the Alaska campaign was not a major determinant in the outcome of World War II in the Pacific (Morison 1982:4). Allied commanders weren’t initially certain of Japanese intentions, and responded in force as if the enemy were intending to leapfrog by land, sea, and air across the Aleutians to invade the North American mainland. The Japanese invasion of Alaska put the first foreign enemy troops on American soil since Pancho Villa briefly crossed the Mexican border into New Mexico in 1916, and it remains the last such event, making it of national significance.

In the wartime context, the relocation was justified as for the civilian good, clearing the potential theater of war of noncombatants and keeping them out of harm’s way; no one in authority wished the responsibility for risking a potential village capture like that of Attu. The removal of Aleut villagers from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands to camps in southeast Alaska was an integral part of the Alaska military campaign, and is thus of national significance. The theme of World War II in Alaska is part of U.S.military history.

Integrity

Six cultural properties have been described in six previous chapters, though some are comprised of more than one number in the Alaska Heritage Resource Survey (AHRS) system (Table 3). The Funter Bay and Killisnoo cemeteries each have an AHRS number separate from the nearby industrial site, for example, and require separate consideration, but the overall integrity evaluations are little affected. Both the Funter Bay properties were combined into the proposed Funter Bay Historic District ( JUN-911) in 2002, but the evaluation was not finalized and the AHRS number has little utility. The integrity evaluations are presented according to the six primary cultural properties.
Table 3. Alaska Heritage Resource Survey (AHRS) numbers for investigated properties.
Property Cultural Site and AHRS #
Funter Bay Cannery Thlinket packing Company (Jun-029)
Funter Bay Aleut Cemetery (JUN-975)
Funter Bay Mine Admiralty Alaska Gold Mine (JUN-974)
Killisnoo Killisnoo (SIT-014); Killisnoo Cemetery (SIT-749)
Wrangell Institute Wrangell Institute (PET-039)
Burnett Inlet Cannery Burnett Inlet Cannery (PET-136)
Ward Lake CCC Camp KET-072; KET-087


According to the National Register Bulletin, “integrity is the ability of a property to convey its historical associations or attributes” (U.S. Department of the Interior 1999:36). So, the question to be asked is: “How well does this particular site (and the aggregate group of sites) convey the World War II Aleut relocation experience?”. A primary factor in selecting the camp locations was not proximity to medical treatment, or available subsistence resources, or potable water, or firewood, but simply shelter. Consequently the ability of the sites to convey their significance revolves largely around the integrity of the buildings present during World War II.

The National Register Bulletin goes on to say that “the evaluation of integrity is somewhat of a subjective judgement, but it must always be grounded in an understanding of a property’s physical features and how they relate to its historical associations and attributes.” The evaluation of integrity used for the six camps is a four-part ranking of high, good, fair, and low (Table 4). The illustrations in this volume are meant to provide the reader with their own appreciation of the six sites and their condition, allowing an independent assessment of the integrity classifications.
Table 4. Integrity evaluations for the six relocation camps, with the Funter Bay Cemetery addressed separately. Evaluation categories are high, good, fair, or low. See sidebar for definitions of the seven integrity categories.
Site Location Design Setting Materials Workmanship Feeling Association
Funter Bay Cannery high low fair low low fair high
(Cemetery) high high high good good high high
Funter Bay Mine high low good low low good high
Killisnoo high low low low low low high
(Cemetery) high fair fair fair low good high
Wrangell Institute high low low low low low high
Burnett Inlet Cannery high low low low low low high
Ward Lake CCC Camp high low low low low low high

Funter Bay Cannery

The remains of the Thlinket Packing Company (JUN-029) and the nearby Funter Bay Aleut Cemetery (JUN-975) are considered together here as the Funter Bay cannery property. Only two intact cannery buildings remain in their original location, and otherwise the property’s appearance is largely formed by a broad bare waterfront where the industrial buildings once were, and two new houses. The cemetery has been maintained to keep close to its original appearance.

Using the seven aspects of integrity as the standard for evaluation, the Funter Bay cannery is judged to be high in terms of its location and association (Table 4). The two standing buildings and the ruins of others, the boardwalks, and the large pieces of stationary machinery left are not enough to visualize the building complex during WW II, but they are sufficient to convey some of the layout, and – at least to pedestrian archaeologists – some of the feeling of the large facility. The site is rated as fair in the categories of setting and feeling. Though a few construction details were gleaned from the buildings and building ruins, the limited physical remains warrant a low evaluation in regard to design, materials, and workmanship.

The cemetery near the Funter Bay cannery is much as it was during the relocation period. Changes consist of: the addition of several stone grave markers, replacement of original wood 2” x 4” Russian Orthodox cross markers painted white with white-painted examples of 2” x 2” stock, placement of the older crosses horizontally on each grave mound, replacement of boardlined grave borders with stone borders, and a natural evolution in the tree cover from a relatively denuded wartime landscape to a second-growth thicket in 2008. These slight changes warrant a designation of good in regard to the site’s integrity of materials and workmanship. Otherwise, the Funter Bay Aleut cemetery is high in regard to location, design, setting, feeling, and association (Table 4).

Funter Bay Mine

The Admiralty Alaska Gold Mine (JUN-974) at Funter Bay is still owned by the Pekovich family and their fellow stockholders, who owned it before and during the Aleut relocation. One original building has been maintained, and – with an addition – serves as the residence of Sam Pekovich. A two-story bunkhouse and a small shop are also original buildings still in use. Otherwise the Funter Bay mine buildings are decaying in place and most can still be identified, making it when photographed the most evocative of the six WW II Aleut relocation camp sites.

Other than the addition to the Pekovich house, the only visible improvements in recent decades are the erection of two small wood-frame utility sheds, one small corrugated metal utility shed, and a larger prefabricated metal utility shed. The mine workings inland – though lacking standing buildings – have large features representing collapsed buildings and their contents. But they are less relevant to St. George villagers’ wartime experience, which focused on the mining camp along the shoreline. A total of 11 main wartime buildings can be detected in their original location just above the high tide mark, though some are becoming archaeological features.

The buildings, building ruins, and other features of the Admiralty Alaska Gold Mine are mostly discernible and convey much of the site’s wartime layout and atmosphere. The site ranks high in terms of location and association, and good in terms of setting and feeling. However, the overall poor condition of the buildings warrants a low evaluation in terms of design, materials, and workmanship (Table 4).

Killisnoo

The site of historic Killisnoo (SIT-014) now has essentially two owners, one being the Whaler’s Cove Lodge – which has developed the property as a summer fishing resort and maintains many new buildings, and the Aubertine Trust, which keeps a residence and several other buildings there. Little is left of the Killisnoo herring plant except for a large stationary machine, many boilers, a large intertidal artifact scatter, and extensive archaeological remains of the residential district that burned in 1928. There are no standing buildings that date to the operational period of the plant or the later WW II Aleut relocation experience. Of numerous artifacts recovered by the existing landowners, none were noticed to be particularly associated with World War II and the Aleut relocation experience. The exception is the Killisnoo cemetery (SIT-749), where five wooden Russian Orthodox crosses in a group at the cemetery’s north edge are said to mark the graves of Atka villagers that perished during the war. No names are now distinguishable on the crosses, and all are in poor condition.

In terms of how it conveys the Aleut relocation experience, the historic Killisnoo site ranks high in location and association, and low in design,setting, materials, workmanship, and feeling (Table 4). The five deteriorating Russian Orthodox crosses in the cemetery rank: high in location and association; good in feeling; fair in design, setting, and materials; and low in workmanship.

Wrangell Institute

The buildings of the Wrangell Institute have been mostly demolished, and the land has been recontoured to accommodate the removal of huge volumes of contaminated soil. The brief reconnaissance noted two standing buildings on the waterfront side of the highway. A large boathouse built by the Institute in 1938 is still standing in fair repair, with limited exterior modifications, but it isn’t being used. A small gable-roofed one-story shed with two open bays, north of the boathouse, may be an original Institute building but that hasn’t been confirmed. Between the two buildings are a playground and tennis courts.

The integrity of the Wrangell Institute site ranks high in location and association, and low in all other factors: design, setting, materials, workmanship, and feeling (Table 4). Alone, the picturesque boathouse is not enough to convey much about the Aleut experience there during World War II.
Aerial view of buildings and pier on the shore with forest behind them.
Figure 227. One development in the vicinity of the Burnett Inlet cannery is a fish hatchery near the head of the inlet.

Burnett Inlet Cannery

Burnett Inlet has had almost no development since World War II except for a fish hatchery (Figure 227) built at the inlet’s head in 1978 (Wrangell Sentinel 1978b), and otherwise its shores appear as they did during World War II. The Burnett Inlet cannery has no standing buildings and is now an archaeological site managed by the Tongass National Forest. Observed in 2008 were building ruins, intertidal pilings, miscellaneous features and stationary equipment, and artifact scatters. The building ruins consisted of four scatters of rotten planks inside the treeline, and the intertidal pilings consisted of isolated examples and four groups ranging up to 54 pilings per group. Other features include remains of a wood-stave water tank, a wood-stave oil tank, a boiler, a large pump on a concrete pedestal, a masonry- enclosed metal vat probably used to soak nets, and large metal machinery dropped into the intertidal zone by the pre-war fire that destroyed the cannery and warehouse buildings. The Burnett Inlet cannery has left its architectural state and descended into the archaeological record. Remains reflecting the Aleut relocation experience at Burnett Inlet are lacking.

The Burnett Inlet cannery rates high in terms of its location and its association with the Aleut relocation experience. However, the disappearance of the buildings has greatly diminished the cannery’s ability to convey aspects of design, setting, materials, workmanship, and feeling, each of which is judged to be low (Table 4).

Ward Lake CCC Camp

The flimsy buildings of the Ward Lake CCC Camp were removed or demolished soon after the war, and the area has been managed for recreational use. Other than two concrete pedestals, the street alignment, and the rock foundation, there are no surface features to suggest the former camp, let alone any particular association with the Aleut relocation event.

Ward Lake had already been developed as a rustic public recreation site before the Aleut relocation, and – though it wasn’t used so much during the war because of water contamination, the park-like setting of that time has been retained. The site is judged high in terms of location and association (Table 4). But the lack of almost all surface remains resigns the site to a low evaluation in the categories of design, setting, materials, workmanship, and feeling.

Summary of Integrity

The six sites comprising the World War II Aleut relocation camps have high integrity in terms of location and association. However, the poor physical condition of the sites warrants mostly low assessments in terms of integrity of design, setting, materials, workmanship, and feeling (Table 4). Having the most integrity – best conveying the Aleut relocation experience – is the Aleut grave cluster at Killisnoo and especially the Aleut cemetery near the Funter Bay cannery. Of all the camps, the Funter Bay mine still affords good integrity in terms of setting and feeling. But overall the six sites as a group have very few standing buildings that ever sheltered Aleut evacuees, and instead the physical record is entering the archaeological realm.

National Historic Landmark Eligibility
Qualification as a NHL requires a property to have a high degree of significance and a high degree of integrity. The cultural significance of the six properties as a group rests within the themes of Aleut culture change as part of Native American social history, and within World War II’s Alaska campaign as part of U.S. military history. Thus the six properties are significant under Criterion 1, being “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to, and are identified with, or that outstandingly represent, the broad national patterns of United States history and from which an understanding and appreciation of those patterns may be gained” (U.S. Department of the Interior 1999:21). Four of the remaining five criteria (see sidebar) are judged not pertinent to the sites’ significance, in that they are not associated with important persons, national ideals, distinctive architectural styles, or broad lifeways. Criterion 6, referring to a cultural property’s significance in potentially yielding important archaeological information, was not addressed by the field reconnaissance.

The physical integrity of the six properties is collectively low, though the two cemeteries do convey some sense of the Aleut World War II relocation experience. Thus – despite high national significance for their association with important historical events – the six properties do not have sufficient integrity to warrant NHL status. The essential physical features needed to convey the properties’ significance are buildings, but few buildings are left standing at any of the sites, and they along with the building ruins and features observed in 2008 are not enough to convey significance.

Comparison with other NHLs in Alaska and elsewhere in the U.S. is useful in judging the validity of the assessment presented here. The subject – World War II Aleut Relocation Camps – is compatible with the prior subjects selected for NHL status within the World War II in Alaska theme. The existing WW II NHLs are devoted to actual military facilities and battlefields (Table 2), and thus the Aleut relocation camps form a complimentary civilian element. Otherwise the camps – particularly the Funter Bay camps where St. Paul and St. George villagers lived – have some relationship to the Seal Islands NHL encompassing most of the Pribilof Islands.

Within the national sphere, an historical example paralleling the Aleut relocation is that of the Japanese-American internment program during WW II, which has been judged of national significance (Burton et al. 2000). The physical remains of that event, consisting of buildings and other features at ten sites scattered across the western States, were found to vary widely in their integrity, but some were sufficiently intact to convey the Japanese internment experience. What was in wartime the Manzanar War Relocation Center in the Owens Valley of California is now managed by the NPS as a National Historic Site, as is Minidoko War Relocation Center near Twin Falls, Idaho. Recently Congress authorized a study evaluating a third property – the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in northwest Wyoming – for its significance and integrity. Standing buildings that convey the Japanese internment experience are the common denominator of the three properties, though they are not designated NHLs but are instead National Historic Sites managed for their public educational and recreational value. Each of the three Japanese internment camps recognized for their historic value has more in the way of standing buildings and other features that convey their significance, compared to the Aleut relocation camps (Burton et al. 2000). Similarly, each of the NHLs already recognized for their association with World War II in Alaska have more standing buildings and intact features compared to the Aleut relocation camps. That is why, to conclude, the six World War II Aleut relocation camps in southeast Alaska are judged to be of national significance but do not have sufficient integrity to warrant designation as a National Historic Landmark.