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Totem Trail

Sitka National Historical Park, AK

Beginning in 1903, Alaska district governor John Brady, based in the territorial capital of Sitka, assembled a remarkable collection of totem poles. The poles were brought to Sitka from various locations along the southeast Alaska coast, gifts from native Tlingit and Haida chiefs. In 1904 the poles were shipped to St. Louis, for display outside the Alaska pavilion at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The poles were then displayed at the 1905 Louis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon, before finally returning to Sitka, where they were installed along a trail through the federal park which had been created in 1890 to commemorate the 1804 battle between the Tlingit and the Russians.

Jurisdiction for the totem poles passed to the National Park Service in 1916, with the establishment of Sitka National Historical Park. Over the years, as the poles deteriorated, they were repaired, or even completely recarved, with a major effort undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. In 1969 the park established the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, which has overseen the repair and recarving of the existing poles, as well as the carving of several new poles.

In 2013 a joint project was undertaken by the National Park Service's Harpers Ferry Center, by Sitka National Historical Park (SNHP), and by the Historic American Landscapes Survey to document the 19 standing totem poles and house posts along the totem Trail, in order to enhance the park's interpretive efforts. Heritage Documentation Programs architects Jeremy Mauro and Mark Schara scanned each of the poles with a Leica Scanstation C10 laser scanner and took HDR panoramic photos. The virtual tour was developed by Jeremy Mauro, with interpretive text by Ryan Carpenter, Sitka National Historical Park Ranger, and Benjamin Clark, a teacher at Sitka High School who served as a seasonal Park Ranger through SNHP’s Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program.

For more information please visit the Sitka National Historical Park website.