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St. Michael's Cathedral

Russian Bishop's House

Building No. 29

Holy Assumption Orthodox Church

Russian America Co. Magazin

Holy Ascension Orthodox Church

Seal Islands

Additional National Historic Landmark

National Park Service
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Americans have always sought to commemorate the lives and events which have shaped their history and to preserve the places important to their nation's past. The Historic Sites Act of 1935 guided the first systematic attempt to identify and recognize those places. Today the initiatives of that legislation continue in the National Historic Landmarks program.

National Historic Landmarks. (click on image for a PDF version)

The Historic Sites Act authorized "a survey of historic sites, buildings, and objects for the purpose of determining which possess exceptional value as commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States." (P. L. 292, Aug, 21, 1935; Section 2[b]). The National Park Service, acting for the Secretary of the Interior, was charged with carrying out the nation-wide survey. National Park Service historians developed an outline of the major themes of American history and pre-history to assure that the survey would be comprehensive in coverage and representative in selection of sites. Field work was undertaken and sites classified as possessing, or not possessing, national significance.

The results of the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings, as the program was known then, were intended to form the basis for a national preservation plan. It was expected that many of the nationally significant properties would be added to the National Park System. In reality, however, few of the sites identified through the survey were established as national historical parks or monuments. Yet the remaining sites, all important parts of our national heritage, lacked recognition—and protection. This need gave rise to a new direction: designation of National Historic Landmarks.

In 1960 an official listing, or registry, was established for National Historic Landmarks—those properties found to possess exceptional historical value through the national survey process. A certificate of registration and a bronze commemorative plaque would be provided to the property owner upon designation of the Landmark. National Historic Landmarks would have first priority for architectural recording through the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Thus preservation would be encouraged through recognition, honor, and documentation.

Since 1960, additional legislation protection and assistance available has increased to the National Historic Landmarks. The Historic Preservation Act of 1966 is widely known for establishing a National Register of Historic Places to recognize properties of local and state significance, as well as the nationally significant Landmarks. The Act also provided important protection for all registered properties by establishing a state and federal review process in cases where federally funded projects could have an impact on the historic values of the property. A separate monitoring and review process was established to protect National Historic Landmarks from the potential impacts of mining operations. (Mining in the Parks Act, P. L. 94—429, September 28, 1976).

Because very few National Historic Landmarks are owned by the federal government, the National Park Service—which continues to administer the program—carries out periodic inspections to determine whether Landmarks still retain the qualities for which they were designated. In cases where historic values have been undermined or lost, Landmarks are de-designated and the plaque and certificate returned to the National Park Service. A report to Congress on National Historic Landmarks which "exhibit known or anticipated damage or threats to the integrity of their resources" is prepared annually, as required by Section 8 of the General Authorities Act (P. L. 94-458, Oct. 7, 1976).

Section 8 Reports include only those sites where damage is imminent or actually present as a result of demolition, deterioration, erosion, floods, vandalism, adverse uses, or inappropriate construction or alterations. These Priority I sites are monitored annually until such time as de-designation is recommended, or the site is out of danger. Sites identified as Priority II (threatened or susceptible to damage) or Priority III (no apparent threat or damage) are also monitored for any change in status.

In a positive step to address problems identified in the Section 8 Report, a new assistance program has been developed for threatened Landmarks. Beginning in 1985, a few Priority I and II National Historic Landmarks have been selected each year for an in-depth inspection and condition assessment. The purpose is to analyze specific conditions at the site, determine needed corrective treatments, prioritize the work needed, and provide detailed cost estimates. Funded and coordinated by the National Park Service, the in-depth inspections are carried out by professional architects, engineers, or archeologists. The final Condition Assessment Report is given to the Landmark owners and is available to interested public or private groups.

Although the National Park Service does not fund the actual work recommended in the assessment reports, it assists Landmark owners in locating public or private funding sources. One important new source is the National Historic Landmark Fund, through which private and corporate donations are channeled to Landmarks with critical needs.

Other forms of assistance for National Historic Landmarks are available, as well. These include technical advisory services and publications available through the National Park Service, federal tax incentives for preservation, and documentation through the Historic American Buildings Survey or Historic American Engineering Record.


In 1961 the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings conducted a study in Alaska under the broad theme of U. S. Political and Military Affairs, 1865-1910. This resulted in the designation of several National Historic Landmarks, including the first group of Russian-American sites: Erskine House (now Russian American Co. Magazin), Fur Seal Rookeries (now Seal Islands NHL), Russian Bishop's House, Saint Michael's Cathedral and Old Sitka. Several nationally significant archeological sites were also designated at that time.

Since the initial designations, the list of National Historic Landmarks in Alaska has grown to a total of forty-four. In 1975-1976 an effort to identify additional Alaskan National Historic Landmarks resulted in a number of Russian America theme NHLs being designated: Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (Kenai), Holy Ascension Orthodox Church (Unalaska), New Russia Site (Yakutat), Bering Expedition Landing Site (Kayak Island), Sitka Spruce Plantation (Dutch Harbor), and Three Saints Bay Site (Kodiak Island).

Recently there have been several additions. In 1985-86 seven World War II sites were added, following a National Park Service theme study of the War in the Pacific. These included U. S. naval and army installations at Adak, Attu, Dutch Harbor, Sitka, Kodiak, and Ladd Field (Fairbanks), and the Japanese Occupation Site on Kiska Island. In 1986, the historic Kennecott copper mining complex was designated a National Historic Landmark, followed by the Russian-American Company Building No. 29 (Sitka) in 1987.

For the past five years the National Park Service has maintained an active National Historic Landmarks program through the Alaska Regional Office in Anchorage. One of its major efforts has been a series of boundary review studies for some of the older Landmarks which were designated without specified boundaries. Clear Landmark boundaries, justified by the national significance of the resources within, are essential for effective land management and historic preservation planning. In Alaska, as land selections are completed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the boundary studies are especially critical.

Since 1983, fifteen major studies have been completed for sites as remote, complex, and diverse as the Pribilof Islands (Seal Islands NHL), Russian-American Company Magazin (Erskine House), Ipiutak archeological site (Point Hope), and Skagway Historic District and White Pass. Extensive historical research has been undertaken, as well as detailed site documentation. In some cases, these studies constitute the single most complete source of historical information on the site. The boundary review studies for Russian-American sites—some done under contract, some by National Park Service historians—are included in this volume.

Another accomplishment of the Alaska program is reflected in a series of completed National Historic Landmark Condition Assessment Reports. Under contract with the National Park Service, an Anchorage architectural firm has conducted detailed structural inspections of five National Historic Landmark structures, all of which are related to the Russian-American theme. Holy Assumption Orthodox Church and the Chapel of St. Nicholas, Kenai, and Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, Unalaska, were completed in 1985—three projects funded out of a total of twenty done nationally in this first year of the program.

In 1986, two additional in-depth inspections were completed at St. George the Holy Martyr Orthodox Church, St. George Island, and the Company House, St. Paul Island, in the Seal Islands National Historic Landmark. In 1987 the program continues with two structures at the Kennecott mines. Final reports are available from the Regional Office in Anchorage.

Because of the great distances and high costs of travel, it is not possible to monitor National Historic Landmarks in Alaska annually. However, in the last few years the Regional Office has established a program of periodic site visits to monitor potential threats and to assure that owners, especially those new to the program, are aware of the benefits available to Landmark properties. Since 1985, Regional Office staff historians and archeologists have made thirty-six site visits for these purposes. Current information on site conditions is included in the annual "Section 8 Report to Congress on Threats to National Historic Landmarks."


Although they are included under the broad theme of U. S. Political and Military Affairs, the National Historic Landmarks related to Russian America are a distinctive group of Alaskan sites. These sites span the history of Russian presence in Alaska from the landing of Vitus Bering's crew on Kayak Island, July 20, 1741, to the raising of the American flag in Sitka, October 18, 1867. (Bering Expedition Landing Site NHL; American Flag Raising Site NHL)

Many significant aspects of the colonial experience are represented by these Landmarks. The early period of contact and settlement is reflected in three archeological sites. Three Saints Bay Site, located near Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, was one of the first permanent Russian settlement in North America. It was established in 1784 by the Golikov-Shelikov Company and continued under Alexander Baranov's management until a tidal wave destroyed it in 1792.

The New Russia Site at Yakutat Bay was an outpost of the Kodiak settlement and a key location for trade along the coast. In 1805 the post was destroyed by the Tlingit Indians. Old Sitka, on the coast of Baranov Island in the Alexander Archipelago, was the site of another strategic outpost established in 1799 to extend Russian American Company dominance west and southward in resistance to the encroaching British fur trade. Old Sitka was destroyed by the Tlingits in 1802.

Four additional Landmarks represent the activities of the Russian American Company in the colonies. The Seal Islands National Historic Landmark (Fur Seal Rookeries) recognizes the economic activity that drew the Russians to North American shores. The Seal Islands, today known as the Pribilofs, were discovered by the Russians in 1786 and exploited through use of Aleut labor until sale of the colonies in 1867. The Landmark includes rookeries, historic portions of the villages of St. Paul and St. George, and the archeological remains of seal hunting encampments on the islands.

The Russian American Company Magazin (Erskine House) in Kodiak was built by Alexander Baranov as a warehouse for furs at this central distribution point in the colonies. The large two-story log building was also used by the Alaska Commercial Company, which succeeded the Russian American Company as a controlling factor in Alaska's economy and governance.

In Sitka, capital of the colonies from 1808 to 1867, a single Russian American Company residence stands to represent company administration in that vital port city. Building No. 29, built of logs in a vernacular style, is important for its historic associations in the old Russian capital and as a rare example of a domestic structure from the Russian period.

The Sitka Spruce Plantation on Amaknak Island is a unique Landmark, representing a little known Russian American Company activity. This small stand of weather-twisted trees is remains from an 1805 attempt to make the colony at Unalaska self-sufficient in timber. It is the oldest known afforestation project on the North American continent.

As potent an agent of colonization as the Russian American Company, the Orthodox Church wrought profound cultural change among the native peoples of Alaska. Christianity, literacy, and health care were the instruments; the results live on in the names, traditions, and religious life in villages from the Aleutians to the panhandle. The physical legacy, a handful of rare and well preserved religious structures in the Russian tradition, is recognized by several National Historic Landmark designations.

Sitka claims two of these Landmarks. The Russian Bishop's House, a two-story log structure of Russian vernacular design, was built in 1842 for the first Bishop of Alaska. It served as residence, office, chapel, and mission school. It has been restored by the National Park Service as part of Sitka National Historical Park. Nearby is St. Michael's Cathedral, episcopal seat of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska. Built in 1848, it was reconstructed from Historic American Buildings Survey drawings following a fire in January 1966.

Two additional Orthodox churches are also National Historic Landmarks. Holy Ascension Orthodox Church was built by descendants of the Russian fur traders who established a post at Unalaska, ca. 1766. A major portion of the structure remains from the Russian period. Although constructed in the late nineteenth century, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church and St. Nicholas Chapel at Kenai are outstanding representatives of traditional Russian building types.

Kathleen Lidfors, Historian
National Park Service
July 14, 1987


Property NameDesignatedLocation
In Alaska
American Flag Raising SiteJune 13, 1962Sitka
Bering Expedition Landing SiteJune 16, 1978Kayak Island
Building No. 29May 28, 1987Sitka
Old Sitka SiteJune 13, 1962Sitka vic.
Russian Bishop's HouseJune 13, 1962Sitka
St. Michael's CathedralJune 13, 1962Sitka
Fort Durham SiteJune 16, 1978Taku Harbor
New Russia SiteJune 16, 1978Yakutat vic.
Holy Assumption Orthodox ChurchMay 15, 1970Kenai
Russian-American Company MagazinJune 13, 1962Kodiak
Three Saints SiteJune 16, 1978Old Harbor vic.
Holy Ascension Orthodox ChurchJune 13, 1962Unalaska
Sitka Spruce PlantationJune 16, 1978Dutch Harbor
Seal IslandsJune 13, 1962Pribilof Islands

In California
Fort RossNovember 5, 1961Fort Ross
Fort Ross Commander's HouseOctober 15, 1970Fort Ross

In Hawaii
Russian FortDecember 29, 1962Waimea vic.

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Last Modified: Mon, July 28 2008 8:00:00 pm PDT

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