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Seal Islands

Additional National Historic Landmark

National Park Service
National Park Service Arrowhead


excerpts from National Register of Historic Places
Inventory—Nomination Form

1. Name

The Seal Islands (Fur Seal Rookeries NHL)
Pribilof Islands

2. Location

St. Paul & St. George Islands, Alaska

3. Classification

Category: District; Ownership: Public & Private; Status: Occupied; Accessible: Yes, restricted; Present Use: Commercial, Government, Private Residence, Religious

4. Owner of Property

Name: Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries
Washington, D. C.

Tanadgusix Corporation
St. Paul, Alaska

Tanaq Corporation
St. George, Alaska

Alaska Diocese, Orthodox Church in America
Box 728
Kodiak, Alaska

5. Location of Legal Description

U. S. Bureau of Land Management
701 C Street
Anchorage, Alaska

6. Representation in Existing Surveys


[A] National Register of Historic Places

[A] June 13, 1962

[A] Federal Yes

[A] Department of Interior, National Park Service; Washington, D. C.

[B] Alaska Heritage Resources Survey

[B] Date: 1966-1985

[B] State Yes

[B] State of Alaska
Geological and Geophysical Survey Division
3601 C Street
8th Floor
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

Seals on Pribilof Islands, by Charles Snell, 1961.

7. Description

Condition: Fair, Deteriorated, Ruins, Unaltered & Altered, Original Site

Describe the present and original (if known) physical appearance


Two hundred and fifty miles north of the Aleutian Chain, three hundred miles west of the Alaska mainland, separated by forty-five miles of Bering Sea, are the Islands of Saint George and Saint Paul. They are the largest islands of the Pribilof group, thirty-six and fourty-four square miles respectively. The Historic District comprises about one-fourth of this area, including rookeries, killing grounds, and settlement areas. Within the Historic District there are 106 contributing buildings, two contributing structures, 12 historic sites (rookeries) and nine archeological sites already listed on the Alaska Heritage Resources Survey (AHRS).

The District is made up of three non-conitiguous units, each named for its most prominent historic feature: (1) Saint George Village; (2) Saint Paul Village; and, (3) Northeast Point, Saint Paul Island. The historic district boundaries on Saint Paul Island are drawn to exclude a section of the coastline so overwhelmed by development as to have lost visual integrity. The Saint George and Saint Paul village sections contain the commercial processing structures of the industry as well as significant beaches, killing grounds, and old village sites. Northeast Point contains significant beaches and rookeries, killing grounds, and old village sites.

The boundary was drawn to include representative remnants of both commercial harvesting and processing, significant historical and archeological sites, and the living history of the unique labor force. The proposed boundaries are drawn to eliminate areas not consistently associated with the industry or those which have lost visual integrity. The interiors of both islands were excluded, as sealing is a coastal industry, confined to beaches, adjacent killing grounds, and the villages. The north shore of Saint Paul Island was excluded as the industry other than at Northeast Point, was primarily confined to the south shore after 1799. The historic district boundaries on Saint Paul Island are drawn to exclude a section of the coastline so overwhelmed by development as to have lost visual integrity. Zapadni on Saint George Island was also excluded, as construction of a boat harbor has destroyed historic integrity.

Saint George Island

Saint George Island rises out of the Bering Sea, in same places as high as 1,000 feet. Only two and one-half miles of the island's twenty-one mile coastline are beaches; the rest of the shoreline is high cliffs. In the eighteenth century the Russians built barabaras at Zapadni on the southern shore, at Staraya Artil to the east of the village and the permanent village of Saint George on the northern shore. The boundary of the Historic District encloses the village of Saint George on the south, then follows the road east of town to its end one mile out of town at East Reef Rookery. The boundary encircles the Rookery, then follows the coastline back to the west, passing the community of Saint George on the north, and proceeds along the coastline for another two miles to include North Rookery and Staraya Artil Rookery. Here the boundary line turns inland, encircling the archeological site, Staraya Artil, and then follows the road back to Saint George.

After the Alaska Purchase in 1867 the Alaska Commercial Company, which owned monopoly rights to the fur seal industry in the islands, destroyed all Russian structures and replaced them with frame buildings, constructing a new village on top of the old. In 1928 the United States Department of Commerce, then administrators of the fur seal industry, continued the practice by systematically razing the village and constructing a new one on the foundations of the old. The pattern still remains: orderly rows of houses nestled into the hillside, administrative and staff housing to one side, and a commercial center at the bottom of the hill near the sea. (M3; P13; P14)

Saint George the Great Martyr Orthodox Church is the center of the community. The present structure, completed in 1936, is the traditional frame building with horizontal siding and narthex. The Church still has the traditional onion shaped done, although there is wind damage to its canvas cover. Just north of the present structure within the churchyard is a cross that marks the altarplace of the old nineteenth century church. (M3; P15; P16)

At the bottom of the hill between the Church and the sea is the commercial center. Nine of the fourteen buildings in this area are identified as part of the seal fur and carcass processing facilities: a long wooden frame structure once used as a coal house, most recently used for storage; (P45; P46) the Aleutian Bunkhouse, now the teacher's house; (P47) two small frame buildings next to the dock; a two-story wood frame building (P32); a large "U" shaped building used as the kench house, blubbering house, and wash house with animal pens on the exterior. This building is presently being converted into apartments and laboratory space for National Marine Fisheries (NMF) personnel. This building dominates the commercial center both by its size and visual interest. (P33) Last in the area is the machine shop, a large cement structure. (P44) Portions of the waterfront area of Saint George were destroyed by fire in 1950. True to the pattern, new buildings were built on the foundations of the old.

Directly uphill from the commercial center, with a commanding view of the dock, is the old administrative core with staff housing. Fouke Company House, presently the hotel, is the largest building. It was built into the hillside with two stories on the south end and three stories on the north. It borders an open field where the flagpole once belonging to Old Government House still stands. (P22; P23) Uphill, above the field, is a row of one and one-half story cement bungalows with a cement sidewalk running along the front. They originally served as homes for the agent, storekeeper, physician, and schoolteacher. Presently they are teacher's and NMF personnel housing. (P28)

Six rows of frame houses ascend the hillside southeast of the Church. Unlike Saint Paul, where all houses face the same direction, the homes on Saint George face each other across the roads, providing a less regimented, neighborhood appearance. These were originally homes for resident Aleut laborers; they remain the homes of the people of Saint George. (P48) Adajacent to the housing, below the eastern bluff that supports the village, is the Community Center. A large building, it was begun prior to World War II but was not completed until after the evacuation and return of the people to Saint George. It still functions as a community center.

Non-historic elements of the village include: modern additions to the commercial center grouped to the east of the old commercial buildings; three new modular homes interspaced within the rows of houses on the hill; several new homes east of the Community Center, under construction in 1986. The five homes nearest the Community Center, although they appear newer than the hillside houses, are contributing structures, as they were constructed under the administrators during the period of significance. The recently constructed school, clinic, and combination city offices, store and warehouse are non-contributing elements within the District. The new subdivision south of the village is outside the boundaries of the Historic District.

Outside the community of Saint George, but within the Historic District, are three historic Rookeries and an old village site. The rocky beaches at East Reef, North, and Staraya Artil Rookeries remain relatively unchanged over time. (P50) There has not been a commercial hunt on Saint George in over ten years, so even the killing grounds, usually readily visible because of the lush vegetation fed by the results of the slaughter, are blending in with the countryside. The landscape is characterized by moss covered rocks, high grasses, and flowers, leading down to black rocky beaches covered with seals. In summer months the sea is filled with swimming, diving, feeding seals as far as the eye can see.

An old village site and rookery are located at Staraya Artil. (AHRS XPI0l5) (P51) The two are linked by a tidal zone pond where bachelor seals station themselves, removed from the harems in the rookery. In the muck around the pond are seal, walrus, and whale bones, remnants of former occupations. East of the pond, in the tall grass, are the barabara sites marking the old village of Staraya Artil.

Saint Paul Island

The Saint Paul landscape is marked by weathered lava, scoria, and sandy deposits. Hills, remnants of explosion craters, dot the landscape. The Historic District is located along the southern coastline. It begins at Zapadni Point and stretches toward the City of Saint Paul three miles away, bordered on the south by the coastline and on the north by the scoria-covered road. The boundary follows the road to the base of Telegraph Hill, where the road and boundary line separate. The boundary turns south, following the Polovina Turnpike as it curves around the Salt Lagoon, then follows the dirt road leading to the Lukanin-Kitovi Rookery on the coast. Lukanin Bay and Tonki Point are excluded from the Historic District because development here has destroyed historical integrity. The Historic District begins again at Halfway Point, bounded by the scoria covered road on one side and coastline on the other. At Polovina Hill the boundary leaves the scoria road to turn inland, following a dirt road bordering the sand dunes to the sea. (M4)

Included in the Historic District on Saint Paul Island are five rookeries and their historic killing grounds; six sites listed on the Alaska Historic Resources Survey (AHRS); and the community of Saint Pual. This is about one tenth of the total area of the island.

The City of Saint Paul clings to a steep hillside with its back to the Bering Sea on a narrow sandy peninsula on the extreme south end of the island. Administrators in the American period created three distinct sectors to the community: the commercial center, located along the shoreline and historic killing grounds of the now extinct Village Cove Rookery; administrative buildings and staff housing centrally located; and resident Aleut laborer housing laid out in orderly rows on either side of the village center. Public buildings remain near the group served. (P5; P6; P57; P58)

Rebuilt in 1907, the Holy Martyrs Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church is the center of the community. It is a traditional building except that the characteristic wooden onion-shaped dome, repeatedly destroyed by wind, was replaced by a wrought iron onion-shaped configuration. The churchyard borders the priest's house and cemetery. (P51; P52)

Also bordering the churchyard at the center of the community are the administrative buildings and staff quarters. Old Government House, presently the offices of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) Tribal Council and apartments, is the most prominent of the administrative buildings. (P75; P76) In close proximity are Old Company House, presently the King Eider Hotel (P78); the old laundry, now abandoned (79); the old Fisheries Offices, presently a tavern (77); three one and one-half story cement bungalows sitting in a row with front sidewalks and sod, formerly known individually as "Employee House" and "Teacher's House," presently used for community housing. (P71) Buildings serving the community's social and medical needs are also located in this central area of the village: the physician's residence and dispensery, now joined by an addition and used as the clinic (P80); the Recreation Hall, now the offices of City Government (P81); and the old theater, now abandoned. (P82)

The seal processing complex is a distinctive part of the Historic District. Along the bottom of the hill, at the end of Tolstoi Boulevard and on the sand flats between the community and Village Cove stand the seal processing buildings. Six large buildings still retain evidence of their functions in the historic industry: the boxing shed, kench house, blubbering house, and the bunkhouse for sealing assistants in one grouping, and the equipment garage and machine shop in another. The boxing shed, kench house, and blubbering house were built during the post World War I boon in the sealing industry. The boxing shed and kench house were lengthened during the 1930s. The blubbering house has a modern addition. Located in a row, almost identical in design and materials, these three buildings retain historic character. (P83) All are underutilized and in a state of disrepair. The former bunkhouse for sealing assistants, row the Tanadgusix Corporation Offices and hotel annex, rounds out the group of buildings tied directly to the sealing industry. (P85) Buildings with functions supportive of the industry, such as the machine shop and equipment garage at the end of Tolstoi Boulevard and the paint shop below on the sand (P86; P87) are consistent in design and materials with the seal processing buildings. All were constructed in the 1930s.

Uphill from the industrial buildings and ranging on either side of the village center are the orderly rows of housing for Aleut laborers. All houses face out from the hillside, overlooking the historic killing grounds below. There are thirteen houses of frame construction and similar design constructed between 1915 and 1935 (P91); nineteen concrete houses of a similar design to the frame houses built between 1935 and 1955 (P92); and nine nearly identical houses with asphalt siding built post-World War II. (P94) The order, repetition, and anonymity of these houses serve to visually reinforce the company town character of the District.

Below the village in Gorbatch Bay swim the seals of Reef Rookery. (P59; P60) Within the Historic District are nine rookeries and five old village sites. (M4) Because Saint Paul is a volcanic island with little erosion over time and, until recently, no development that was not related to the seal industry, the landscapes remain relatively unchanged. Periodically, within recorded history, the sea has reclaimed the narrow neck of land at Northeast Point, turning the peninsula into an island. The sand dunes around Big Lake shift, covering the scoria and plank road with as much as three feet of sand. (M10) Otherwise, there have been few changes over time in the landscapes of the Historic District. Zapadni, Tolstoi, Reef, Kitovi and Lukanin Rookeries are similar black rock beaches backed by low rocky cliffs covered with grasses and flowers. (P95; P96; P97) Pobovina, Polovina cliffs, and East and West Rookeries on the Northeast Point sector are similar black rock beaches bordered by rising sand dunes dotted with deep grasses. (p115. P116) The adjacent killing grounds are readily identifiable by the extremely lush vegetation fed by the slaughter. The old village sites of Vesolia Mista (AHRS XPI-016) (P99), and Zapadni (AHRS XPI-007) (P101; P102) are located within the District as well as the legendary site of discovery at English Bay. (M9)

The two extant catwalks (of nine originally constructed) are contributing structures, one at Reef Rookery (P95; P96; P97) and one at East and West Rookeries. (P115; P116; P117) In the 1920s the U.S. Department of Commerce administrators constructed these catwalks over the rookeries to facilitate the annual census of the seal herds. The design is simple: strategically placed scaffolds with a wooden catwalk stretching from apex to apex. The ten foot high walks are reached by climbing a ladder nailed to the side of the first scaffold. Wooden railing along one side of the catwalk and a wire stretched along the other serve as safety devices. They are in fair to poor condition.

Condition of Resources

Resource conditions vary widely in this Historic District. Buildings that retain their historic functions or are valued by the community are in good condition. Saint George the Great Martyr and Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Churches are well maintained. However, within each are valuable books and icons that are in need of specialized care and, in some instances, restoration. The King Eider Hotel and the Saint George Hotel, as commercial enterprises, are well maintained and recognized by the communities as historic assets. On the other end of the spectrum are the buildings directly related to the sealing industry. Since commercial sealing ceased with the expiration of the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention in 1985, these buildings will no longer fulfill their historic functions. Presently they are in a state of disrepair; some are in danger of permanent loss. There is no community concensus on the historic value of these buildings, as exists for the churches and hotels. There are no local ordinances or official protective management policies in effect for either historic buildings or the old village sites. Some "potting" is occurring at known sites.

As new industries are developed to provide the economic base needed to replace the sealing industry, the District could be in real danger of losing its integrity.


SAINT GEORGE ISLAND (Note: Lettering corresponds to Map 3.)

Village Center: Administrative and Public buildings

Saint George the Great Martyr Church, 1936. (H) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Significant objects within the Church include articles dating to the previous nineteenth century Church: a chandelier, chalice and crosses, 1845 (P19); five bells, 1875: a redwood cross fashioned from wood from the old church by Mr. Andronik Kashevaroff of Saint George. Ikons with historical interest include "Saint Petroluman" from the old church and "Virgin Mary" and "Our Lord Jesus Christ" worked by Father Theodosius. (P21) Handworked altar cloths made by the women of Saint George date back fifty years (P18; P19). This is only a representative sample of the treasures in this Church. The building is well cared for on a routine basis but in need of structural repairs.

Company House, 1930. (J) 56'0"x36'0". Three story, wood frame building with horizontal siding and six-over-six windows. Upper floor: sleeping rooms and bath (P26; P27); middle floor: sleeping rooms, bath and library with built in wood and glass bookcases, original books in place (P24; P25); ground floor: kitchen and dining area. Recently, new wooden fire escapes were added, replacing ladders nailed to the side of the building. Company House was renamed Saint George Rooming House in 1930 as the property of the Bureau of Fisheries; now owned by Tanaq Corporation and used as a hotel.

Cottages; ca. 1930s. (K, L, M, N) One and one-half story cement bungalows exactly alike. Originally homes for the agent, storekeeper, physician, and schoolteacher. M was also the old hospital. Presently housing for NMF personnel and community. (P30; P31)

New Firehouse. (P) 20'3"x12'5". Wood frame with horizontal clapboard siding with a bell tower rising from southwest corner. Remodeled as living quarters; presently identified as Quarters No. 7.

New Firehouse. (Q) Wood frame with horizontal clapboard siding.

Commercial Center:

Abandoned Pump House and Winch House, ca. 1951. (A, B) Two small buildings: A, concrete and B, frame. Winch used to load and unload materials and boats at townside dock. Severe beach erosion has undermined the foundations.

Plumbing and Electrical Shop, ca. 1951. (C) Two story, wood frame structure with horizontal siding has severe structural deficiencies. Rebuilt after Saint George fire of 1950. (P32)

Sealing Plant, 1951. (D) 128'9"X102'0". This complex burned down in 1950 and was rebuilt over the original foundation. A wood frame building with concrete walls. Older methods of processing are reflected in this building and its extant equipment: wash house, kench house with tables, brine tanks and blubbering house (P38; P39), cooperage upstairs where some barrel staves remain. Skins were placed in redwood vats with large metal waffle grates placed on top to hold them down while they were flushed with sea water. These vats remain in the wash house as do the blubbering racks in the blubbering house. (P35; P36) The 12' X12' kench tables, some still holding skins in salt for storage, are intact (P37). The salting process was replaced by the newer brine process. Here skins were placed in a redwood tank, agitated by a paddle wheel, hung to dry, packed in borax, rather than salt, and then shipped to Fouke Company. The extant redwood tank may be the last of its kind. (P40: P41) Cement tanks with slat boxes and a re-designed paddle wheel replaced the redwood tank. (P42; P43) Presently National Marine Fisheries (NMF) personnel are in the process of converting part of the ground floor into a laboratory with living quarters upstairs. Previously, NMF personnel added some removable fencing in the wash house creating seal pens used in conducting seal behavior experiments. Other than these changes to the interior, which are consistent with is historic use, the seal processing facility retains its historical integrity.

Machine Shop, 1948. (E) 44'0"X62'0". Concrete walls with reinforced steel, (not "reinforced concrete"). Has a high gambrel roof. Presently a repair shop. Similar in materials and design to the seal processing plant; good visual integrity. (P44)

Coal Shed, 1930s. (F) 80'X30'. Concrete walls up to fifteen feet high pocketed into hillside, thus one side of the building is at grade near the eave line, while the other side has full-height concrete walls. Most recently used for storage. Needs structural repairs. (P45; P46)

Aleutian Bunkhouse, 1940. (G) 64'0"X20'3" Single story wood frame dwelling. Originally housed Aleutian workers brought in for the seal harvest and processing; presently the teacher's house. (P47)

Aleut Laborers' Housing:

Housing on Saint George, in keeping with the company town nature of the community, cane in two varieties: (I) Wood frame, one and one-half story with gable roof and arctic entry; 1920s-1930s; (II) Same basic house type as (I), only concrete; 1930s (only two of these built because St. George Island lacked gravel for concrete); (III) larger frame houses, same basic type, all with green asphalt siding; 1940s-1950s.

Type I: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24

Type II: 4, 22

Type III: 31, 32, 34, 35, 36

Community Hall, 1949. (O) Large frame structure with a double gable roof line. Construction began in 1940 but was delayed by the evacuation of the island in 1942.

Non-Contributing Resources

Commercial Center: gas station; modern brick garage; Tanaq Fisheries; second modern brick garage; powerhouse; four modular storage buildings.

Village Center: school; clinic; combination city offices, store and warehouse; house; NMF personnel apartments.

Housing: three new modular homes; new homes under construction.

Archeological Resources

Staraya Artil: (AHRS XPI-015) Russian, liberally translates "old association for common work." Historic village site, reportedly one of the first Russian settlements in the islands. (M2; P51)

SAINT PAUL ISLAND (Note: Letters correspond to Map 5)

Village Center:

Administrative Buildings and Staff Residences

Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, 1907. (A) Traditional building listed on the National Register of Historic places. The 1907 church was built on the foundations of the previous church, which was constructed in the mid-1800s. Portions of the earlier church appear to have been incorporated into the new buildings, as was customary for both religious and practical reasons. The iconostasis (the interior altar wall) and many of the icons and other articles from the nineteenth century church were installed in the 1907 building. The church is well cared for and structurally sound, but subject always to the harsh climate and limited funds for major repairs. (P63; P64; P65, P66; P67; P68; P69)

Priest's House, 1929. (B) Frame structure with horizontal wood siding. Horizontal gable roof with jerkinheads. Design is similar to Government House across the churchyard. (P70)

Teacher's Houses, 1948. (C, D, E) Three houses exactly alike placed in a row. One and one-half story cement bungalows with front sidewalks and sod yards. Formally known as "Employees Houses," the group is informally known as "stocking row." Presently one house is used by the tour guide in the summer; the others are private homes. (P71; P72; P73; P74)

Government House, 1932. (F) Large frame building with cement foundation; horizontal gable roof with cross gable ends; suffered interior fire damage in 1936. Presently used for apartments and business offices of the IRA Tribal Council. (P75; P76)

Fisheries Office, 1930s. (G) Frame concrete building with jerkinheads and outside entrance to cellar or basement. Presently a tavern. (P77)

Company House, 1923. (H) Three-story frame building with horizontal siding. Some modernization in 1932. Presently the King Eider Hotel. Upper floors are sleeping rooms with central bath; main floor is the hotel lobby which was once the library with built-in wooden shelves with glass doors. (P78)

Laundry, 1926. (I) Two-story cement building with horizontal gables. Originally used as a laundry for Company House; presently abandoned. (P79)

Hospital, 1934. (J,K) Physician's house and dispensary (1929) and old hospital (1934) joined by a modern addition (1974). J has a front stoop and dormers, similar in design to Company House, and maintains the appearance of a residence. K is a simple one story frame building. The addition is non-contributing. (P80)

Recreation Hall, 1948. (L) Replaced old recreation hall which burned in 1945. Large two story frame building. Presently the offices of the City of Saint Paul. (P81)

Theater, 1940s. (M) Single story wood frame building with a single gable roof and horizontal siding; no windows. Originally a movie theater, then a dance hall; presently abandoned. (P82)

Commercial Center

Blubbering House, 1930s. (N) Frame building with horizontal clapboard siding; a Butler building type of addition runs perpendicular to and away from the blubbering house. Presently used for storage. Needs structural repairs. (P83)

Kench House, 1930. 106' x 32' 10". (O) Frame building with horizontal clapboard siding. Building was lengthened in the 1930s. Originally the kench house, then drying shed (for drying seal skins); presently used for storage. Needs structural repairs. (P83)

Boxing Shed, 1920s. (P) 160' 8" x 34' 6". Balloon framed, one and one-half story, horizontal clapboard siding; same design and materials as Blubbering House and Kench House. Building was lengthened in the 1930s. Originally a kench house, later a barrel shed, presently storage. Needs structural repairs. (P83; P84)

Fouke Bunkhouse, 1932. (Q) Large frame building with horizontal siding of similar design and materials to other boom period buildings. Originally a bunkhouse for sealing assistants, presently Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX) Building and Hotel Annex. (P85)

Machine Shop. (R) Two-story, wood frame with large bow-string trusses. A ramp built of rock leads to second floor storage. Originally machine shop, then fire department, a non-compatible new addition joined the Machine shop and Equipment garage in the 1980s. The new addition, which is neither the same material, color, nor style as the two historic buildings it joins, does not destroy the integrity of the two because of their obvious contrast and large size. (P86)

Equipment Garage, 1930s. (S) 100' x 54' 6"; single-story wood frame building with large bow string trusses; presently the tire shed.

Small frame structure. (T) May possibly be one of the houses constructed pre-1918. Abandoned.

Paint Shop, 1930s. (U) 60' x 28' 4"; wood frame shed with horizontal clapboard siding, sawbuck doors, similar to boxing shed and kench house. Presently used for the storage of paint and other highly flammable materials. Sand drifts form around and in this building. (P87)

Six Car Garage, 1930s. (V) 73' 2" x 28'; single-story wood frame with horizontal clapboard siding. Presently abandoned with sand drifts around and inside.

By-Products Plant, 1924. (W) Large frame structure with horizontal clapboard siding. Remodeled interior and exterior in the 1930s; abandoned, reopened, abandoned again, and remodeled again; the interior was remodeled as recently as the 1970s. Presently abandoned, it is in need of structural repairs. By-products (products incidental to the fur seal industry) produced at one time or another on Saint Paul include: fox food, dog team food, mink food, crab bait, fertilizer, and oil. Between 1965 and 1975 a mink farmer removed old boilers to install experimental freezing equipment. The exterior retains the historic character of the 1930 seal processing building. (P88; P89)

Resident Aleut Laborers' Housing

Reflecting the company town nature of the community, houses on Saint Paul come in three types: (I) 1920s through 1930s, one or one and one-half story frame with horizontal wood siding, arctic entrance to one side, and side cellars; (P91) (II) one and one-half story concrete with arctic entrance and side cellars; (III) 1945-1950s. Larger one and one half story cement with green asphalt siding. Some houses have small (10' x 14") outbuildings which were originally washhouses (1939); presently saunas or storage.

(I) Nos. 3, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 42, 48, 47(0), 46, 45(0), 44(0).

(II) Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6(0), 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 41, 40, 39, 38(0), 37(0), 49.

(III) Nos. 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61.

Non-Contributing Resources

Village Center: school, "temporary building" housing church school, A-frame shed; coffee shop; remodeled school district apartments; post office.

Commercial Center: combination store, airline office, warehouse; combination hotel restaurant and Aleutian bunkhouse; metal storage building; gas station; elephant hut; quonset hut; frame building hit by barge; storage building; powerhouse; two storage buildings nearest to shore; ten storage tanks on hillside; NMF buildings and apartments across Village Cove.

Housing: two teacher's houses next to school; bottom row and top row of new ranch houses; house next to C, D, and E; duplex and four other houses belonging to the old naval complex; the old naval communications building; pastor's residence and Assembly of God Church; new subdivision on hillside east of town under construction in the 1980s.

Buildings outside the community: dilapidated ice house at Ice Lane (P100); dilapidated building at Webster Lake (P112); private residence at Webster Lake (P108; P109) open plywood blinds at rookeries; enclosed viewing stand at Lukanin Rookery.

Archeological resources: (Note: see map 4)

Zapadnie: (AHRS XPI-007) Twenty-three discernable pits on a consolidated parabolic dune, measuring from 15' x 12' to 18'-20' square, and two 35' x 15' shallow rectangular pits surrounded by smaller pits. Some pits may have been for storage. Fourteen pits have discernable entrance passages. Three large pits were interconnected by two lateral passages (P101; P102; P103).

School site: (AHRS-XPI-006) Thirteen ceramic sherds, one square nail and one flenser were surface collected from this location. Artifacts are accessioned to University of Alaska Anchorage: UAA 83-3.

Webster Lake: (AHRS XPI-009) At least twenty-two house depressions situated on two parabolic dunes. Midden consisting of sea mammal bones and historic debris is exposed by extensive potting. Site was used prior to World War II as a hunting and lookout (for walrus) camp (P110; P111; P113; P114).

Polovina (Halfway Point): (AHRS XPI-008) Eleven square to rectangular barabara pits, measuring 12-18' on a side situated on a consolidated parabolic dune (P105).

Lukanin Hill: (AHRS XPI-01l) Probable site disturbed by military use during World War II and later. Historic debris, mammal bones, a bone projectile point, and two fastened vertebrae were reportedly found (P99).

Vesolia Mista: (AHRS XPI-016) Russian, translates as a "happy place," reportedly located just northeast of Big Lake on northeast coast of island; reported one of the first settlements on the island, position indicated by Elliott. Area covered with blowing dunes (P106).

St. Paul and St. George, by Sandra Faulkner, 1985.

8. Significance

Period: 1700-1799, 1800-1899, 1900-; Areas of Significance: Conservation, Industry, Social/Humanitarian

Specific Dates: 1786, 1867, 1911, 1942, 1960; Builder/Architect: Bureau of Fisheries, U.S. Department of Commerce & U.S. Department of Interior

Statement of Significance

The Seal Islands possess outstanding historical significance to the themes of industry, conservation, and ethnic heritage. 1786-1959, the period of significance, encompasses a consistent pattern of development, administration, and concerns in the industry from discovery to Alaska statehood.

Discovered in the 1780s as the home of the world's largest single herd of mammals, the northern fur seal, the islands of Saint Paul and Saint George, the Seal Islands, remain the primary site of the world's fur seal industry. This industry generated conflict between nations and peoples for the last two hundred years and dominated the islands from discovery in 1786 until Alaska statehood in 1959. The islands were the major focus of international conservation policymaking in its infancy late in the nineteenth century. The North Pacific Sealing Convention of 1911 was a pioneering effort involving many years and four great powers: the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and Russia. Compared to the other international conservation treaties of the period, for example, the Niagara Falls treaty, the Sealing Convention was the most significant agreement of its time. The controversy continues with the present turmoil surrounding the expiration without renewal of the Northern Fur Seal Convention. The site is associated as well with a unique chapter in the history of the Aleut people, the homogeneous permanent population of the islands and the labor force of the fur seal industry from its inception to its recent demise as a commercial enterprise. Because the site is remote, the environment harsh, and the sealing industry, with all its conflicts is still a pervasive presence, there is a unique sense of historical cohesiveness on Saint Paul and Saint George Islands.

Historical Context

It was the lure of furs, rather than empire, that enticed the promyshlenniki, the Russian equivalent of the American mountain men, eastward across the expanse of the Russian frontier in Siberia, Kamchatka and into the Bering Sea. Between 1743 and 1780 this advance progressed along the Aleutian Chain involving as many as forty-two different fur companies and over one hundred voyages. In the 1780s a new era in the history of the Russian fur trade began. Grigorii Ivanovich Shelikov and Ivan Golikov had the imagination to envision, through the establishment of permanent settlements under their fur company, a colonial structure. In 1788 Tsarina Cathrine II rewarded their vision with a sword and a medal of recognition. (1)

In 1786 and 1787, after years of searching the fogs of the Bering Sea, Gerasim Pribilov of the Lebedev-Lastochkin Fur Company discovered and named the legendary uninhabited seal islands: Saint George and Saint Paul. The first two seasons the Company established crews of one hundred thirty-seven promyshlenniki and native Aleuts from Unalaska and Atkha in the Aleutian Islands. They built barabaras, partially underground sod huts, establishing hunting villages at Zapadni, Staraya Artil, and Garden Cove on Saint George Island and on the south shore of Saint Paul Island. In the following seasons rival fur companies established Maroonitch on the north shore and Vesolia Mista in the sand dunes near Big Lake on Saint Paul Island. Because of this competition, the Lebedev-Lastochkin Company established hunting villages at Polovina and Zapadni. In 1799 the Company, now the Russian American Company, received more substantial royal recognition when Tsar Paul issued a twenty year charter granting them monopoly rights to the Colony. This eliminated competition and with it the need for so many hunting villages. The people of Saint Paul were all drawn together for "economy and warmth" at Polovina. The present site of the village of Saint George was chosen as "the best place, geographically, for the business of gathering the skins and salting them down". (2) This began a pattern of settlement and development dominated by the concerns of the fur seal industry.

The Company continued to administer the Colony through the First Charter, 1799-1819, the Second Charter, 1821-1842, and the Third Charter, 1842-1867. Exploitation of the resource was the first and only consideration during the period of discovery and settlement. Later, after the turn of the eighteenth century, during the period of the First Charter, Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, heir to Shelikov's Company and vision, tempered this singleminded dedication to profit through establishment of permanent settlements, churches, schools—in short, the Russian-American Colony.

In 1867 the Russian government sold the Russian-American Colony to the United States of America. Through the Army, the War Department administered Alaska from the purchase in 1867 until 1877, except for the Seal Islands, which were declared a special reservation for governmental purposes and placed under the control of the Department of Treasury. Consistent with American laissez-faire economic principles in 1870, the government granted the Alaska Commercial Company a twenty year lease for the exclusive rights to the resources of the Seal Islands.

Between 1877 and 1884 the Navy and Customs Office administered Alaska. In 1884 "An Act Providing a Civil Government for Alaska" provided for the Presidential appointment of a Governor and for a district court and officials. But the Seal Islands remained under the control of private enterprise. In 1890 the North American Commercial Company won the lease over the seal industry and the administration of the islands.

In 1912 "A Bill to create a Territorial Legislature in the Territory of Alaska, to confer legislative powers thereon and for other purposes" established a territorial form of government that lasted until statehood in 1959. The Pribilof Islands were again an exception. In 1903 the administration of the "seal islands" was transferred from the Secretary of the Treasury to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, who placed the islands under the direct control of the Commissioner of Fisheries in 1908. (3) The 1910 Fur Seal Act ended the private lease system and placed the Pribilofs under the jurisdiction of the Federal government. The Department of Commerce and Labor and its Bureau of Fisheries were responsible for the seal industry. In 1940 the Bureau of Fisheries was removed from Commerce and placed in the Department of Interior. The Commissioner of Fisheries continued responsibility for the islands. In the post-war years management was transferred to the Seattle office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (4) In 1958 the industry was considered important enough that the Federal Government retained sovereignty over the Pribilof seals, agreeing to pay the new State of Alaska seventy per cent of the net proceeds from the seal industry. But the islands became part of the new State of Alaska and the old pattern of administration disappeared.


The fur seal industry itself was the most profitable fur resource for the Russians. During the First Charter fur exports from the colonies were: fur seals, 1,232,274; sea otters, 72,894; beaver tails, 59,530; and blue polar foxes, 36,362. During the Third Charter the depleted herds still yielded 277,788 fur seals from Saint Paul and 31,923 fur seals from Saint George. (6) At the time of the Purchase the seal herds were considered the only resource of real economic value in the territory. (7) This industry alone repaid the American government many times over the purchase price of Alaska. During the tenure of the Alaska Commercial Company the seal industry yielded annual profits to the U S. Government alone of $2,500,000. As an international industry, the profits extended from the company to the European fashion industry that purchased the processed pelts at London auctions. (8) The North Pacific Sealing Convention of 1911 mandated a moratorium on sealing that eliminated the entire industry until after World War I.

In the 1920s the sealing industry boomed. As a result of the moratorium the herds increased dramatically in size. In 1921 catwalks were built, nine on Saint Paul and one on Saint George, to facilitate the seal census. The Bureau of Fisheries in the Department of Commerce reported 581,443 animals of all ages. (9) In 1923 15,920 animals were killed with 10,000 males reserved as breeders. In 1930 the Commissioner of Fisheries reported herd population at 971,527, much smaller than the millions reported in the nineteenth century, yet sales reported still neared the $1,000,000.00 mark. (11) The pattern that followed over the next decade was an increase in the number of animals taken and a decrease in the number of breeders retained. By 1940 the yearly kill quota had increased four times while the breeder group, which had decreased twenty percent by 1929, was simply reported as "sufficient reserve for breeding." (12) During the 1940s the annual yield of sealskins leveled off. By 1952 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologists determined that the herd had reached, or was near, its peak of development numbering 1,500,000 animals. (13) The herds of the Pribilof Islands comprise about 85% of the world's fur seals. In 1967 the industry was still profitable; the seal skins from the Pribilofs sold for $2,839,682. (14) However, the industry essentially disappeared when the Northern Fur Seal Convention expired without renewal in 1985.


Conservation measures for the seal herds began early in the Russian period of Alaskan History. In 1803 and again in 1805 the Board of Directors of the Russian American Company ordered a temporary halt on the fur seal catch. Oversupply of furs caused the first order. In 1803 280,000 fur seal pelts were taken while 500,000 were still in warehouses. Rezanov, who issued the second order upon his visit to inspect the islands, reported to Tsar Paul that while the seal herds seemed large, there were "only a tenth as many as there used to be," as more than a million seal skins had been taken on the islands. (15) This was the first attempt to apply conservation principles to the seal harvest. The hunters and Alexander Andreevich Baranof, colonial manager, paid little or no heed to the orders. During the Third Charter, 1844-1861, the Company considered conservation measures successful. During this period the Company tried to refine and define established procedures. The Company sent an experienced hunter to Saint Paul Island "to teach the method of closed seasons employed on the Commander Islands" in hopes of saving the seal herds from extinction. (16)

After the American Purchase, the recipient of the monopoly rights to the islands was to maintain the successful conservation measures applied by the Russian American Company. A sealing census determined the yearly quota of skins. Henry Elliott, naturalist and Special Treasury Agent with a commission to study wildlife from the Smithsonian Institute, estimated the herds in 1872 at 4,700,000 animals. The Alaska Commercial Company harvested 150,000 seals per year at an annual yield of $2,500,000. (17) This was double the harvest during the Third Charter of the Russian-American Company. The North American Commercial Company maintained the harvest quota established in the 1870s even though it became clear that Elliott's estimates were wildly exaggerated. By 1909, the end of the contract system, there were only 130,000 seals left. (18)

High profits from a resource that required little effort to exploit—it neither had to be fed, dug up, nor sought out—attracted international interest, as well. The depletion, often to the point of extinction, of other seal herds turned the focus of the world's fur seal industry on the islands of Saint George and Saint Paul. The result was an international conservation interest. While the land harvest certainly had a detrimental effect on the size of the herds, there was an even greater danger. Pelagic sealing, the taking of seals at sea, began in 1868. By the 1890s citizens of the United States, Great Britain, then Canada, Japan, and Russia manned pelagic sealing fleets in the north Pacific. Pelagic sealing was most dangerous to herd size, as only females range out to sea to feed from the rookeries. Each female killed at sea represented in reality the loss of three seals; the female herself; the pup she carried, as females were impregnated within days of giving birth; and the pup left on shore, since a female will only feed her own pup. The land harvest method limited the kill to bachelor seals, three or four year old non-breeding males.

The Paris Tribunal of 1893 was the first in a series of international conferences to prevent the extermination of the northern fur seal. In 1897 the United States outlawed pelagic sealing by U. S. citizens. In the same year she hosted a joint conference in Washington, D.C. Russia and Japan accepted, but Great Britain declined to attend while agreeing to attend a Fur Seal Experts Conference held concurrently. In 1906 the problem exploded when Japanese citizens were killed while poaching seals in the Pribilofs. (19) In this year of excesses, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to purposely exterminate the herds if some agreement could not be reached. But diplomatic wheels turn slowly; it wasn't until May 5, 1911, that a quadrapartite conference became a reality.

The North Pacific Sealing Convention of 1911, the result of the quadrapartite conference, was "a major victory for the conservation of natural resources, a signal triumph for diplomacy, and a landmark in the history of international cooperation." (20) As a conservation measure, the Convention prohibited pelagic sealing by citizens of the signatory nations, compensating their governments with a percentage of the land harvest. The Convention confirmed the principle that the countries owning rookeries had the right to control the land harvest. The Treaty was for fifteen years and "as long thereafter as it should remain undenounced by one or more signatories." (21) The Treaty actually remained in effect, except for a period during World War II, until 1985 when it expired without renewal.

The Convention marked a new age in American diplomacy. It was one of the earliest appeals to a head of state, foreshadowing President Woodrow Wilson's personal diplomacy at the close of World War I. President William H. Taft broke a conference deadlock by sending a personal appeal to the Emperor of Japan. (22)

The Convention was a landmark in the history of international cooperation. The Treaty mandated research. It created a Standing Scientific Committee which met a week before the Sealing Commission in order to exchange data. Through cooperation and shared research the body of knowledge of the northern fur seal is the inmost complete of all marine mammals. It was, and still is, used as a model for other species of marine mammals. (23) Through its mandate for research and cooperation in the sciences, the Convention not only stood as a landmark in international conservation policy making, but was instrumental in increasing the world's body of knowledge.

The North Pacific Sealing Convention remained in effect until World War II. From 1942 to 1957 the fur seals were protected by a provisional agreement between the United States and Canada. In 1957 a new interim North Pacific Fur Seal Convention was concluded between Canada, Japan, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the United States, which remained in effect until 1985 when it expired without renewal. For all practical purposes the conmercial sealing industry ended with the expiration of the treaty. Sealing is no longer the primary concern on Saint Paul and Saint George Islands. Community leaders on both islands are working to establish a diversified economic base. Development on Saint Paul Island includes the oil industry, tourism, and fisheries. Saint George is constructing a boat harbor and marine repair facility at Zapadni, and Tanaq Corporation is involved in fisheries and a limited tourist industry. The seals no longer control the islands as they did throughout the period of significance.

Ethnic Heritage

The resident Aleut laborer was a constant element in the fur seal industry. Russian and American administrators alike imported Aleuts from the Aleutian Chain to these uninhabited islands for the sole purpose of harvesting and processing the fur seals. Attentive to the linguistic affiliation of the native peoples, Russian administrators moved "Atka (central dialect) speakers to Medni Island... and in establishing the Pribilof community they drew primarily upon members of the Fox Island district (eastern dialect) forming dialect isolates." (24) Administrators determined the size of the population by the number of hunters and support staff needed to harvest the seals and selected village locations because of proximity to the rookeries.

During the Second Charter of the Russian American Company, 1821-1842, the Company established permanent villages on Saint Paul and Saint George Islands. The Company supported a teacher and built a school house on each island. It assumed responsibility for the construction of churches and hospitals in the colony as well. Beginning in 1861 the Company administered the two islands separately.

The Russian language and the Russian Orthodox Church became integral parts of Aleut life. Russian names were uniformly adopted, particularly with the rite of baptism. A high degree of community stability is indicated by the localization of family names among the three dialect isolates. Of 158 different Aleut family names, 144 are uniquely localized. In other words, of 158 family names, 144 are not shared between the dialect isolates and 14 are shared. (25)

In 1819 the first Russian Orthodox Church was built out of driftwood on Saint Paul when the population of the Pribilof Islands was 27 Russian males, 188 Aleut males, and 191 Aleut females. In 1824 the Pribilofs were placed under the auspices of Bishop Veniaminoff, later canonized Saint Innocent. In 1825 the Company abandoned the Polovina site and moved to the present City of Saint Paul, as it was considered "best to load and unload ships". (26) A church was erected in the new village. In 1833 the Company built the first church on Saint George Island. The Aleut people embraced Russian Orthodoxy as their own. Years later a U. S. Treasury Agent reported that there was a large church on Saint Paul, and a smaller one on Saint George. The priest, formerly supported by the Russian American Company, beginning with the lease period and thereafter was supported by the "pious donations of the native". (27)

The end of the Russian period marked the beginning of a process of Americanization. Upon taking possession after the sale in 1867 and the winning of the lease in 1870, the Alaska Commercial Company, with the support of the Special Treasury Agent, destroyed barabaras on both islands, as they were considered unhealthy. The Company furnished material for above ground American style frame house, lined with tar paper, painted, and furnished with a wood stove and outhouse. The streets were laid out with the "foundations of habitations regularly plotted there on". In 1881 the Agent reported the "last building erected under Russia demolished". (28)

In 1890 when the Alaska Comercial Company lost its lease to the North American Commercial Company the Schedule of Property on Saint Paul and Saint George Islands filed by the Company included on Saint Paul: one large dwelling house, one store building (retail), two village store buildings, one barn and stable, one old warehouse, (fishouse) one village salt house, one cove salt house, one large new warehouse, one paint warehouse and wharf, one physicians home and dispensary, one schoolhouse and furniture, sixty-three native houses, one Northeast Point salt house, one Northeast Point Webster House, one salt house at Half-way Point [Polovina], one ice house, and one chicken house. Reported on Saint George: twenty-one native houses, one dwelling house, with furniture, household effects, library, one store building, one warehouse and shop, coal storehouse, a slat house at Zapadnie and dwelling. (29)

Under the lease system the Company paid the Aleuts a piece rate, averaging about 40 or 50 cents a skin during the 1890s, equalling about three percent of the harvest. Beginning in 1894, Congress appropriated $19,500 annually for all but a year as a poverty reduction measure. During the moratorium, dictated by the Sealing Convention of 1911, the Aleut people were left without a cash income. Foreseeing the problem, the Convention also designated the United States Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Fisheries responsible for the welfare of the Aleut people. As a result, the Aleuts were paid in supplies from the government store and in coal. Work classification determined the amount an individual received with fixed amounts set for children, widows, teenagers, and the elderly. The only cash payments made to Aleuts were for labor on the Naval radio station on Saint Paul as the seal industry was the sole economic base for the islands. With the end of the moratorium and the economic stimulus of World War I the seal harvest began again in 1918, and Aleut laborers were paid wages, supplies, and services based upon their position in the harvest and processing.

Administrators, whether private or public, also were responsible for housing and capital goods on the islands. In this way, conditions for the people and of the buildings that they lived and worked in were dependent upon the seal industry. A boom in the industry was accompanied by a building boom on both islands. In 1925 the Special Agent reported concrete walls poured for "white dwellings" on Saint George. (30) The following year these dwellings were lettered, and in 1939 fences and cement sidewalls were built around them. In 1927 the Agent reported "a new native village laid over top of the old village." Each house was torn down and replaced in turn. In 1928 these houses were numbered. Construction of new houses continued intermittently throughout the period of significance. In 1933 the Agent reported electricity installed in native homes.

There were many large building projects as well between 1926 and 1940: Old Government House torn down; The Saint George Rooming House built; a new barn, salt house; accomodations for married employees; a garage; a warehouse at Zapadni in both 1933 and 1938, a new school, a watchhouse at Staraya Artil, a building for electrical power and cold storage, an extension to the garage, the new Saint George the Great Martyr Russian Orthodox Church, a bunkhouse for natives, and a new Community Hall begun in 1940 but not completed until after World War II.

The building boom followed much the same pattern on Saint Paul Island. In 1928 the Special Agent reported "Native houses numbered." In the following years he reported intermittent construction of new native dwellings of poured concrete. Between 1930 and 1939, the Agent reported a building boom: an extension to the blubbering house, an electrical plant and cold storage building, new Government House, the placement of sod around the dispensary and hospital, sod and concrete sidewalks around the three white cottages, a bunkhouse for sealing assistants, a garage, salt house extension, nine outside laundry houses, new school, new recreation hall, a watchhouse at Maroonitch, a road to East Landing and Reef Rookery, a road to Northeast Point and Zapadni.

On June 3 and 4, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Chain. On June 7th Japanese landed on the Aleutian Islands of Kiska and Attu. On June 14 the Special Agent on Saint Paul received orders to prepare to evacuate the entire population of Saint Paul Island within twenty-four hours. The Navy removed Saint Paul Aleuts to an abandoned cannery at Funter Bay on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska and Saint George Aleuts to an old mine site across the bay from the cannery. They remained there, except for a sealing crew sent back in 1943 and individuals who found work in Southeast Alaska, for the duration. In the decade following World War II the Pribilofs became a voting district, had scheduled air service, a post office, and Pribilof Aleuts joined the Alaska Native Brotherhood. A sense of community was encouraged by the new administrative system that came with statehood. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service retained control over the seals of the islands, but not the labor force.

The people of the Saint Paul and Saint George share a common ancestry with the Aleutian Aleut people. Their heritage is Aleut, characterized by a "fundamental combination of self-sufficiency and cooperation (that) has led to long term durability of Aleut communities, to many persistencies, and to their ability to adapt to new and difficult circumstances." Village organization is Aleut, having made a "smooth transition from the 'headman' or head men of pre-Russian times, through the system of First, Second and Third Chief practiced during Russian occupation, to the President, Vice-President and Secretary-Treasurer of today." (31) Their family names and religion have Russian roots. Even today, religious services are still conducted in three languages: Aleut, Russian, and English. Their developing economy is international as diversification brings the oil and fishing industries to the is lands.

The people of Saint George and Saint Paul share one characteristic that sets them apart from other Aleut people. The Pribilof Aleuts have had a much shorter life expectancy. While "life expectancy during the Russian period is, on the average greater than both Aleutian and Pribilof Aleuts under American rule... Aleutian Aleuts living from 1867 to 1946 have, on average, enjoyed a greater life expectancy at all ages than the average for Pribilof Aleuts." While there is an unusually high instance of infant mortality among the Pribilof Aleuts, evidence shows that "the magnitude of the difference is slightly reduced with increasing age, but always in substantial favor of the Aleutian Aleut." (32) Research has determined no precise cause for this phenomenon, but does suggest that "the differences must be considered to reflect environmental conditions" rather than genetic differences. (33)

The consistent elements throughout the period of significance are the dominance of the fur seal industry in island life, the international concern for conservation of the herds, and the management of the Aleut people as a labor force. All these elements persisted past mid-century despite the disruptions of World War II. While the Aleut people were evacuated to Funter Bay for the duration, sealing teams were brought back to the islands for the harvest. After the war, when the Aleut people were returned to the Pribilofs, life began again in the same patterns.

Historic conditions that governed the industry were not changed by World War II. The change was a gradual process occasioned by new international concerns about the industry, Alaska statehood, and new conditions of island life.

International concerns about the sealing industry changed in the 1950s from protecting the seals from pelagic hunts to a commitment to modern scientific research necessary to determine the effect of the seal herds on commercial fisheries. In 1950, Mr. Thompson from the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries explained that the purpose of the amendment to the 1944 act of entitlement to the 1942 Fur Seal agreement was to appropriate funds in order to: extend protection to other marine mammals; extend government control to the by-products of the seal industry and the harvest of any other animal resources of the islands; and to provide for "the maintenance and care of the native inhabitants." This purpose was well within the spirit of the original 1911 Convention. The 1957 multilateral Interim Convention on Conservation of North Pacific Fur Seals was a new departure. The objective of the new Convention was to sustain the herds at a level that allowed the greatest harvest "with due regard to their relation to the productivity of other living marine resources of the area." Scientific research was the key element. By directive, the subject of research included the age, mortality, migration routes, and the "extent to which the food habits of fur seals affect commercial fish catches and the damage fur seals inflict on fishing gear." The Convention established the North Pacific Fur Seal Commission to implement research and make recommendations for controls. This objective was not in the conservation and preservation spirit of the original 1911 Convention, rather it was concerned with the effect of the seals on the commercial fishing industry.

Elements of change in Alaska, coupled with the inherent change that occurs when a territory becomes a state, affected the administration of the islands and island life when Alaska statehood came in the 1950s. Section 6 (e) of the Alaska Statehood Act of July 7, 1958 awarded the state of Alaska seventy percent of the net proceeds of the Pribilof seal industry. The new state legislature enjoined the federal government, who still controlled the harvest, to bring Aleut wages to the state minimum. In 1959 the federal government abolished its fisheries office in Alaska. While the Aleut people remained the singular labor force for the industry, island life changed throughout the 1950s as well. Islanders became active in the Alaska Native Brotherhood and worked to alleviate their disparate condition. The people of Saint Paul and Saint George shared with the rest of Alaska the boom, and the changes that came with it, in the 1950s. Their relationship with the federal administrators changed as the Aleut people assumed more control of their political and private lives. The Special Agent for the islands made his last entry into his daily log in 1960. A unique era in American labor history came to an end.


Structures built between 1942 and 1960 are deemed to have exceptional significance, although they are not all fifty years old. The sealing processes and social structure on the islands remained virtually unchanged from the pre-war period, so that the functions and configurations of the newer buildings, whether housing or commercial, were the same as in the 1920s-1930s. The Department of Interior even maintained the old pattern of constructing new buildings on the foundations of the old. The equipment in the 1950s seal processing plant on Saint George reflects the early methods of processing with its kench tables, blubbering racks, and the rare redwood brine tank. Although there is no single event or date to mark the terminus of the historic period, by 1960 the historic conditions no longer exclusively determine the course of the industry or island life.


Saint George and Saint Paul Islands have had many names. Seal Islands is the one name that has been consistently used from the days before discovery when tales were told about mythical fog shrouded islands in the Bering Sea, through the American period on both official documents and by such spokesmen as Henry Elliott, to an Academy Award winning Disney film in the 1950s. The present designation of Fur Seal Rookeries is too narrow to reflect the rich history of the industry, the seals, and the people. Seal Islands is the most historically consistent and the name which best reflects the character of the National Historic Landmark.


1. For an overview of Russian-America see: James R. Gibson, Imperial Russia in Frontier America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976) Hector Clevigny, Russian America: The Great Alaska Venture 1741-1867. (Oregon: Binford and Mort, 1979).

2. Henry Ward Elliott, Our Arctic Provinces: Alaska and the Seal Islands (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1887), p. 231.

3. U.S., Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Fisheries, Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1909 and Special Papers, p. 5.

4. Clarence C. Hulley, Alaska: Past and Present (Portland, Oregon: Binford and Mort, 1970), p. 356.

5. Petr Alehsandrivich Tikhmenev, A History of the Russian American Company, trans. ed. Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978), p. 153.

6. Ibid., p 397.

7. Hulley, p. 397.

8. Susan Hackley Johnson, The Pribilof Islands: A Guide to Saint Paul, Alaska (Saint Paul: Tanadgusix Corporation, 1978), pp. 14-15.

9. U.S., Department of Commerce, Bureau of Fisheries, Report of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1922, p. 45.

10. U.S., Department of Commerce, Bureau of Fisheries, Report of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1924, p. 111.

11. U.S., Department of Commerce, Bureau of Fisheries, Report of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1930, p. xv.

12. U.S., Department of the Interior, Bureau of Fisheries, Report of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries 1940, p. 305.

13. U.S., Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Fur Seals of the Pribilof Islands, by Ralph C. Baker, Conservation in Action, No. 12 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1957, pp. 18-19.

14. Hulley, p. 398.

15. Tikhmenev, p. 88.

16. Ibid, p. 358.

17. U.S. Fish Commission, Division of Statistics, Past and Future of the Seal, by Joseph Stanley-Brown, Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, Vol. XIII. for 1893 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 1894), p. 362.

18. Johnson, pp. 14-15.

19. Morgan Sherwood, "Seal Poaching in the North Pacific: Japanese Raids on the Pribilofs, 1906," Alaska History 1:1 (1984): 45.

20. Thomas A. Bailey, "The North Pacific Sealing Convention of 1911," in Essays Diplomatic and Undiplomatic of Thomas A. Bailey, ed. Alexander Deconde Armin Rappaport (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1969), p. 168.

21. Ibid, p. 183.

22. Ibid, p. 281.

23. Interview with Roger Gentry, August 1985.

24. Aleut Community of Saint Paul Island, Alaska, (New York: Clearwater Publishing Company, Inc., 1976), p. 3.

25. Ibid, p. 5.

26. Elliott, p. 231.

27. For a complete discussion of the Russian—America Company and the role of the Russian Orthodox Church see: Svetlana Federovna, The Russian Population in Alaska and California, Late Eighteenth Century-1867 trans. ed. Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly (Ontario: Limestone Press, 1973) Barbara S. Smith, Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska: A History, Inventory, and Analysis of Church Archives in Alaska, with an annotated bibliography (Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska Historical Commission, 1980). For a discussion of the condition of the Aleut people in the American period see: Dorothy Knee Jones, A Century of Servitude: Pribilof Aleuts Under U.S. Rule (Washington, D.C., University Press of America, 1980).

28. "Special Reports," Pribilof Islands Collection, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska.

29. "Schedule of Property on Saint Paul and Saint George Islands," Pribilof Islands Collection, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska.

30. "Special Reports," Pribilof Islands Collection, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska.

31. W.S. Laughlin, "Aleut Community Cohesiveness and Tribal Integrity," in Aleut Community of Saint Paul Island, Alaska, (New York: Clearwater Publishing Company, Inc., 1976), p. 7.

32. "Life Expectancy and Survivorship among the Pribilof Aleuts," in Aleut Community of Saint Paul Island, Alaska, (New York: Clearwater Publishing Company, Inc., 1976, p. 105.

33. Ibid, p. 112.

9. Major Bibliographical References

Aleut Community of Saint Paul Island, Alaska. New York: Clearwater Publishing Company, Inc., 1976.

Bailey, Thomas A. "North Pacific Sealing Convention, 1911." In Essays Diplomatic and Undiplomatic by Thomas A. Bailey, pp. 168-187. Edited by Alexander Deconde and Armin Rappaport. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1969.

Chevigny, Hector. Russian America: The Great Alaskan Venture, 1741-1867. Oregon: Binford and Mort, 1979.

Elliott, Henry W. Our Arctic Province: Alaska and the Seal Islands. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1887.

The Seal Islands of Alaska. Government Printing Office, 1881; reprint ed., Ontario: Limestone Press, 1976.

Federova, Svetlana G. The Russian Population in Alaska and California, Late Eighteenth Century-1867. Trans. and ed. Richard A. Peirce and Alston S. Donnelly. Ontario: Limestone Press, 1973.

Gibson, James R. Imperial Russia in Frontier America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Hrdlicka, Ales. The Aleutian and Commander Islands and Their Inhabitants. Philadelphia: Wister Institute of Anatomy and Biology, 1945.

Hulley, Clarence C. Alaska: Past and Present. Portland, Oregon: Binford and Mort, 1970

Hunt, William R. Arctic Passage: The Turbulent History of the Land and People of the Bering Sea, 1697-1975. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975.

Johnson, Susan Hackley. The Pribilof Islands: A Guide to Saint Paul, Alaska. Saint Paul: Tanadgusix Corporation, 1978.

Jones, Dorothy Knee. A Century of Servitude: Pribilof Aleuts Under U. S. Rule. Washington, D. C.: University Press of America, 1980.

"Kratkaya tserkobno-statechstucheskaya opasanie svyata-georgievskoi, na sb. Georgia, tserkbi k eya praboclakmavo prehoda" (Brief statistical account of the Saint George Orthodox Parish on the Island of Saint George) Amerikanskii pravoslavnyi vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger) III March 27, 1899, pp. 175-177.

Makarovna, V. Russians on the Pacific. 1743-1799. Trans. and ed. by Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1975. "Novy Krem na ostroy sv. Georgia" (New Church on Saint George Island). Amerikanskii Pravoslavnyi vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger) XXXIL, July 1936, pp. 69-70.

"Ostrob sv. Georgia" (Island of Saint George). Amerikanskii Pravoslavnyi vestnik (Russian Orthodox American Messenger) III, February 27, 1899, p. 127.

Sherwood, Morgan. "Seal Poaching in the North Pacific: Japanese Raids in the Pribilofs, 1906." Alaska History 1 (Fall 1984): 45-53.

Smith, Barbara S. Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska: A History, Inventory, and Analysis of the Church Archives in Alaska, with an annotated bibliography. Anchorage, Alaska: Alaska Historical Commission, 1980.

State of Alaska, Department of Fish and Game, Division of Subsistence, "The Pribilof Island Aleuts: Tentative Players in a Hybrid Economy" by Michael Orback and Beverly Holmes in Contemporary Subsistence Economies of Alaska by Steve J. Langdon. nd.

State of Alaska, Department of Transportation and Public facilities, Division of Planning and Programming. Pribilof Special Report of Federally Owned Facilities, Saint Paul and Saint George. Anchorage: Habitat North, Architects and Planners, March 1982.

Tikkhmenev, Petr Alehsandrivich. A History of the Russian-American Company. Translated and edited by Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978.

U.S. Army, Narrative Report of Alaska Construction 1941-1944 by James D. Bushm Jr., Lt. Colonel, CE. Chief of Operations, Construction Division, Engineer, Alaska Department, Prepared in accordance with memorandum from Headquarters Alaskan Defense Command, 5 October 1943.

U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Fisheries, Annual Report of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1909.

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Fisheries, Annual Report of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries for the Fiscal Year 1918-1939.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Fisheries, Annual Report of the United States Commissioner of Fisheries 1940.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service Fur Seals of the Pribilof Islands by Ralph C. Baker. Conservation in Action, No. 12. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1957.

U.S. Navy. Maps. 21 Naval Construction Battalion, Records, Unalaska, Office of Command Historian, Naval Construction Center, Port Hueneme, California.


Dixon, Greg. State of Alaska, Geological and Geophysical Survey Division, Anchorage, July and September 1985.

Gentry, Roger. National Marine Fisheries Service, Pribilof Islands Program, St. George, August 1985.

Hiajny, Dick. Tour Guide, Saint Paul, August 1985.

Kashevarof, Andronik. Deacon, Saint George the Great Martyr Russian Orthodox Church, Saint George, August 1985.

Merculieff, Anthony. Tanaq Corporation, Saint George, August 1985.

Philemonoff, Ron. IRA Tribal Council, Saint Paul, August 1985.

Stepetin, Lavrenty. Holy Martyrs Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, Saint Paul, August 1985.

10. Geographical Data

Acreage of nominated property: 6,970 acres; Quadrangle name: Pribilof Island, Alaska; Quadrangle scale: 1:250,000


St. Paul Village:

Northeast Point:

St. George:


The boundaries of the Seal Islands National Historic Landmark District are shown as the thick black line on accompanying Map 2: Saint George Island and Map 4: Saint Paul Island and further described in Section 7.

The boundary includes the communities, rookeries with adjacent killing grounds, and old village sites that have historically been associated with the sealing industry, the conservation of the herds, and the Aleut people. Sections of the islands are excluded from the District because they were not essential to the industry or development has destroyed visual integrity.

11. Form Prepared By

Sandra McDermott Faulkner
National Park Service, Alaska Region
2525 Gambell Street
Anchorage, Alaska

12. State Historic Preservation Officer Certification

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