Seldovia - Just Beyond the End of the Road
The history portion of this article is adapted from
Janet Klein's A History of Kachemak Bay.
Of all the Kachemak communities, only Seldovia
spans the centuries and crosses the cultures. Eskimo, Aleut, Indian,
Russian, Scandinavian, German, and many other peoples congregated in
Seldovia, providing a rich and varied heritage that still survives.
Most were seafaring peoples and they oriented themselves to the water,
geographically and economically.
The origins of Seldovia are obscured by time. The Pacific Eskimo who lived on Yukon Island, the Aleuts who hunted sea otters in the area, and the Dena'ina Indians who were living there at the time of Russian contact were familiar with the natural resources of Seldovia Bay. The Russians, also, were aware of the abundant fur and fish resources of the region; in fact, a translated Russian book mentions the 1844 settlement of Seldovia but gives no other details. The bay, itself, was labeled Seldevoy on an 1852 map of Cook Inlet compiled by Captain Mikhail Tebenkov, a Russian navigator and cartographer.
Other references to Seldovia offer tantalizing
yet fragmented glimpses into the 1880s and the 1890s. An early mention
of Seldovia is in the 1880 census conducted by Ivan Petroff. He listed
the combined population of Seldovia and Ostrovki (an unidentified village)
as seventy-four, with thirty-six Eskimos and thirty-eight Creoles. Creoles
were people of Russian/native descent. Ten years later, Seldovia had
grown to ninety-nine, with sixty Native people and thirty-nine foreigners.
In June 1883, J.A. Jacobsen, ethnographer for
the Berlin Museum, visited Akedaknak in Seldovia Bay. "This village,"
he wrote, "had been the location of a trading post of the Western
Fur Company that had been abandoned in May (1883)." It was at Akedaknak
that Jacobsen hired the Native guide to lead him to Soonroodna. Whether
Akedaknak was the " Indian village" at the very head of Seldovia
A year later, Seldovia is again mentioned in
the literature, this time in the travel journal of Father Nikita, a
Russia Orthodox priest. Father Nikita wrote on May 28, 1884, that an
influenza epidemic had killed nearly all of the children aged two and
younger in Seldovia, English Bay, Kenai and Ninilchik.
Although it is uncertain just when the Russian
Orthodox priests started their missionary work in Seldovia, their interest
and influence increased over the years. By 1891, the St. Nicholas Russian
Orthodox Church was built atop the prominent knoll where it still stands.
Below the church spread the community of Natives living in log homes
with thatch roofs.
John Bortnovsky, another Russian priest, wrote
in his 1896 travel journal that "The Indians of Seldovia...live
by hunting sea otter. This summer they caught fifty otters: such luck
seldom happens." He also wrote that a government customs officer
was stationed there to see that "the new arrivals, who call themselves
American citizens, do not corrupt the Kenai natives with alcoholic beverages."
That year, 103 Natives resided in Seldovia.
Two trading posts opened in Seldovia many years
after the close of the Western Fur Trading Company mentioned by Jacobsen.
By March 1, 1894, the Alaska Commercial Company post was in operation.
Fur trading was still profitable for the Natives and two years later
the Northern Fur trading Company office was buying marine and land mammal
With the existence of the trading posts, a post office that opened in 1898, and the Russian Orthodox Church, the Native and Caucasian community continued to grow. By the time the sea otters were almost exterminated, Seldovians no longer depended upon a hunting-based economy. The emphasis had changed.
As Seldovia entered the Twentieth Century, the
trading posts evolved into mercantile stores, but the Russian Church
remained the cultural, educational, and religious center for the growing
town. With the arrival of coal and gold miners to the region in the
1880s, Seldovia became the major shipping and service center for Kachemak
Bay and Cook Inlet. The economic development of Seldovia after 1900
concentrated on fishing and fish processing.
Taken in part from Janet Klein's A History of Kachemak
Bay the Country, the Communities. Available at bookstores and gift shops
Located in the entrance of Seldovia Bay on the
southern portion of Kachemak Bay, Seldovia is only accessible by sea
or air. A fly-in trip to the cozy town will afford you with incredible
views of the surrounding glaciers while traveling by charter boat will
get you up-close with many of the areas species of marine mammals and
Today, though Seldovia is not the bustling hub
of south-central Alaska it once was, it remains a beautiful city loaded
with history. Walk along the boardwalks, through the town or along the
bluffs and be treated to spectacular views and historical charm. You
can visit the St. Nicholas Church, still standing after a hundred years,
or sip coffee and watch the boats come and go. Arriving by private boat
will allow you to explore the sheltered waters in and around Seldovia
Bay as well as fish for a variety of salmon and trout (check the fishing
section for area and derby information).
Once in Seldovia there is the opportunity to
fish, dig for clams on minus tides and just hike around and become acquainted
with the local wild berry crop. Seldovia now offers a camping area as
well as bed and breakfast and hotel rooms for rent. Be sure to take
a walk along the Otterbahn trail and check out the Synergy Artworks/Information
Center across from the harbor.
If you are going to be around for the Fourth of July check into the Seldovia Festival which includes many activities, a parade and a barbecue feast. Call the Seldovia Chamber at 234-7890 for details and updates.
This guide brought to you by The
Homer Tribune. Publisher: Jane M. Pascall. Voice (907)235-3714,
Fax (907)235-3716 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,
601 E. Pioneer Ave., Suite 109, Homer, AK 99603.