Sitka, Alaska: 1 August 1894. One and half Octavo bifolium leaves (ca. 20x12,5 cm or 8 x 4 ¾ in). 5 pp. Brown ink on lined paper. Blind-stamped monogram in the left upper corner of the first leaf. Fold marks, overall a very good letter.
Historically significant eye-witness account of the burning of Baranof Castle – the famous fort built in the New Archangel (Sitka) by the first governor of Russian America, Alexander Baranov. During the Russian rule the “Baranof Castle” was the administrative center of Russian America. The formal ceremony of the sale of Alaska to the United States and the hoisting of the first U.S. flag also took place there. The building was reconstructed several times and fully renovated in 1893. In the night of March 17, 1894, it burned to the ground, apparently due to “spontaneous combustion from oily rags” (Swagel, W. Centenary Today of “Baranof Castle” Fire// The Daily Sitka Sentinel. Sitka, Alaska, 17 March 1994, pp. 1, 8; 18 March 1994, P. 14). At the time of the fire, the building was used as the office and residence of the U.S. Court Commissioner Robert C. Rogers. In 1962 the site of the former Baranof Castle in Sitka was declared the National Historic Landmark.
Julia E. Haley was the only daughter of Nicholas Haley, a Sitka pioneer, notable miner and landowner with several claims close to Sitka Bay. Born and buried in Sitka, in the 1900s-1910s Julia Haley owned the well-known curio store “Old Russian Trading Post” on Sitka’s Lincoln Street. Her shop “offered a variety of items including some that purportedly came from Baranov’s Castle” (Dearmond, R.N. Mill’s doors not the first to close in Sitka (194 years of ups and downs: An economic history of Sitka)// Daily Sitka Sentinel. Sitka, Alaska, 01 October 1993, pp. 1, 10).
In the letter to her San Francisco friend “Miss Young,” Julia gives a detailed account of the Baranof Castle fire and briefly describes the ball given by the local ladies in honour of the Bering Sea Fleet. Overall a fine early Alaska letter.
Excerpts from the letter:
“Dear Miss Young,
“<…> I dearly hope this will find you all enjoying good health & still teaching school in San Francisco. I wish you would come as a teacher to the Sitka Public School.
I suppose you have heard about the Baranoff Castle. It was burnt to the ground. Not even could we have a chip in remembrance. Of it nothing could be saved. It was impossible. Judge Rogers was in the building at the time & it took all they could do to get him out. He was at the windows for 9[?] hours crying for help. But no one heard him. Every one was asleep. He lost everything. Nothing saved, only a long coat he had on. His poor little dog was in the attic & no one could get near him. It was a beautiful building after it was nearly repaired. So you may tell your friends that the Baranoff Castle at Sitka is no more. The ground it stood on is all there. The building after being repaired was going to be occupied by the officials & we miss the view so much. It was a very pretty fire. I wished you could have seen it. The flag pole was the very last to burn. They took several views of it which looks so much like it. Every one felth [sic!] so sorry. All the ladies watched it from one in the morning until four.
We haven’t had many tourists out here this summer. There has been so much trouble on the railroads & such hard things has stopped a great many from coming. We have had a very pleasant summer, but it was a late one. I suppose you visited the Midwinter fire. <…> We had it very lively this summer. All the ships calling in made it very pleasant. Last month the ladies of Sitka gave a ball, given in honor of the Bering Sea fleet. That is the U.S. Navy ships in harbour. Yorktown, Mohican, Albatross, Ranger, Hassler, Corwin, Adams, Bear, Rush, Pinta, and H.M. Ship Pheasant & [Areal?] & you may be shure [sic!] it was the [wellest?] affair of the season…”.
Price: $950.00 USD