Bright and early this morning the group visited the Russian Orthodox Church in Kasilof. The church was a beautiful white and green church overlooking the bay. The church is still actively used and has a graveyard enclosed within the church’s premises. The Russian’s moved to Alaskan territories in the 1800’s. They were seeking money in commercial trapping and selling the fur. During this, they enslaved the natives of the Alaskan territories for this purpose. Eventually, the places that were taken over by the Russians were taken back over by the natives of the land due to an uproar of being enslaved. There are few Russian territories in this region now, and the territories that are left have working churches such as this one.
Our next stop was the Kasilof Regional Historical Association Museum in Kasilof. Here they had several of the original cabins built by the first settlers in the Kasilof area. The rise in many homesteads being built in this area was due to the cannery business. The fishermen would catch the fish and would sell the fish to the canneries. Another reason for moving to this area was for trophy hunting. Hunters would shoot and kill trophy moose, along with animals that had valuable furs and pelts. Many of these cabins were small, but were sufficient enough for the families. All of the original cabins had original artifacts used during these times. Some items include old milk jugs, dining utensils, fire stoves, fishing supplies, boats, and replicas of their foods. They also had ancient artifacts they found in earlier eras, such as mammal teeth and bones. These cabins were owned by small families that were the first settlers in these areas.
Our third stop was at the Soldotna Homestead Museum in Soldotna. At this museum, were some of the first cabins built from the veterans of WWII. This was part of the Homestead Act which ended in 1989. Part of this Homestead Act stated that any veteran of the war could own 40-160 acres of land, as long as they built a livable dwelling with two windows and a door, and lived there for 7 months in one consecutive year. If a person wanting to own land but was not a veteran, they had to live there at least 9 months of the year for 5 years. These landowners were often into commercial hunting. They would sell these animals to make a living. Often, these people did not have much, as majority of them were veterans of the war. If the property line goes up to a river, the landowner cannot own the land on the other side of the river, even if they did not get all the acres they were promised. Some of the artifacts found in these were small kitchenettes, one mirror, small beds, and few personal items. There was one schoolhouse, which taught kids in grades kindergarten through 7th grade. Many kids dropped out of school due to helping their families with the homestead.
Our fourth and final stop was to the Kenai Visitor Center and Museum. In the museum, there were artifacts dated back to the natives. They had different outfits used for events, such as dancing and rituals. They had artifacts from the several native tribes in Alaska, dating back to the early 1700’s. Some of these artifacts included trading items, furs, utensils, and household items. During this stop, we went on a walk around the old Kenai Village. We saw the first chapel built in this region. An interesting fact about this chapel was that the door is so short to enter the chapel, that it made people bow down, which symbolizes bowing down for their God. The first Pastor and two followers of this chapel were buried beneath it. We also saw another Russian Orthodox Church while on this walk. It is still actively used, and the Priest’s house is across from it, and it is his duty to watch over the church. As a fun fact, the tour guide told us everyone in this church stands during the service. It is a tale that is told that God believes men daydream while sitting, and women gossip while sitting. The next stop on this walk was the first settler’s cabins that were built in the area. Most were very small, to help conserve heat. Some of the cabins held up to 14 family members. Sometimes in the local convenient stores, it would take almost a month to have items shipped in. Some items found in the houses were medicines and basic household items that were sometimes sold in a local convenient store. As a fun fact, the basement of the local convenient store during these times were used as a morgue during the winter times.
Paige Heintzelman and Kristi Welkley