The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Editor, Valdez Star 

Alaska Day gives state and city offices a day off but what is it?

This year marks 150th anniversary of the U.S. purchase from Russia


October 19, 2017

Alaska Day is a state holiday that catches many people by surprise.

Some Alaskans - particularly in Valdez - are only made aware of it when they need to do business with a city or state office, only to find out it is closed because of Alaska Day.

So what is Alaska Day and what is it's significance?

Oct. 18, 1867 is the date that Alaska was formally transitioned from a Russian Territory to a U.S. Territory.

The Treaty of Cession, as it became known took place in Sitka and "The Russian Double Eagle was lowered for the last time, and the Stars and Stripes made their first appearance over Alaskan soil in a ceremony," said organizers of Sitka's Alaska Day Festival.

Russia first tried to sell Alaska to the U.S. twenty years earlier, in 1859 according to the US State Dept.'s Office of the Historian.

"The looming U.S. Civil War delayed the sale, but after the war, Secretary of State William Seward quickly took up a renewed Russian offer and on March 30, 1867, agreed to a proposal from Russian Minister in Washington, Edouard de Stoeckl, to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million," the State Dept. says.

Thus Alaska entered its first years under what is often referred to as benign neglect of its far flung territory, which was often referred to as Seward's Folly.

"For three decades after its purchase the United States paid little attention to Alaska, which was governed under military, naval, or Treasury rule or, at times, no visible rule at all," the State Dept. said. "Seeking a way to impose U.S. mining laws, the United States constituted a civil government in 1884."

Alaska was considered little more than a frozen wasteland until 1896 - when gold was found in the Yukon - spawning the great Gold Rush - which led to the founding of Valdez .

For its part, Valdez was more of a concept than an actual defined place with infrastructure but was touted by steamship lines as an all-American route to the gold fields of the interior.

Some refer to it as one of the "greatest hoaxes in Alaska's history."

Courtesy National Archives

The actual cancelled check issued by the Treasury Dept. to pay Russia $7.2 million for Alaska.

"The prospectors arrived to find a glacier trail twice as long and steep as reported," says the website hosted by the Valdez Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Valdez and it's people survived, and Valdez later played an instrumental role in Alaska achieving statehood in 1959.

William Egan - who grew up in Valdez - became the state's first governor after statehood - as did Gov. Bill Walker, who will be seeking a second term in office next year.

"I'm looking forward to exciting events this week marking the 150th anniversary of the U.S. purchase of interests in Alaska," Walker said Monday in a prepared statement, "and the 51st Annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Both events speak to the amazing history and heritage in this land, and I am glad I'll be able to attend events that commemorate them both."


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