Monday, July 9, 2012

Russian-American Company's Kolmakovsky Redoubt blockhouse re-built at UAF's Museum of the North

Kolmakovsky Redoubt blockhouse
Last year the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North put the finishing touches on a re-built Russian blockhouse near the woods behind the museum. The blockhouse was built in 1841 by the Russian-American Company at its Kolmakovsky Redoubt (fort) on the Kuskokwim River Delta near Aniak, and is one of the oldest Russian-era structures in Alaska.

The blockhouse was taken apart in 1929 and shipped to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where is sat in storage for over 50 years. In 1982 it was re-constructed behind the university museum, but even with preservation work done on it over the years, time and weather took their toll. 

A grant from the federal Save America’s Treasures program allowed the Museum of the North, beginning in 2010, to install a concrete pad for the blockhouse to rest on, replace some damaged logs, stabilize the walls, and replace the sod roof. Click here for photos of the reconstruction taken by University of the North staff.

Gun slot on side of blockhouse
It’s a fascinating structure—eight-sided—made of spruce logs with interlocking dovetail notches. A defensive structure, it has no windows. The only daylight would have been filtered through the gun slots on the sides and back of the redoubt. The front door (the only door!) is small, probably deliberately so that anyone entering would have to stoop, making themselves easy targets. (As an aside, the Russians found the natives in the area friendly and the redoubt was never used for its intended purpose.)

Roof detail showing birch bark on top of timbers
The sod roof is also interesting. According to a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, most Russian blockhouses had plank roofs, and the Kolmakovsky Redoubt is apparently the only one ever found with a sod roof. I thought it was ingenious how the exposed top edges of the roof timbers have been protected by birch bark strips.

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