Museum completes blockhouse preservation
SEPTEMBER 2011 - An 1841 Russian blockhouse is again sitting tall on the grounds of the University of Alaska Museum of the North.
The roof was removed from the Kolmakovsky blockhouse in 2006 due to questions of structural stability and safety. In December of 2009, the National Park Service awarded the museum $75,000 to preserve the Kolmakovsky collection. After relocating the building to a tree-sheltered site, the preservation team completed the work on the blockhouse by adding a sod roof made with moss and tamarack poles.
“We used materials with rot-resistant properties to help the long term preservation of the building,” said Angela Linn, the museum’s ethnology and history collection manager.
The blockhouse was the first structure built by the Russian-American Company at Kolmakovsky Redoubt near Aniak. It is one of the oldest Russian-era structures in Alaska. In 1929, the blockhouse was disassembled and moved to Fairbanks.
Linn worked closely with log preservation specialist Sandy Jamieson on the project. He was especially intrigued with the unique notching system used in the original blockhouse construction. The design featured self-locking dovetail notches built into the chinkless white spruce logs, something he had never seen before. “It was very satisfying to reassemble the building,” Jamieson said. “Everything just went together – click, click, click. It was a nice connection to the guys who had cut those logs 170 years ago.”
Linn hopes to use the information the team gathered about the blockhouse’s architectural design in future projects. “There’s a whole story embedded in the logs themselves,” Linn said.
The blockhouse and approximately 5,000 archaeological artifacts from the site help document the period in Alaska history when outsiders were first coming into contact with the Native populations. The artifacts represent almost 90 years of occupation at the Kolmakovsky site from the original Russian traders to the American employees of the American Commercial Company, which operated at Kolmakovsky from 1867 until 1917.
The Save America’s Treasures grant also provides funding to improve storage for the artifacts and make them more accessible to researchers. “ For me, as an anthropologist, the objects are great in and of themselves, but what’s really intriguing are those stories associated with the objects,” said Linn.
Putting the roof back on the blockhouse was the last step in stabilizing the building. Now the structure will serve as a trailhead marker to an interpretive trail on campus. And soon Linn will have two houses to protect. The St. Michael blockhouse will be returning to UAF after being on loan to UAA since the 1980s.
“These objects keep people award of this time period. We are achieving our goal of outreach and education by sharing them with the public,” said Linn.