Every Oct. 18 is Alaska Day, an official state holiday in the state nicknamed “the Last Frontier.” Although the U.S. bought Alaska Territory from Russia for $2.7 million in the spring of 1867, the American flag didn’t replace the Russian one at Fort Sitka until Oct. 18. On that day, 250 U.S. soldiers accepted the transfer from Russian military representatives, and the U.S. gained a giant new territory.
Russia had controlled Alaska for decades after wresting it from the native Tlingit people. But with losses in the Crimean War, it feared losing Alaska to Britain or another of its opponents. So Russia arranged the sale with U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, who had long wanted to expand America’s Pacific coastline.
Although some called the deal “Seward’s Folly,” Alaska has been a bonanza for the U.S., the scene of everything from gold rushes to oil booms to crowds of tourists. The state’s vast public lands draw those visitors, who seek state and national parks where wildlife sightings are likely and grandeur is a guarantee.
Set on the edge of Baranof Island, with views out across the Gulf of Alaska, Sitka still showcases preserved buildings dating all the way back to the Russian era. Although Juneau became the capital in 1906, Sitka is still the center of Alaska Day celebrations, which feature a reenactment of the transfer as well as dancing, concerts and art exhibits.