The Ascension of Our Lord Chapel was constructed in 1888 and is believed to be the second Orthodox church in Karluk; the first was constructed before 1800. Architectural Historian, Alison Hoagland, in her book, Buildings of Alaska, notes that this church “is the oldest extant Russian Orthodox church in Alaska, as well as being one of the most professionally designed.” The design is attributed to Charles Smith Hursh while the materials were purchased by the Alaska Packers Company or the Karluk Packing Company at the request of a local Native named Melety who would rather have a church than the new housing his company was building. The prosperous runs of salmon in the Karluk River brought many canneries to the area in the early 1880s and with it, a larger population.
Architecturally, the church is beautifully designed with a prominent bell tower and an octagonal cupola. Research indicates that the structural components of the church are log, which were covered with horizontal wood siding. The remarkable site, high on Kodiak Island’s bluffs overlooking the Shelikov Strait and the Village of Karluk below, contributes to the beauty of this iconic Alaskan Orthodox church.
The Ascension of Our Lord Chapel contributes to the National Register of Historic Places listing for the Russian Orthodox Church Buildings and Sites for its significant association with the Russian occupation of Alaska.
Unfortunately, the chapel is deteriorating rapidly due to harsh climate, limited use and lack of maintenance. In April 2007, the Karluk Department of Fire and Emergency Services inspected the church and was alarmed at its condition, noting that “the Church is in desperate need of repair and is currently in violation of local ordinances.” Of particular concern were various electrical wiring violations which present a “major hazard to the public.” The Karluk Department of Fire and Emergency served a notice to raze or repair the church, but fortunately, the church is still standing.
Due to the chapel’s remote location, ROSSIA has not had the opportunity to visit the Ascension of Our Lord Chapel. We are currently raising funds to inspect the church, develop a preservation plan and launch the project. Please consider supporting this effort to preserve a unique and enduring example of the Russian Orthodox architecture in Alaska.
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