Wrangell, Alaska, US
Likely the earliest European community on America’s northwest coast, the town was located on Wrangell Island in Alaska’s Inside Passage. Its location at the mouth of the Stikine River was important for millennia to the Tlingit people of the region for trade with the interior. The Russian Baron Ferdinand Wrangel built his Fort St. Dionysius adjacent to an existing Tlingit fortress in 1811, attracted by the abundant otter, seal and beaver populations. In 1839, the fort was leased to the British Hudson’s Bay Company, which renamed it Fort Stikine. Initial Tlingit resistance to the British appropriation of the Stikine River trade route was stifled by catastrophic smallpox epidemics among the natives. But within a decade the Company managed to decimate the fur resource. Fishing and timber remained important to the local economy, as they do today. But the fortunes of Wrangell were transformed by its strategic location on the routes of the Klondike Gold Rushes. The Stikine River was the earliest route of prospectors into the Klondike goldfields, and the town remained an important staging area for successive waves of miners en route northward. The whole history of the town is wonderfully presented in the small but impressive Wrangell Museum. Visitors are thrilled by close encounters with black and brown bears at the nearby Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory. They also are enchanted by the prehistoric artworks at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park, and the colorful reproductions of Tlingit cultural icons at the Chief Shakes House and Totem Park.