Ninilchik was founded in 1847 as a subsistence agricultural retirement community for families of the Russian American Company.
By that time, a number of the company's employees in Sitka and Kodiak had spent most of their adult lives in Alaska and had married Native women and had children. In addition to family ties, many were prohibited from retiring back to Russia. Russian law prohibited a serf from returning to his home territory in Russia as long as he owed money elsewhere. The Russian American Company granted easy credit to its employees to keep them in debt so they could not return to Russia.
Ninilchik was chosen as a retirement settlement because it was one of the few areas in Alaska capable of sustaining subsistence agriculture. The first two families to occupy Ninilchik were those of Grigorii Kvasnikov and Iakov Knage, whose descendants still live on the Kenai Peninsula. By 1861, eight families lived at Ninilchik. The population continued to fish and grow subsistence gardens. Commercial fishing became the economic base after the turn of the last century.
This photo was taken by Virgil Dahler in 1960 when the town was still nestled at the Ninilchik River mouth. Gradually the town center moved to the highway up on the bluff to the right. Development is now concentrated on either side of the Sterling Highway between the highway department and the fairgrounds. Today the economy has shifted to saltwater chartered halibut fishing.
This text was written by Marge Mullen and Alan Boraas. The photograph is part of the photograph archives of the Anthropology Lab at Kenai Peninsula College.
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