Seward’s Day commemorates the signing of the treaty with the Russian Empire on 30 March 1867 that secured the purchase of Alaska.
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The treaty was single-handedly negotiated by Secretary of State William Seward, which arranged for the vast territory’s purchase at only $7.2 million. Russia was willing to sell because, at the time, Alaska was costing them more to maintain as a territory than it was producing in revenues. Thus, Seward was mocked by many and his purchase dubbed “Seward’s Folly” and, other times, “Seward’s Icebox.”
However, in 1897, the discovery of gold in the Klondike River and the subsequent Alaska Gold Rush quelled the objections of “the doubters.” Seward, having passed away in 1872, never lived to witness his vindication. Later, the discovery of large oil, gas, and coal deposits and the development of the lumber and fishing industries proved once again how valuable Alaska was economically. Another factor to remember is that the removal of Russian influence from the North American continent was a significant political benefit the U.S. gained from the deal.
Seward’s Day is observed every final Monday of March in Alaska, and many are off work or school. There are events held every year in Anchorage, Sitka, and Seward (named after William Seward), including Alaskan history lessons and slideshows and storytelling sessions for kids. Besides these events, other things to do in Alaska on Seward’s Day include:
- Visit Seward, Alaska, on the scenic Kenai Peninsula. Established in 1903, it is among the oldest towns in the state, and there are many activities for tourists, including fishing tournaments, kayaking, aerial sightseeing, and cruises that pass by glaciers and remote wildlife.
- Go to Ketchikan, where a figure of William Seward overlooks the town from on top of a pole. Ketchikan was founded in 1883 as a salmon port, and still today, it is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World.” Its colorful historic buildings are lined up along the coast, and the busy harbor and many salmon canneries are worth seeing. The Ketchikan Heritage Center contains authentic, original totem poles, found nowhere else in Alaska, and artwork of native Alaskan cultures.
- Tour the state capital building in Juneau, where you can also visit the Alaska State Museum for a look at colonial, pioneer, and statehood era relics of Alaska’s past. Also consider trying your luck panning and mining for gold nuggets at Gold Creek and Last Chance Basin.
Though there are not many Seward Day special events in Alaska, there are a few, and there are many tourist stops that relate to the significance of the Alaska Purchase Treaty.