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Saving the U.S.’s only Russian colony

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Considering the rocky relationship between the United States and Russia over the last century, it might not be surprising if you’ve never heard of Fort Ross, the only Russian colony that existed in the contiguous United States, but to generations of Russian immigrants, it has been a touchstone with their community, and one that was almost lost to the familiar tale of budget cut woes.

Although Fort Ross had the appearance of a military installation, it was never involved in warfare. For three decades, Russian colonists lived and intermarried with Native Americans, traded with Spain and the United States, and made a living through agriculture, otter-hunting and shipbuilding.

“This is a place where a colonial power came in and squatted for 30 years and it was peaceful,” says Tom Wright, a retired schoolteacher who sits on the board of the Fort Ross Conservancy, the non-profit group that organizes programs at the state park and raises money to support it. “Everything sort of came together out here. This was the farthest outpost for the Russians and the farthest outpost for the Spanish.”

Despite its unique history and existence as a gathering place for Russian-Americans, California’s plan to shutter the state park caused an uproar from the community that echoed across the Pacific and back to the ears of Olga Miller in New York, of Russian conglomerate Renova, the company that would end up making this year’s bicentennial celebration possible by partnering with the state to keep history alive.

With architecture that reminds some of their Siberian roots and folk dances and lectures to keep the culture alive, despite the rocky road confronted by a private company working hand-in-hand with government bureaucracy, it appears this unique landmark will live to see another day.

Full story at Smithsonian.

Saving a page of history.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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