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Soviet retro and American Moscow: the most 'Russian' places in the USA

Although Russia and the US border each other in the North Pacific Ocean, the two countries often seem very distant from each other. However, there are many cities and towns in the US that still bear traces of Russian influence. The publication told about such Russian places in the USA Russia Beyond.

Photo: Shutterstock

Most Russian places in the United States are associated with the activities and legacy of the Russian-American Company, which was founded in the late 18th century by businessmen Grigory Shelikhov and Nikolai Rezanov and enjoyed support at the highest level (Tsar Alexander I was one of its shareholders).

Alaska, discovered by Russian researchers, aroused particular interest of the founders of the company. Even before the founding of the Russian-American Company, they made more than 100 expeditions to the peninsula, bringing furs and other goods. Russian sailors also explored other parts of North America, where they established a number of permanent settlements, which they called Russian America. However, their business was not particularly successful because it was difficult to compete with British and local entrepreneurs. The sale of Alaska in 1867 was the final blow to their ambitions in the New World. The Russian-American company did not officially close until 1881, but its characteristic Russian heritage still survives in the northwestern United States.

Alaska: the most Russian of the American states

Despite the fact that Russia owned this land for less than a century, there are Russian roots at almost every step. The Alaska Cathedral of St. Michael still stands in Sitka (Novo-Arkhangelsk), which was the capital of Russian America.

In Dillingham (Novo-Aleksandrovsky) there is the Church of St. Seraphim of Sarov. The relics of the first Orthodox saint of the United States, Herman of Alaska, rest in Kodiak (formerly Pavlovsk). A local seminary is named after him.

Perhaps the largest concentration of the remaining Russian settlements is located on the Kenai Peninsula: these include the cities of Kenai (Nikolaevsk), Kasilof (Georgievsky redoubt), Seldovia (Aleksandrovsk) and the village of Ninilchik, where in 2013 linguists discovered a unique dialect of the Russian language.

Some of its elderly residents spoke a mixture of Old Russian and English. The explanation for this phenomenon was quite simple: Russian settlers often married local women, and their children went to Russian schools. The rather secluded location of the settlement allowed this local language to be preserved in its original form for two centuries.

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There are also many Russian places on the banks of the Yukon River, one of which is called the Russian Mission, with a population of about 300 people. The majority are indigenous people with Russian surnames and are Orthodox believers.

On the map of Alaska, there are many other place names related to the Russian period of the region. These are the islands Bolshoy, Baranov, Kiska, Krutoy, Olga, Empty; as well as Monashka Bay, Chaika Mountain, Sabaka Lake and Samovar Mountains.

Fort Elizabeth (Fort Elizabeth): Russians in Paradise

Just over 200 years ago, this lush archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean almost became part of the Russian Empire and, perhaps, today can be called, say, the Hawaiian Autonomous Region of the Russian Federation. In 1804, explorers Ivan Kruzenshtern and Yuri Lisyansky were the first Russians to reach these islands, but the Americans were already engaged in trade with the natives. They returned to St. Petersburg, but one of the uninhabited Hawaiian islands today is named after Captain Lisyansky.

In 1816, the Russian-American Company sent Dr. Anton Schafer to Hawaii. When he arrived, it turned out that two rulers were fighting for complete control of the archipelago: King Kamehameha I and King Kaumuali. Both tried to develop relations with the Russians, and the former promised lucrative trade, including the sale of valuable sandalwood. King Kaumuali even discussed the possibility of transferring his territories under the jurisdiction of the Russian emperor, provided that the Russians would help him defeat King Kamehamech I. Shafer agreed to help Kaumuali and built three forts (Elizabeth, Alexander and Barclay) on the river bank on the island of Kauai.

Emperor Alexander I, however, did not see much sense in creating new colonies on the other side of the world, and therefore he never ratified the treaty that provided for the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands to the Russian Empire. The ruins of the largest fort can still be found in Kauai and are the centerpiece of a state park officially known as the Russian Fort Elizabeth. Only parts of the foundations of Fort Alexander can still be seen if you know where to look, and Fort Barclay has been completely destroyed.

Fort Ross: Russian Colony in California

While Alaska was rich in furs (gold mining only began when the Americans took control of the state), its harsh climate made it difficult to grow food. Faced with the task of providing the settlers with grain, Rezanov decided to establish an agricultural colony somewhere in the south and went to California.

Local authorities, however, were in no hurry to sell him the land, but then romance intervened in politics. Rezanov, 43, is said to have fallen in love with Conchita Arguello, the 16-year-old daughter of the San Francisco Commandant. The feelings were mutual, and he went to Russia to ask the emperor for permission to marry, but died on the way. Heartbroken, Conchita vowed never to marry, choosing instead to become a nun. Although some historians believe that Rezanov pursued purely commercial interests, in the end the Spanish authorities allowed the Russians to establish a colony in California.

Fort Ross was founded in 1812, about 100 km north of what is now San Francisco. According to one version, the Russians bought land from the natives, giving them three pairs of pants, three blankets, two axes, three hoes and a string of beads. The first inhabitants of Fort Ross were 90 Aleuts and 25 Russians from Alaska, led by the Vologda merchant Ivan Kuskov. Nearly 30 years later, Fort Ross was too expensive to maintain and was sold to American businessman John Sutter. Today, the fortress is a popular tourist attraction in the state of California, and every year, on the last Saturday of July, Fort Ross celebrates Russia Cultural Heritage Day, which takes guests almost 200 years ago.

By the way, some place names in California still have a Russian connection: the Russian river flows along the Moscow road directly into Ross Bay.

San Francisco: Three Centuries of Immigration

One of the central districts of the city is called "Russkaya Gorka", because in the middle of the 19th century there was a cemetery where Russian sailors were buried. It was then that the first Russian Orthodox Church and the first settlers appeared.

In the early 20th century, San Francisco became home to the Molokans, a Christian sect that rejected the tenets of the Russian Orthodox Church, such as the veneration of saints and icons. Their life in San Francisco was described in detail by Ilf and Petrov in their book "Little Golden America". After World War II, many Russians moved to San Francisco from Harbin and Shanghai.

In the 1990s, the city became a popular destination for people from the former Soviet Union. There are many Russians living in the Richmond area today, so if you are looking for Russian food, now you know where to go.

Brighton Beach: Soviet retro in New York

This part of New York has become a legend and a filming location for many films. Although considered by many to be a Russian area, it is actually inhabited by people from all the republics of the former Soviet Union.

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The first to settle here were Soviet Jews, who were allowed to leave the USSR in the 1970s. They were followed by Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians and Armenians who came in search of a better life. As a result, this part of New York turned into something like a mini-USSR. Russian shops and restaurants are everywhere, as well as kiosks with Russian newspapers and books. Locals speak a mixture of Russian and English, a dialect called Runglish, which has long been a source of jokes for local comedians.

American Moscow, St. Petersburg and Volga

The United States is home to over three million Russian-speaking immigrants, and many large cities have Russian communities and settlements. Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Detroit, Washington, Milwaukee and other cities have shops, cafes and Russian-language media. There are also many cities with Russian names in the USA: for example, there are 17 settlements called Moscow. Some of their origin stories are quite funny.

Do you know how the city of Moscow appeared in Idaho? When the post office opened at the location, the mayor changed the name of the place from Hog Haven to Moscow because he was born in Moscow, Pennsylvania. He also lived in Moscow in Iowa.

Florida has St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg), founded by Detroit businessman John Williams and Russian immigrant Peter Demens, nee Peter Dementiev. Legend has it that when choosing a name for the city, they tossed a coin, and Dementyev won.

In California, there is a small village of Sevastopol, named after the Crimean War of 1853-1856. In South Dakota, there is the Volga village, named after the Russian river, and the Tolstoy town, named after the great Russian writer.

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