Set on a bluff overlooking Cook Inlet, on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai and its surrounding area were home to the Kenaitze Indians for centuries before the Russians discovered it in 1791. One of several fur-trading enterprises, the Lebedev-Lastochin Company established Fort Saint Nicholas (Nikolaevskii Redoubt) at this site. Further reinforced by the Russian-American Company, Saint Nicholas was the principal Russian community on the Kenai Peninsula by 1867.
After the United States acquired Alaska in 1867, it sent a U.S. Army contingent to Fort Saint Nicholas, which was renamed Fort Kenay. One hundred and four soldiers occupied the eleven log buildings for only seventeen months, leaving in September 1870. In the 1880s, the first of several canneries was established on the Kenai River, the beginnings of a still-active industry.
The discovery of oil in 1957 brought a new prosperity to Kenai. Although the oil drilling took place elsewhere, at sites north of Kenai and out in Cook Inlet, the town boomed. New development oriented to the automobile swamped Kenai, producing what one historian has called “a bland hodge-podge of architectures and ways of life.”
The old section of town, near Main, Cook, and Mission streets, has several log cabins with both round and hewn logs. Dating from the early twentieth century, most of them have dovetailed notching at the corners. Exhibiting a characteristic peculiar to Kenai and Ninilchik, the logs are not equal in each dimension but are hewn to a thickness of about 4 inches. As such they resemble thick planks rather than logs, but the corner dovetailing is a log-building convention.
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