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One of the most picturesque villages in Southeast, Petersburg on Mitkof Island was founded in 1897 by Norwegian Peter Buschmann, who built a sawmill and cannery here. Fellow Norwegians followed to create a flourishing fishing community. The population remained predominantly Norwegian until the mid-twentieth century, and the town's fishing industry is still a mainstay of the economy. The clearest remnant of the town in its early days is Sing Lee Alley, a narrow, curving street with a handful of false-fronted buildings, some of which are among the oldest in town. The waterfront is also lined with docks and canneries, and there are even some boathouses that have been converted to houses. Rising from the waterfront in a grid pattern, the rest of the town is characterized by neat bungalows with a pronounced frequency of shed-roofed dormers.

In an attempt to enhance Petersburg's reputation as Alaska's “Little Norway,” a group of local women began doing rosemaling. This Norwegian folk painting tradition, usually reserved for furniture and wooden plates and bowls, met with a revival in the United States beginning in the 1930s. In the early 1970s, the Muskeg Maleriers began applying rosemaling to storefronts downtown and to shutters on residential buildings, giving Petersburg a distinctive appearance and thus creatively laying claim to a Norwegian heritage without drawing directly from it. At the same time, in a more general way this town of simple wooden buildings in a grandly picturesque setting rising behind a crowded harbor of small and large boats is similar to many coastal towns in Norway.

Writing Credits

Alison K. Hoagland

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