Founded by the Russians in 1793, the town of Kodiak remained the seat of Russian interests in America until 1808. The Russians built a J-shaped fort and a number of other log buildings, although they deteriorated rapidly in Kodiak's wet climate. The Russians organized hunting parties from Kodiak, used it as a trading post, and undertook considerable farming in the area. The first Russian Orthodox church in America was established here in 1794, and the church maintains a seminary in Kodiak today. Facing depletion of the sea otter, the Russians were forced to look to the east and moved the capital to Sitka. Kodiak (called Pavlovsk, or Saint Paul's Harbor by the Russians) diminished in importance but remained Russia's second largest settlement in America.
After the sale of Alaska to the United States, the Alaska Commercial Company obtained most of the Russian-American Company's property and became the primary trader in the area. With the beginning of commercial salmon fishing in the 1880s, Kodiak Island gained new importance because one of the richest rivers in Alaska was located on the island. The fishing industry remains Kodiak's primary business; Kodiak is the second largest commercial fishing port in the United States.
During World War II, the U.S. Army and Navy both maintained posts on the south side of town. Construction of the Kodiak Naval Operating Base began in 1939, and at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor it was the principal advance naval base in the North Pacific. Fort Greely was constructed at the same time and also maintained the subpost of Fort Abercrombie on the north side of town. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard operates a facility that encompasses both the Naval Operating Base and Fort Greely; Fort Abercrombie is a state park.
The 1964 earthquake in Prince William Sound had considerable impact in Kodiak. Because the town is built on a rock foundation, the earthquake itself caused only minor damage, although the whole of Kodiak Island subsided 6½ feet. The subsequent tidal wave, however, destroyed 80 percent of the downtown and all of the harbor. During reconstruction, low-lying land downtown was filled in and seawalls constructed. A recommendation that only concrete or masonry buildings be constructed in the downtown was rejected. The town has been rebuilt into a thriving community. Although few historic buildings remain, one of the few Russian-era buildings in Alaska is in Kodiak.
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