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Fort Ross
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Fort Ross, California is located in California
Nearest city: Healdsburg, California
Coordinates: 38°30′51.44″N 123°14′33.75″W / 38.5142889°N 123.2427083°W / 38.5142889; -123.2427083Coordinates: 38°30′51.44″N 123°14′33.75″W / 38.5142889°N 123.2427083°W / 38.5142889; -123.2427083
Built/Founded: 1812
Governing body: State
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHL: November 5, 1961[2]
NRHP Reference#: 66000239

Fort Ross is a former Russian establishment on the Pacific Coast in what is now Sonoma County, California, in the United States. It was the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements in North America between 1812 to 1841. It has been the subject of archaeological investigation and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Fort Ross is an interesting landmark in the history of European imperialism. The Spaniards expanded west across the Atlantic and the Russians east across Siberia. In the early nineteenth century, the two waves of expansion met on the opposite side of the world along the coast of California, Russia arriving from the north, and Spain from the south.



Russian personnel from the Alaskan colonies initially arrived in California aboard American ships. In 1803 American ship captains already involved in the sea otter trade in California proposed several joint venture hunting expeditions to Alexander Baranov, on half shares using Russian supervisors and native Alaskan hunters to hunt fur seals and otters along the Alta and Baja Californian coast. Subsequent reports by the Russian hunting parties of unoccupied stretches of coast (by Europeans) encouraged the Chief Administrator of the Russian-American Company(RAC), Alexander Baranov, to consider a settlement in California north of the limit of Spanish occupation in San Francisco. In 1806 the Russian Ambassador to Japan, and RAC director N.P. Rezanov, undertook an exploratory trade mission to California to establish a formal means of procuring food supplies in exchange for Russian goods in San Francisco. While guests of the Spanish, Rezanov's captain, Lt. Khvostov, explored and charted the northern coast of San Francisco Bay and found it completely unoccupied (by Europeans). Upon his return to Sitka, Rezanov recommended to Baranov, and Emperor Aleksandr I, that a settlement be established in California.[3]

Fort Ross was established by Commerce Counsellor Ivan Kuskov of the Russian-American Company[4]. After sailing into Bodega Bay in 1809 on the Kodiak and returning to Novo Arkhangelsk, Alaska, with beaver skins and 1,160 otter pelts, Alexander Baranov ordered Kuskov to return and establish a settlement in the area. After a failed attempt in 1811, Kuskov sailed the schooner Chirikof back to Bodega Bay in 1812, naming it Rumyantzev, in honor of the Russian Minister of Commerce, Count Nikolai Petrovich Rumiantzof.[5] On his return Kuskof found otter now scarce in Bodega Bay and after exploring the area they ended up selecting a place 15 mi (24 km) north that the native Kashaya Pomo people called Mad shui nui or Metini. Metini, the seasonal home of the native Kashaya Pomo people, had a modest anchorage and abundant natural resources and would become the Russian settlement of Fort Ross.[6]. The name of the fort is said to derive from the Russian word rus or ros, the same root as the word "Russia"(Pоссия-Rossiya)[7] and not from Scottish "Ross". According to William Bright, "Ross" is a poetic name for Russia in the Russian language.[8]

Fort Ross was established as an agricultural base from which the northern settlements could be supplied with food and carry on trade with Alta California.[9] Fort Ross itself was the hub of a number of smaller Russian settlements comprising what was called Krepost Ross ("Fortress Ross") on official documents and charts produced by the Company itself.[10] Colony Ross referred to the entire area where Russians had settled.[11] These settlements constituted the southernmost Russian colony in North America, and were spread over an area stretching from Point Arena to Tomales Bay.[12] The colony included a port at Bodega Bay, which was called Port Rumyantsev, a sealing station on the Farallon Islands, 18 miles out to sea from San Francisco, and a number of small farming communities, called "ranchos" including Chernykh, near present day Graton, and Khlebnikov, a mile north of the present day town of Bodega in the Salmon Creek valley, and Rancho Kostromitinov[12] on the Russian River.

A view of Fort Ross in 1828 by A. B. Duhaut-Cilly. From the archives of the Fort Ross Historical Society

In addition to farming and manufacturing, the Company carried on its fur trading business at Fort Ross, but by 1817 sea otter in the area were practically eliminated after 20 years of intense hunting by American and English ships, followed by Russian and Spanish efforts.[13]

Fort Ross was the site of California's first windmills and shipbuilding. Russian scientists associated with the colony were among the first to record California's cultural and natural history.[14] The Russian managers were the first to introduce many European refinements such as glass windows, stoves, and all-wood housing into Alta California. Together with the surrounding settlement, Fort Ross was home to Russians (during the 19th and early 20th century Russian subjects included Poles, Finns, Ukrainians, Estonians, and numerous other nationalities and ethnic groups of the Russian Empire[15]), as well as North Pacific Natives, Aleuts, Kashaya (Pomo), and Creoles. The native populations of the Sonoma and Napa County regions were affected by smallpox, measles and other European diseases, one instance that can be traced to the settlement of Fort Ross. However, the first vaccination in California history was carried out by the crew of the KUTUZOV, a Russian-American Company vessel which brought vaccine from Peru to Monterey in 1818, sparing the capital from disease. Another instance of disease prevention was when a visiting Hudson's Bay Company hunting party was refused entry to the Colony in 1833, when it was feared that a malaria epidemic which had devastated the Central Valley was carried by its members. In 1837 a very deadly epidemic of smallpox that came from this settlement via Sitka wiped out most native people in the Sonoma and Napa County regions.[16]

A Sloboda or free man's village near Irkutsk (Oleg Bychkov, photographer) An 1841 inventory for Mr. Sutter describes the settlement surrounding the fort: "twenty-four planked dwellings with glazed windows, a floor and a ceiling; each had a garden. there were eight sheds, eight bathhouses and ten kitchens."

By 1841 the settlement's agricultural importance had decreased considerably, the local population of fur-bearing marine mammals had been long depleted by international over-hunting, and the recently secularized California missions no longer supplemented the agricultural needs of the Alaskan colonies. Following the formal trade agreement in 1838 between the Russian-American Company in Sitka and Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver and Fort Langley for their agricultural needs, the settlement at Fort Ross was no longer needed to supply the Alaskan colonies with food. The Russian-American Company consequently offered the settlement to various potential purchasers, and it was sold to John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss origin.

Afterward, ownership of Fort Ross passed from Sutter through successive private hands and finally to George W. Call. In 1903, the stockade and about 3 acres (12,000 m2) of land were purchased from the Call family by the California Historical Landmarks Commission. Three years later it was turned over to the State of California for preservation and restoration as a state historic monument; since then, the state acquired more of the surrounding land for preservation purposes. California Department of Parks and Recreation as well as many volunteers put extensive efforts into restoration and reconstruction work in the Fort.

Southwest blockhouse, with the well in the foreground
"Settlement Ross, 1841" by Ilya Gavrilovich Voznesenskii

State Route 1 once bisected Fort Ross. It entered from the northeast where the Kuskov House once stood, and exited through the main gate to the southwest. The road was eventually diverted, and the parts of the fort that had been demolished for the road were rebuilt. The old roadway can still be seen going from the main gate to the northwest; the rest (within the fort and extending northeast) has been removed.

Most of the existing buildings on the site are reconstructions. Cooperative research efforts with Russian archives will help to correct interpretive errors present in structures that date from the Cold-War period. The only original structure remaining is the Rotchev House. Known as the "Commandant's House" from the 1940s through the 1970s it was the residence of the last manager, Aleksandr Rotchev. Renovated in 1836 from an existing structure, it was titled the "new commandant's house" in the 1841 inventory to differentiate it from the "old commandant's house" (Kuskov House). The Rotchev House, or in original documents, "Administrator's House", is at the center of efforts to "re-interpret" Russia's part in California's colonial history. The Fort Ross Interpretive Association has received several federally funded grants to restore both exterior and interior elements. While its exterior has been partially restored, its interior is currently undergoing restoration to reflect the recent research that shows a more cosmopolitan and refined aspect of colonial life at the Fort.

Interior of Fort Ross Chapel.

The Fort Ross Chapel collapsed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake but much of the original structural woodwork remained and it was re-erected in 1916 with all the American ranch-era modifications that were employed when the chapel was used as a stable and livestock shed. It was destroyed by fire in October 1970. A few months later the roof of the Rotchev House was damaged by fire. The current chapel was built during the intensive restoration activity that followed, but its appearance reflects the American ranch-era modifications rather than the chapel as it appeared in Vosnesensky's 1841 watercolor.[17]

The Russian cemetery on an adjacent ridge has been cleared and the gravesites identified through non-destructive archaeological techniques, primarily soil resistivity.

A large orchard, including several original trees planted by the Russians, is located inland on Fort Ross Road.

Colonial administrators

Ivan Alexandrovich Kuskov, a skillful Russian-American Company administrator, served for 22 years in Alaska. He was the founder of Fort Ross and was its colonial administrator from 1812 to 1821.

List of all administrators of the Fort Ross colony:

  • Ivan A. Kuskov, 1812–1821
  • Karl J. von Schmidt, 1821–1824
  • Paul I. Shelikhov, 1824–1830
  • Peter S. Kostromitinov, 1830–1838
  • Alexander G. Rotchev, 1838–1841

Derived place names


Before the Europeans: the Kashaya Pomo at Metini (Fort Ross site) for centuries prior to the Russian arrival. 1542-43: Juan Cabrillo visits San Diego, Farallon Islands, Cape Mendocino, Cape Blanco, Oregon. 1579-1639: Russian frontiersmen penetrate eastward to Siberia and the Pacific. 1602: S. Viscaino explores to the Columbia River region, naming the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes and the Rio Sebastian (present-day Russian River). 1728: Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov explore Bering Strait. 1741-42: Bering and Chirikov claim Russian America (Alaska) for Russia. 1769: Gaspar de Portola traveling overland "discovers" San Francisco Bay. 1775: Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra anchors in outer Bodega Bay, trades with the local Indians.

  • 1784 — Russians Grigory Shelikov and wife Natalia establish a base on the Kodiak Island.
  • 1799 — Russian American Company with manager Aleksandr Baranov, establish Novo Archangelsk (New Archangel, now Sitka, Alaska).
  • 1806 — Nikolai Rezanov, Imperial Ambassador to Japan and director of the Russian American Company, visits the Presidio of San Francisco.

1806-1813: American ships bring Russians and Alaska Natives on 12 California fur hunts.

  • 1808-1811 — Ivan Kuskov lands in Bodega Bay (Port Rumiantsev), builds structures and hunts in the region.
  • 1812 — March 15, Ivan Kuskov with 25 Russians and 80 Native Alaskans arrives at Port Rumiantsev and proceeds north to establish Fortress Ross.
  • 1816 — Russian exploring expedition led by Captain Otto von Kotzebue visits California with naturalists Adelbert von Chamisso, Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, and artist Lois Choris.
  • 1817 — Chief Administrator Captain Leonty Gagemeister conducts treaty with local tribal chiefs for possession of property near Fortress Ross. First such treaty conducted with native peoples in California.
  • 1818 — The Rumiantsev, first of four ships built at Fortress Ross. The Buldakov, Volga and Kiahtha follow, as well as several longboats.
  • 1821 — Russian Imperial decree gives Native Alaskans and Creoles civil rights protected by law
  • 1836 — Fr.Veniaminov (St.Innocent) visits Fort Ross, conducts services, and carries out census.
  • 1841 — Rotchev sells Fort Ross and accompanying land to John Sutter.

1903: California Landmarks League purchases the 2.5 acre fort property from George W. Call for $3000. 1906: The fort is deeded to what becomes the California State Parks Commission. 1906, April 18: California's major historical earthquake causes considerable damage to the buildings of the fort compound.

  • 1916 — Fort Ross is partially restored.
  • 1970 — A fire at Fort Ross again nearly destroys the former settlement.
  • 1971 — Fort Ross is once again only partially restored.
  • 1974 — Restored Fort Ross officially reopened.[18]


Kuskov House.jpg Kuskov House, located in the mid-eastern area of the fort, was the residence of Ivan Kuskov and the other managers up to Alexander Rotchev.
Rotchev House.jpg Rotchev House, located in the northwest area of the fort, was where Alexander Rotchev, the last manager of Fort Ross, lived with his family. Built circa 1836, it is the only remaining original building.
Officials' Quarters.jpg Officials' Quarters, located in the mid-western area of the fort near the gate.
NW Blockhouse.jpgSE Blockhouse.jpg Two blockhouses stand at opposite corners of the stockade. The first one pictured here is at the northeast; the second at the southwest.
FortRoss-chapel-reconstructed.jpg The Holy Trinity Chapel, located at the southeast corner of the fort, is incorporated into the stockade. This reconstruction sees occasional use by local Russian Orthodox groups.


The National Weather Service has maintained a cooperative weather station at Fort Ross for many years. Based on those observations, Fort Ross has cool, damp weather most of the year. Fog and low overcast is common throughout the year. There are occasional warm days in the summer, which also tend to be relatively dry except for drizzle from heavy fogs or passing showers.

In January, average temperatures range from 57.0 °F (13.9 °C) to 41.5 °F (5.3 °C). In July, average temperatures range from 66.3 °F (19.1 °C) to 47.8 °F (8.8 °C). September is actually the warmest month with average temperatures ranging from 68.1 °F (20.1 °C) to 48.7 °F (9.3 °C). There are an average of only 0.2 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher and 5.8 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. The record high temperature was 97 °F (36 °C) on September 3, 1950. The record low temperature was 20 °F (−7 °C) on December 8, 1972.

Average annual precipitation is 37.64 inches (956 mm), falling on an average of 81 days each year. The wettest year was 1983 with 71.27 inches (1.810 m) and the driest year was 1976 with 17.98 inches (457 mm). The wettest month on record was February 1998 with 21.68 inches (551 mm). The most rainfall in 24 hours was 5.70 inches (145 mm) on January 14, 1956. Snow rarely falls at Fort Ross; the record snowfall was 0.4-inch (10 mm) on December 30, 1987.[19]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ "Fort Ross". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  3. ^ The Russian American Colonies
  4. ^ The Destiny of Russian America
  5. ^ Hubert Howe Bancroft, Alfred Bates, Ivan Petroff, William Nemos (1887). History of Alaska: 1730-1885. San Francisco, California: A. L. Bancroft & company. p. 482. Retrieved Jan. 10, 2010. 
  6. ^ Thompson, R. A. (1896). The Russian Settlement in California Known as Fort Ross, Founded 1812...Abandoned 1841: Why They Came and Why They Left. Santa Rosa, California: Sonoma Democrat Publishing Company. p. 3. ISBN 0559893426. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2010. 
  7. ^ Thompson, Robert A. (1896). The Russian settlement in California known as Fort Ross, founded 1812, abandoned 1841: why the Russians came and why they left. Western Americana, frontier history of the trans-Mississippi West, 1550-1900. 5369. Sonoma Democrat Publishing Company. 
  8. ^ Bright, William; Erwin G. Gudde (1998). 1500 California Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning. University of California Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-520-21271-1.}. 
  9. ^ The Russian American Colonies
  10. ^ Fort Ross and the Sonoma coast
  11. ^ Fort Ross and the Sonoma Coast
  12. ^ a b Historical Atlas of California
  13. ^ Suzanne Stewart and Adrian Praetzellis (November, 2003) Archeological Research Issues for the Point Reyes National Seashore - Golden Gate National Recreation Area . Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University, 335. (Report). Retrieved on Jan. 10, 2010.
  14. ^ Fort Ross Interpretive Association
  15. ^ Pierce
  16. ^ Silliman 2004.
  17. ^ The American Interpretation of the Russian Colony at Fort Ross
  18. ^ "The NAVY of the Russian Empire", St. Petersburg, 1996, pg.207
  19. ^ Weather Regional Climate Center website


  • Alekseev,A.I. (1990). The Destiny of Russian America 1741-1867. The Limestone Press,Fairbanks, Al.. ISBN 0-919642-13-6. 
  • Dmytryshin,Basil, Crownhart-Vaughan,E.A.P.,Vaughan,Thomas (1989). The Russian American Colonies 1789-1867. Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland Oregon. ISBN 0-87595-147-3. 
  • Derek Hayes (2007). Historical Atlas of California. University of California Press,Berkeley, Los Angeles,London. ISBN 978-0-520-25258-5. 
  • IBID
  • Pierce, Richard (1984). The Russian-American Company: Correspondence of the Governors, Communications Sent:1818. The Limestone Press, Fairbanks,AK. ISBN 0-919642-02-0. 
  • Fort Ross Interpretive Association (2001). Fort Ross. Fort Ross Interpretive Association, Fort Ross, CA. ISBN 1-56540-355-x. 
  • Kalani, Lyn and Sarah Sweedler (2004). Fort Ross and the Sonoma Coast. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC. ISBN 978-0-7385-2896-0. 
  • Nordlander, David J. (1994). For God & Tsar: A Brief History of Russian America 1741–1867. Alaska Natural History Association, Anchorage, AK. ISBN 0-930931-15-7. 
  • Pierce, Richard (1990). Russian America:A Biographical Dictionary. The Limestone Press, Fairbanks,Alaska. ISBN 0-919642-45-4. 
  • Middleton, John (1999). Русская Америка 1799-1867: The American Interpretation of the Russian Colony at Fort Ross. Российская Академия Наук, Москва. ISBN 5-201-00533-0. 
  • Silliman, Stephen. 2004. Lost Laborers in Colonial California, Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0816523819.

External links

Service Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary]

Popular culture

See also


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Fort Ross [1]is a California State Historical Park in the North Coast of California. Although fairly remote, it is well worth a visit as you will become one of the few people who know about the Russian contribution to the colonizing of California.


Fort Ross is a California State Historical Park. Although fairly remote, it is well worth a visit as you will become one of the few people who know about the Russian contribution to the colonizing of California.

Fort Ross canon in the mist
Fort Ross canon in the mist


Fort Ross is a former Russian fur trade outpost in what is now Sonoma County, California. It was established by the Russian-American Company in 1812 and sold to John Sutter in 1841, owing to the depletion of the local population of fur-bearing marine mammals, as well as the decreased strategic importance of a supply base for Russia's Alaskan colonies following the Convention of February 28, 1825 with the British. It was the southernmost outpost of a Russian presence in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The fort with the surrounding settlement was home to Russians, Aleut hunters in their employment, and native Kashia Pomo. This unique site has recently been the subject of intensive archaeological investigation. It is designated a National Historic Landmark.


The fort is located on a small peninsula that juts out into the pacific ocean. The edge of the peninsula forms a large bluff (20 meters) that can make it somewhat difficult to gain access to the beaches. Large coastal mountains covered in a thick forest tower over the park.

Flora and fauna

There is a wealth of wildlife activity in the region, particularly on the isolated beaches that run below the bluff. Sea otters, sea lions and many impressive sea birds are abundant in the area. Whales are also known to migrate along the coast.

Much of the beaches are covered in large piles of kelp (seaweed) with the occasional tide pool near by. It makes for a great place to explore for wildlife but not great for beach swimming.

One of several magnificent turrets
One of several magnificent turrets


Warm in summer, rainy and foggy (and occasionally sunny) in winter. Dress in layers, if you are planning on swimming expect the pacific ocean to be cold.

Get in

The most scenic way to get to Fort Ross from San Francisco is by driving up the Pacific Coast Highway (highway 1).


A Day use vehicle permit is $6.00.

Get around

Expect a bit of a walk. From the visitor center and parking lot down to the fort proper it is a quarter mile walk. To get down to the beaches expect about a 20 to 30 minute hike.

  • Old Russian Fort
  • Russian Burial Grounds
  • Russian Orthodox Church
  • Visitor Center (nicely done)
  • Whales
  • Sea Otters
  • Sea Lions


Hike along the beach

Cultural Heritage Day - last Saturday in July every year. 10am-5pm The Fort comes alive with costumed reenactors, this is a fun way to see the Fort as it was in its heyday.


There is a souvenir shop at the visitor center where you can get some great Russian memorabilia such as post cards with a historical California/Russia post card.


The fort itself does not offer much in the way of food so be sure and pack a lunch or expect to drive out of the park to a restaurant or local store to get some food.


There are motels located about a half mile drive further up highway one. You can also just camp in your car, although it is not recommended that you do this in the Fort Ross parking lot.


Basic camping facilities are available to the south about a 2 min drive at The Reef Camp Ground. (Pit toilets, camp sights, dirt road, pay phone. Cell phones don't work here)Open most of the year. Other camp grounds are to the north, 10-20 miles.

Back country

The coastal mountains that tower over the fort have some great hiking trails. Just ask at the visitors center. there are also hiking trails along the bluffs to the north and south of the Fort.

Get out

You'll have to drive out, like you drove in

Routes through Fort Ross
Fort BraggSea Ranch  N noframe S  Bodega BaySan Francisco
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