The Oldest House in Alaska Is More Than 200 Years Old

Written by Hailey Pruett
Updated: August 15, 2023
© James Brooks – License / Original
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Key Points

  • The oldest home in Alaska is the Erskine House.
  • It was built by the Russian-American company from 1805 to 1808.
  • It is one of only four buildings remaining from when the state was a Russian territory.

Despite being one of the last states to officially enter the union, Alaska is the largest state by far, which lends itself to a pretty rich and unique history. Historians believe Alaska was the entry point for North America’s first settlers who crossed over from Russia via the Bering land bridge. As a result, Alaska has a diverse population of indigenous peoples, as well as many historic buildings and homes that are now hundreds of years old. Below, we’ll take a look at Alaska’s very oldest house that’s still standing, built more than 200 years ago in Kodiak.

Alaska’s Oldest House: The Russian-American Magazin’s Beginnings

Situated in Old Kodiak, this is the only surviving structure known to have been associated with both the Russian American Company (1799) and the Alaska Commericial Company (1868), trading companies that were controlling factors in the Russian and early American administration of Alaska.
For a time period, the structure was known as the Baranov Museum but was renamed the Kodiak History Museum.

©National Park Service, Alaska Region, Public domain, – License

Built by the Russian-American company from 1805 to 1808, Alaska’s oldest home is the Erskine House, once known as the Russian-American Magazin. It’s also Alaska’s oldest building in general, being one of just four buildings remaining from when the state was a Russian territory. Located in the southern Alaskan town of Kodiak, the building currently houses the Kodiak History Museum.

However, our story starts in 1793, when Russian settlers established Pavlovsk, the first permanent Russian settlement in North America. The Russian-American Company, the Russian government’s first joint-stock company, began construction on the Erskine House (then known as the Russian-American Magazin) in 1805. 

Originally, the company built and intended for Alaska’s oldest house to be one of its storage facilities. The building remained this way for decades until 1867 when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia and gained control of the state. After that, however, it didn’t officially join the union for almost another 100 years.

Later History: The Magazin Becomes the Erskine House

After the United States government purchased Alaska as one of its own territories in 1867, the Russian-American Company was similarly bought out by the American firm Hutchison, Kohl, and Company. The firm renamed the RAC to the Alaska Commercial Company, which evolved into one of rural Alaska’s main grocery and retail suppliers. The Alaska Commercial Company essentially took over the RAC’s business operations.

In 1911, though, the Alaska Commercial Company sold the Russian-American Magazin to Alaskan businessman W.J. Erskine. Erskine renamed the building the Erskine House and converted the building into his personal residence. In addition to building an enclosed porch for the home, he completely rebuilt and restored its stone foundation.

After living in the home for over 35 years, Erskine sold it to another company. This company leased the building out to tenants for another 15 years or so. Finally, in 1962, the building officially became a National Historic Landmark. Two years later, the Alaskan government acquired the Erskine House after the 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake heavily damaged the city. This natural disaster forced many of its residents to evacuate.

The National Register of Historic Places listed the house on its registry a few years later, in 1966. Around the same time, the city of Kodiak took over ownership of Alaska’s oldest home. They leased the home to the Kodiak Historical Society in 1967.

View of Kodiak, Alaska, in 1924.

©Btphelps, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

Where is the Oldest House in Alaska Located?

The Kodiak History Museum, or Erksine House, is located at 101 E Marine Way, Kodiak, Alaska on Main Street and Mission Road, which is on the Gulf of Alaska and is on the Kodiak-Chenega Bay. It is across the street from the Alaska Marine Highway office.

Modern History: Alaska’s Oldest House Becomes The Kodiak History Museum

When the Kodiak Historical Society gained the lease to the Erskine House in 1967, the organization converted the home into a museum and office for their operations. The Society still exists today and aims to celebrate Kodiak, Alaska’s history, while preserving its culture through various educational materials, programs, museums, and archives.

Though some of the building’s original architecture and design are still in place, the Kodiak Historical Society has heavily renovated the Erskine House to suit their operations better. For starters, the Society replaced Erskine’s stone foundation with a more sturdy and reliable one made from concrete. In addition, its original siding now lies behind much newer redwood panels. Its porch is also glassed in. However, the fabric and flooring of the stairwell and second floor have been left mostly unchanged. These details likely date back to the building’s days as the Russian-American Magazin.

Today, the building still operates as a history museum documenting Kodiak’s history and culture, as well as the unique history of the building itself. In 2019, the Kodiak Historical Society finished a $750,000 renovation project on the museum. This mainly involved redesigning exhibits and upgrading the overall structure of the facility.

The Featured Image

Russian-American Company Magazin, Kodiak, Alaska.
© James Brooks – License / Original

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About the Author

Hailey Pruett is a nonbinary content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover based in East Tennessee. They grew up on a hobby farm and have owned and cared for all kinds of animals from the mundane (dogs, cats) to the more exotic and unusual (lizards, frogs, goats, llamas, chickens, etc!). When they aren't busy writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, they are usually playing obscure indie video games, collecting Squishmallows, or hanging out with their cat, Hugo. Their favorite animals are bearded dragons, axolotls, and marine iguanas.

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