The Hanlon-Osbakken House

The Hanlon-Osbakken House in Sitka was constructed between 1892 and 1895. 

The Hanlon-Osbakken House at 419 Lincoln St. in Sitka is one of city’s oldest buildings dating from the U.S. period. Because of its early occupants, it also provides a link to the Russian-American Company (RAC) period, and the RAC’s Creole population.

According to Susan Smith-Peter’s paper, “Creating a Creole Estate in early nineteenth-century Russian America,” there were rarely more than 500 Russians in Alaska. The RAC, unable to attract enough skilled workers from Russia, created, through an 1821 legal decree, a “Creole Estate,” which consisted of the progeny of Russian men and Native women. Creoles were Russian citizens, and were educated by the RAC to administer and develop the colony. Creole men also took positions within the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian navy.

Creoles were to be the new citizenry of Russian-America, helping the RAC to populate and civilize the colony. By the 1830s they outnumbered their Russian compatriots. An 1833 census of the entire colony tallied 730 Russians and 1,151 Creoles.

Anna Seminoff, one of the Hanlon-Osbakken House’s first occupants, was a Creole born in Sitka in 1858. She was married to John Hanlon, who came to Sitka with the U.S. Navy, and stayed on after his enlistment was up.

Anna’s brother-in-law built the house shown in the drawing for the Hanlons between 1892 and 1896. At the time of the house’s construction, Sitka was the capital of the District of Alaska. (It did not become a territory until 1912 and Alaska’s Second Organic Act.) John Hanlon died in 1909, and Anna died in 1942.

Their daughter, Margaret, and her husband, John Osbakken, moved into the house during the 1930s. The family sold the house in 1991, after which the building was rehabilitated. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

The 1 1/2-story house is an American Queen Anne Revival-style cottage. It includes distinctive Queen Anne elements such as asymmetrical front façade, broad front porch, steeply-pitched gable roof, corner turret, and bay and oriel windows (the upper-story window on the side of the house is an oriel window since its enclosure does not reach the ground.). The Queen Anne Revival style was popular from about 1880 through the 1920s.

The main part of the house, built between 1892 and 1895, is approximately 25 feet by 20 feet with shiplap siding on most of the façade, and octogon-butt shingles around the upper story windows. There is a gable-roofed 1 1/2-story addition at the rear of the house, built in approximately 1896, also sheathed with wood shiplap siding.

National Park Service documents state that, as originally constructed, the bay at the front right corner of the upper story had an octagonal “tented” roof, which was replaced by a simple shed roof before 1920. The turreted roof was restored during the renovations that took place after 1991.

The cottage has a hall-passage plan with a hallway bisecting the first floor, and a centrally-located front entrance. The front door has a small transom light above it. All of the windows were originally two-pane over two-pane (2/2) double-hung windows, which have all been replaced with 1/1 double-hung windows.

Originally, a single post supported the front porch as the left end of the porch, with the right-side porch support attached to the wall of the window bay. A central porch-beam support has been added. The scroll-work support bracket at the right side of the porch is original to the house, with the others cut to match during renovation. The original plain porch balustrade has been replaced with a more elaborate one.

The building is now operated as the Sitka Rose Gallery. According to the gallery’s website, one of the artists represented is John and Margaret Osbekkan’s son, Willis — a nice link with the building’s history.

Ray Bonnell is a freelance artist, writer and longtime Fairbanks resident. See more of his artwork at www.pingostudio.us.

Sources:

• “Hanlon-Osbakken House, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Dorothy Breedlove. National Park Service. 1992

• “Creating a Creole Estate in early nineteenth-century Russian America,” Susan Smith-Peter. In Journal Cahiers du monde russe. 9-9-2010

• Sitka Rose Gallery website, www.sitkarosegallery.com.