St. Sava Church (Douglas, Alaska)
St. Sava Church (also spelled "Savva") was a church of the Russian Mission that was located in Douglas, Alaska. Its construction was due, in no small part, to Fr. Sebastian (Dabovich) (now St. Sebastian of Jackson and San Francisco), who, in 1902, had been appointed Dean of the Sitka Deanery and the superintendent of Alaskan missions. Although under the Russian Orthodox Church, and a "daughter" parish of St. Nicholas Church in Juneau, St. Sebastian found it important that the Serbians that had come to the area—mostly to work in mining—had a church that was "home" to them. On July 23, 1903, Fr. Sebastian, along with Hieromonk Anthony (Deshkevich-Koribut) and the priest Aleksandar Yaroshevich, consecrated the Church of St. Sava in Douglas. However, the sparse records that remain of this church indicate that by the 1920s it may have been sitting empty, and in 1937 a fire swept through Douglas, destroying most of the town, including St. Sava Church. It was not rebuilt.
Douglas, Alaska, was a town that came to be due to the Alaska Gold Rush that began in earnest at the end of the 19th century. Gold was found in the area around 1880, and the towns of Juneau, Douglas, and Treadwell soon came into existence. Douglas and Treadwell are located on Douglas Island, across the Gatineau Channel from Juneau. Prior to this time, there were no permanent settlements in the area. Treadwell was the location of the gold mine. Douglas became a city in 1902, and by 1910, the population had grown to 1722.
Among those who had made it to Douglas were a group of Serbians. There were enough of them to warrant organizing a church. This makes St. Sava somewhat unique in that it was an Alaskan church not set up as a mission to minister to Native Alaskan peoples, but rather to a group who were already Orthodox Christians. This is an early example of the attempt of Bishop Tikhon to set up churches that represented other Orthodox nationalities in the diaspora, in particular the Syro-Arab mission (led by Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny), and the Serbian Mission, which Bishop Sebastian would later be named to lead. The land was donated by the Treadwell Gold Mine Company, and though this church was part of the "Russian Mission", a donation for the church's construction was sent from the Holy Assembly of Bishops in Serbia. The parish members themselves provided funding for various repairs over the years, including a new Church foundation in 1915 and two cemeteries. The building was a fairly simple wooden structure and had a single altar. According to some sources, Fr. Sebastian also participated in the actual construction of the building.
Unfortunately, the fortunes of mining towns are not always good. In 1911, despite having a fire department, however primitive, Douglas experienced a devastating fire. In 1917, the Treadwell mine had a partial cave-in and flood, which led to the mine's eventual closure in 1922. Following this, Treadwell, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. Douglas' population also dropped, the 1920 census recording only 919 people still living there. In 1926, Douglas experienced another fire that burned down much of the town. In 1935, a bridge was built connecting Douglas and Juneau, thereby making travel between the two communities much easier. In 1937, fire hit Douglas again, taking with it approximately 500 of its 600 residential structures as well as many non-residential buildings. Records are scant, due to many of them having been destroyed by fire. St. Sava Church had been lucky to escape the earlier disasters, but it seems that by sometime in the 1920s, the church was not regularly used, and as a result, when the church did burn to the ground in 1937, it was not rebuilt. The cities of Douglas and Juneau voted in 1970 to incorporate Douglas into Juneau.
- The Life of St. Sebastian Dabovich, page 3 (eSerbia site)
- Library of Congress, Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America, Diocese of Alaska Records, 1733-1938
- Historic Cemeteries in Douglas from the City & Borough of Juneau (PDF)
- Find-a-grave Russian Orthodox Cemetery Douglas
- Find-a-grave Serbian "Servian" Orthodox Cemetery Douglas
- The Church Across the Channel St. Nicholas Juneau site
- Report from 1916 (PDF) by Fr. Andrew Kashevaroff, then assigned to St. Nicholas in Juneau, recording the local situation.
- Photo of exterior of St. Sava Church, Douglas Alaska Digital Archives
- Photo of interior of St. Sava Church, Douglas Alaska Digital Archives
- St. Sava Church standing intact amidst rubble after 1911 fire in Douglas Alaska Digital Archives
For Further Reading
- Interview with Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, 1903 from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Orthodox History site