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Totem Poles in Saxman Village

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Ketchikan has the largest collection of standing totem poles in the world.

Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles, found at three major locations: the City of Saxman, Totem Bight State Park and the Totem Heritage Center. Many of the totems are replicas of older poles that were carved during the Roosevelt Administration in the early 1900s.

The Village of Saxman was founded in the late 19th century when residents of the traditional Tlingit villages of Cape Fox and Tongass decided to consolidate their communities at a new build site on Revillagigedo Island. Saxman was named after a Presbyterian teacher, Samuel Saxman, who was lost in a canoe accident while seeking the new village build site. By 1894, the village site was chosen on a protected harbor off the Tongass Narrows. A small sawmill was built, and a school and houses were constructed. Fishing and cutting lumber for the growing towns of Saxman and Ketchikan were the economic mainstays of the new village. By 1900, 142 people lived in Saxman. The community incorporated as a city in 1929.

During the 1930s, many totem poles and ceremonial artifacts were retrieved from the abandoned villages at Cape Fox, Tongass, Cat Island, and Pennock Island. The totem poles were restored and relocated to Saxman as part of a United States Forest Service program. The Saxman Totem Park is a now major attraction for Ketchikan area visitors. The park includes a carving center, a tribal house, and a cultural hall for traditional Tlingit dance exhibitions.

In 1976 the Totem Heritage Center was established to preserve endangered 19th century totem poles retrieved from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida village sites near Ketchikan. Those magnificent, original poles are displayed at the Center in conjunction with other totems and Native Alaskan artifacts. The Center also preserves and promotes the traditional arts and crafts of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures through a nationally-recognized program of Native Arts classes and other activities.

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