A dedication ceremony of a new monument commemorating the 1808 shipwreck of the Sv. Nikolai is set Saturday. (Bill Sperry)

A dedication ceremony of a new monument commemorating the 1808 shipwreck of the Sv. Nikolai is set Saturday. (Bill Sperry)

Monument to 1808 Russian shipwreck to be dedicated Saturday on Upper Hoh Road near Forks

FORKS — A monument to a shipwreck that may have changed the history of Washington state, and which brought the first European woman to the North Olympic Peninsula, will be dedicated on Upper Hoh Road at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The monument to the October 1808 wreck of the Sv. Nikolai commemorates an event that persuaded Russia to pull back from plans to colonize New Albion — the Oregon Territory.

“If the Nikolai hadn’t gone ashore, there’s a chance we might be living in Russia right now,” said Bill Sperry, 74, a Forks resident and businessman who has worked with volunteer labor and donated funds since January 2011 to build the monument.

Although the storm-driven shipwreck was on Rialto Beach, the monument is at 5333 Upper Hoh Road, just past the Hard Rain Cafe on the way to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center.

It marks the area where a handful of survivors built a refuge after escaping from the Quileute and the Hoh.

“That’s where the Russians were,” Sperry said. “Some of the old-timers remember seeing the footprint of an octagon building.”

After a hard winter, the 13 survivors of the original 22-person crew turned themselves in to the Hoh, who gifted them to the Makah as slaves.

“They got so discouraged trying to make it work,” Sperry said.

“They almost starved to death. They boiled leather and shoes to make a broth.”

Through interpretive signs detailing the history of the Nikolai, the monument also tells a tale that Sperry says ought to be made into a movie, that of Anna Petrovna Bulygin, who is considered to be the first European woman in what is now Washington state.

Anna Petrovna, the 18-year-old wife of Sv. Nikolai ship captain Nikolai Isaakovich Bulygin, was aboard when the ship left the Russian settlement of New Archangel, which is now Sitka, Alaska.

Described as beautiful, with red hair according to Sperry, Anna Petrovna was captured by the Quiluete, along with two Aleut women who accompanied her, and gifted to the Makah.

When they next met, in the spring of 1809, she told her husband — who had “gone mad temporarily” over her capture and who had tried to convince his men to trade their precious muskets for her — that she preferred her life with the Makah.

Bulygin collapsed and later surrendered along with his men, who were by that time led by Bulygin’s former aide, Timothei Tarakanov.

“The skipper adored his wife. It cost him command of the group,” Sperry said.

As a Makah slave, Bulygin was reunited for a time with his wife.

She died in August 1809. He died of consumption in February 1810.

The Makah grew to embrace Tarakanov as a chief, impressed by his skills as a warrior and hunter — and in kite-flying.

The surviving members of the crew were rescued in May 1810 by American sailing captain Thomas Brown who paid a ransom in trade goods for the captives.

The monument is built to be a rest area, offering parking spaces along with picnic tables and benches built by area Boy Scouts.

It is illuminated at night and flies four flags, those of the U.S., state of Washington, Quileute and Hoh.

The building itself — a 24-foot-by-14-foot open octagon-shaped structure built of old growth cedar and metal — was designed by Nels Peterson to evoke a Russian block house, or fort.

“Russians typically built these wherever they went,” Sperry said. “They were made of logs and used for defense.”

The land for the monument was donated by two families of Petersons — Stan and Linda, and Gary and Charlotte, Sperry said.

The Petersons paid for most of the cedar, a donation of some $22,000, Sperry said.

The nonprofit Association of Washington Generals, of which Sperry served as an officer during the planning phases, donated $20,000 to the project.

Jack Datisman, a Port Angeles artist, provided a rendering of the Nikolai when it came ashore.

A $40,000 grant from the state of Washington wasn’t used and Sperry said he will give it back.

“I will return the grant money to the state,” he said.

Among those who provided research were historian and author Chris Cook, former Forks Forum editor; Rod Fleck, planner and attorney for the city of Forks; and author Kenneth N. Owens.

At the dedication, the Quileute will offer a blessing ceremony and a welcome song, Sperry said.

The flags will be raised and refreshments will be served.

He expects members of the Jefferson County and state historical societies, among others.

Russia will not send a delegation, he said.

“History is not history unless it’s remembered,” Sperry said.

“That’s why I decided to create another tourist attraction.”

Sperry built the Fort Nunez Gaona-Diah Veterans Park in Neah Bay in 2007.

“This is in same category as the monument [to a Spanish fort] at Neah Bay. It’s significant to the Peninsula,” Sperry said.

Sperry — who owns Huckleberry Lodge and Cedar Avenue Storage in Forks, rebuilt the tower clock in Port Townsend, and recently sold 110 Business Park to the Quileute tribe — said he has no more plans to build monuments.

“This will be my last monument. If I didn’t own all the equipment, it would be terribly expensive.”


Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at [email protected]

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