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Fort Ross is a former Russianmarker establishment on the Pacific Coast in what is now Sonoma County, Californiamarker in the United Statesmarker. It was the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements in North America between 1812 to 1841. It has been the subject of archaeological investigation and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

A view of Fort Ross in 1828 by A.
From the archives of the Fort Ross Historical Society


Fort Ross was established by Ivan Kuskov of the Russian-American Company in 1812 upon the seasonal home of the native Kashaya Pomo people. The name of the fort is said to derive from the Russian word rus or ros, the same root as the word "Russian" and not from Scottish "Ross".

The Company was chartered by the Russian government and controlled all Russian exploration, trade and settlement in the North Pacific, and established a number of permanent settlements in Alaskamarker. Fort Ross was established as an agricultural base from which the northern settlements could be supplied with food and carry on trade with Alta California. Fort Ross itself was the hub of a number of smaller Russian settlements comprising what was called Krepost Ross ("Fortress Ross") on official documents and charts produced by the Company itself. Colony Ross referred to the entire area where Russians had settled. These settlements constituted the southernmost Russian colony in North America, and were spread over an area stretching from Point Arenamarker to Tomales Baymarker. The colony included a port at Bodega Baymarker, which was called Port Rumyantsev, a sealing station on the Farallon Islandsmarker, 18 miles out to sea from San Francisco, and a number of small farming communities, called "ranchos" including Chernykh, near present day Gratonmarker, and Khlebnikov, a mile north of present day Bodega Bay in the Salmon Creek valley, and Rancho Kostromitinov on the Russian River.

In addition to farming and manufacturing, the Company carried on their fur trading business at Fort Ross, but as this had declined within the first decade of the colony's existence, it became of secondary importance to farming and industry.) Fort Ross was the site of California's first windmills and shipbuilding. Russian scientists associated with the colony were among the first to record California's cultural and natural history. The Russian managers were the first to introduce many European refinements such as glass windows, stoves, and all-wood housing into Alta California. Together with the surrounding settlement, Fort Ross was home to Russians (during the 19th and early 20th century Russian subjects included Poles, Finns, Ukrainians, Estonians, and numerous other nationalities and ethnic groups of the Russian Empiremarker), as well as North Pacific Natives, Aleuts, Kashaya (Pomo), and Creoles. The native populations of the Sonoma and Napa Countymarker regions were affected by smallpox, measles and other European diseases, one instance that can be traced to the settlement of Fort Ross. However, the first vaccination in California history was carried out by the crew of the KUTUZOV a Russian-American Company vessel which brought vaccine from Perumarker to Monterey in 1818, sparing the capitol from disease. Another instance of disease prevention was when a visiting Hudson's Bay Company hunting party was refused entry to the Colony in 1833, when it was feared that a malaria epidemic which had decimated the Central Valleymarker was attributed to their members. In 1837 a very deadly epidemic of smallpox that came from this settlement via Sitkamarker wiped out most native people in the Sonoma and Napa County regions.
A Sloboda or free man's village near Irkutsk (Oleg Bychkov, photographer) An 1841 inventory for Mr. Sutter describes the settlement surrounding the fort: "twenty-four planked dwellings with glazed windows, a floor and a ceiling; each had a garden. there were eight sheds, eight bathhouses and ten kitchens."
By 1841 the settlement's agricultural importance had decreased considerably, the local population of fur-bearing marine mammals had been long depleted by international over-hunting, and the recently secularized California missions no longer supplemented the agricultural needs of the Alaskan colonies. Following the formal trade agreement in 1838 between the Russian-American Company in Sitka and Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouvermarker and Fort Langleymarker for their agricultural needs, the settlement at Fort Ross was no longer needed to supply the Alaskan colonies with food. The Russian-American Company consequently offered the settlement to various potential purchasers, and it was sold to John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss origin.

Afterward, ownership of Fort Ross passed from Sutter through successive private hands and finally to George W. Call. In 1903 the stockade and about of land were purchased from the Call family by the California Historical Landmarks Commission. Three years later it was turned over to the State of California for preservation and restoration as a state historic monument; since then, the state acquired more of the surrounding land for preservation purposes. California Department of Parks and Recreation as well as many volunteers put extensive efforts into restoration and reconstruction work in the Fort.

Southwest blockhouse, with the well in the foreground
State Route 1 once bisected Fort Ross. It entered from the northeast where the Kuskov House once stood, and exited through the main gate to the southwest. The road was eventually diverted, and the parts of the fort that had been demolished for the road were rebuilt. The old roadway can still be seen going from the main gate to the northwest; the rest (within the fort and extending northeast) has been removed.

Most of the existing buildings on the site are reconstructions. Cooperative research efforts with Russian archives will help to correct interpretive errors present in structures that date from the Cold-War period. The only original structure remaining is the Rotchev House. Known as the "Commandant's House" from the 1940s through the 1970s it was the residence of the last manager, Aleksandr Rotchev. Renovated in 1836 from an existing structure, it was titled the "new commandant's house" in the 1841 inventory to differentiate it from the "old commandant's house" (Kuskov House). The Rotchev House, or in original documents, "Administrator's House", is at the center of efforts to "re-interpret" Russia's part in California's colonial history. The Fort Ross Interpretive Association has received several federally funded grants to restore both exterior and interior elements. While its exterior has been partially restored, its interior is currently undergoing restoration to reflect the recent research that shows a more cosmopolitan and refined aspect of colonial life at the Fort.

Interior of Fort Ross Chapel.
The Fort Ross Chapel collapsed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake but much of the original structural woodwork remained and it was re-erected in 1916 with all the American ranch-era modifications that were employed when the chapel was used as a stable and live-stock shed. It was destroyed by fire in October 1970. A few months later the roof of the Rotchev House was damaged by fire. The current chapel was built during the intensive restoration activity that followed, but its appearance reflects the American ranch-era modifications rather than the chapel as it appeared in Vosnesensky's 1841 water-colour.

The Russian cemetery on an adjacent ridge has been cleared and the gravesites identified through non-destructive archaeological techniques, primarily soil resistivity.

A large orchard, including several original trees planted by the Russians, is located inland on Fort Ross Road.

Colonial administrators

Ivan Alexandrovich Kuskov, a skillful Russian-American Company administrator, served for 22 years in Alaska. He was the founder of Fort Ross and was its colonial administrator from 1812 to 1821.

List of all administrators of the Fort Ross colony:
  • Ivan A. Kuskov, 1812–1821
  • Karl J. von Schmidt, 1821–1824
  • Paul I. Shelikhov, 1824–1830
  • Peter S. Kostromitinov, 1830–1838
  • Alexander G. Rotchev, 1838–1841

Derived place names


Before the Europeans: the Kashaya Pomo at Metini (Fort Ross site) for centuries prior to the Russian arrival.1542-43: Juan Cabrillo visits San Diego, Farallon Islands, Cape Mendocino, Cape Blanco, Oregon.1579-1639: Russian frontiersmen penetrate eastward to Siberia and the Pacific.1602: S. Viscaino explores to the Columbia River region, naming the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes and the Rio Sebastian (present-day Russian River).1728: Vitus Bering and Alexei Chirikov explore Bering Strait.1741-42: Bering and Chirikov claim Russian America (Alaska) for Russia.1769: Gaspar de Portola traveling overland "discovers" San Francisco Bay.1775: Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra anchors in outer Bodega Bay, trades with the local Indians.
  • 1784 — Russians Grigory Shelikov and wife Natalia establish a base on the Kodiak Island.
  • 1799 — Russian American Company with manager Aleksandr Baranov, establish Novo Archangelsk (New Archangel, now Sitka, Alaskamarker).
  • 1806 — Nikolai Rezanov, Imperial Ambassador to Japan and director of the Russian American Company, visits the Presidio of San Francisco.
1806-1813: American ships bring Russians and Alaska Natives on 12 California fur hunts.
  • 1808-1811 — Ivan Kuskov lands in Bodega Bay (Port Rumiantsev), builds structures and hunts in the region.
  • 1812 — March 15, Ivan Kuskov with 25 Russians and 80 Native Alaskans arrives at Port Rumiantsev and proceeds north to establish Fortress Ross.
  • 1816 — Russian exploring expedition led by Captain Otto von Kotzebue visits California with naturalists Adelbert von Chamisso, Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, and artist Lois Choris.
  • 1817 — Chief Administrator Captain Leonty Gagemeister conducts treaty with local tribal chiefs for possession of property near Fortress Ross. First such treaty conducted with native peoples in California.
  • 1818 — The Rumiantsev, first of four ships built at Fortress Ross. The Buldakov, Volga and Kiahtha follow, as well as several longboats.
  • 1821 — Russian Imperial decree gives Native Alaskans and Creoles civil rights protected by law
  • 1836 — Fr.Veniaminov visits Fort Ross, conducts services, and carries out census.
  • 1841 — Rotchev sells Fort Ross and accompanying land to John Sutter.
1903: California Landmarks League purchases the 2.5 acre fort property from George W. Call for $3000.1906: The fort is deeded to what becomes the California State Parks Commission.1906, April 18: California's marjor historical earthquake causes considerable damage to the buildings of the fort compound.
  • 1916 — Fort Ross is partially restored.
  • 1970 — A fire at Fort Ross again nearly destroys the former settlement.
  • 1971 — Fort Ross is once again only partially restored.
  • 1974 — Restored Fort Ross officially reopened.


Kuskov House, located in the mid-eastern area of the fort, was the residence of Ivan Kuskov and the other managers up to Alexander Rotchev.
Rotchev House, located in the northwest area of the fort, was where Alexander Rotchev, the last manager of Fort Ross, lived with his family. Built circa 1836, it is the only remaining original building.
Officials' Quarters, located in the mid-western area of the fort near the gate.
Two blockhouses stand at opposite corners of the stockade. The first one pictured here is at the northeast; the second at the southwest.
The Holy Trinity Chapel, located at the southeast corner of the fort, is incorporated into the stockade. This reconstruction sees occasional use by local Russian Orthodox groups.


The National Weather Service has maintained a cooperative weather station at Fort Ross for many years. Based on those observations, Fort Ross has cool, damp weather most of the year. Fog and low overcast is common throughout the year. There are occasional warm days in the summer, which also tend to be relatively dry except for drizzle from heavy fogs or passing showers.

In January, average temperatures range from to . In July, average temperatures range from to . September is actually the warmest month with average temperatures ranging from to . There are an average of only 0.2 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher and 5.8 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. The record high temperature was on September 3, 1950. The record low temperature was on December 8, 1972.

Average annual precipitation is , falling on an average of 81 days each year. The wettest year was 1983 with and the driest year was 1976 with . The wettest month on record was February 1998 with . The most rainfall in 24 hours was on January 14, 1956. Snow rarely falls at Fort Ross; the record snowfall was on December 30, 1987.


  1. The Destiny of Russian America
  2. The Russian American Colonies
  3. Fort Ross and the Sonoma coast
  4. Fort Ross and the Sonoma Coast
  5. Historical Atlas of California
  6. The Russian-American Company
  7. Fort Ross Interpretive Association
  8. Pierce
  9. Silliman 2004.
  10. The American Interpretation of the Russian Colony at Fort Ross
  11. "The NAVY of the Russian Empire", St. Petersburg, 1996, pg.207
  12. Weather Regional Climate Center website


  • IBID
  • Silliman, Stephen. 2004. Lost Laborers in Colonial California, Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0816523819.

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