The Port of Seldovia is located on the Kenai Peninsula in south central Alaska about 15 nautical miles (25 kilometers or 15 miles by air) southwest of the Homer and some 128 nautical miles (185 kilometers or 115 miles by air) north-northeast of Kodiak. With no roads connecting other towns to the Port of Seldovia, boats and planes are the normal modes of transportation.
The Port of Seldovia's biggest employers are the Seldovia Village Tribe, the school, and tourism. The US Census reported 286 people residing in the Port of Seldovia with almost three-quarters of them being white. Indigenous Native Alaskans make up over 17% of the population of the Port of Seldovia.
Before the Russians arrived in the Port of Seldovia area, several different indigenous peoples lived there: Aleut, Alutiiq, Yupik, and Athabascan. The Dena'ina (Athabascan) people already lived there, but the Russians moved other tribes to the new fur trading post they created on Seldovia Bay. These peoples had a long tradition of subsistence hunting and fishing.
The Port of Seldovia area has been a meeting place for Native peoples for thousands of years. This history is established by archeological evidence that includes bone and bone tools, remains of animals and fish used for food, home sites, and graves. Among the peoples meeting here to trade and socialize were Kodiak Koniaqs, the Chugach from Prince William Sound, Aleuts, and Tanaina Kenaitze from the Cook Inlet area.
Russian traders arrived at the Aleutian Islands in the 1740s. When news of rich fur resources reached Russia in 1742, the Fur Rush began. Sea otters were abundant in the Port of Seldovia area, and the indigenous peoples were drafted to work for both Russian and American fur companies. Native families were separated, and absence of the hunters created serious food shortages.
In addition to Russian traders, missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church arrived. While they respected the existing native cultures and traditions, they had a tremendous influence on Native populations. They learned the Aleut language, and their faith began to blend with Aleut traditions and beliefs.
Hunting led to a decline in wild fur-bearing populations, and fur farming was adopted in the Port of Seldovia area. Breeding foxes became popular after the animals were introduced to several Aleutian Islands. By the 1920s, many Port of Seldovia residents operated fox farms on Kachemak Bay's southern shores. When the Great Depression came in the early 1930s, and the demand for furs declined, most locals quit the fur farming business.
When the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, more indigenous people and Northern European immigrants also came to the Port of Seldovia area. Over the next century, the native peoples began to mix and came together as one tribe led by an accepted chief.
The Seldovia Village Tribe owns and operates medical and dental services in the Port of Seldovia, Homer, and Anchor Point. It also operates the Seldovia Visitor Center and Museum and the 2500-square-foot waterfront Seldovia Conference Center. The Seldovia Village Tribe operates the Seldovia Bay Ferry, the Alaska Tribal Cache Gift Store, and Alaska Pure Berry that manufactures and sells local wild berry products.
The Tribe is responsible for other services as well: tribal government, community programs, drug and alcohol counseling and prevention, environmental protection, housing, fire fighting, community health, and services for children.
The young Port of Seldovia was built along the waterfront. Homes and businesses could be reached using the beach at low tide. In the late 1920s, the community organized to build a boardwalk to make it possible to travel between homes and businesses regardless of the stage of the tide.
From the late 19th Century, mining was important to the local Port of Seldovia economy. Coal-mining near Homer employed many Seldovian residents. Chrome ore from Red Mountain near the Port of Seldovia brought intermittent mining operations for decades, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s. When the demand for coal and chrome ore fell off, those mining operations were abandoned.
Logging operations have been a periodic part of the Port of Seldovia economy since the early 20th Century. During the mid-20th Century, the Port of Seldovia had a contract with South Central Timber to log the Rocky and Windy Rivers and Jakalof Bay. The timber company built roads connecting the Port of Seldovia to Jakalof Bay and to the Gulf of Alaska. In the more recent past, the Seldovia Native Association sold their logging rights.
The Port of Seldovia was one of the few ports on Cook Inlet that was open for navigation during the winter. When gold was discovered in Alaska's interior, thousands of hopeful prospectors arrived in the Port of Seldovia aboard steamers on their way to the gold fields. When the Anderson Dock was built in 1926, it became possible for ocean-going steamers to moor in the Port of Seldovia, making the city a shipping hub for all of south-central Alaska.
In the 1920s, herring were bountiful from the Pacific Northwest to the Cook Inlet. The Port of Seldovia grew in importance to the fishing industry. Two herring salteries were constructed in the Port of Seldovia, and old sailing ships became floating salteries. The demand for labor to support fishing and fish processing brought immigrants from Scotland and Scandinavia to the Port of Seldovia.
Unfortunately, the collection of rotting fish that the salteries threw away killed the vegetation that had supported spawning herring, and the fishery began to decline. By the 1930s, the fishery was no longer active. However, the men who came to the Port of Seldovia to work in the herring industry stayed to fish other species like halibut, salmon, and crabs. Many of them married Native women and raised families in the Port of Seldovia.
Despite the decline in the herring fishery, the Port of Seldovia benefited from the introduction of the canning industry when the Seldovia Salmon Company opened in 1910. By the heyday of the Port of Seldovia's cannery industry, there were several canneries that packed herring, shrimp, halibut, crab, and other fish species. The cannery industry came to an end in 1964 with the Good Friday Earthquake.
In 1964, the famous Good Friday Earthquake struck the Port of Seldovia with devastating results. The land there dropped by four feet. Seawater began to flood buildings along the waterfront at high tide. The Port of Seldovia's waterfront was destroyed, and rebuilding the town became necessary.
Accepting an urban renewal project proposed by the Alaska State Housing Authority, the old buildings and boardwalk were demolished. Seawalls were built, and Cap's Hill was leveled. It was ten years before the Port of Seldovia had recovered from the earthquake. But it would never again be commercial fishing center for Kachemak Bay. When a new road connected nearby Homer to Anchorage, the Port of Homer overtook the Port of Seldovia as the local fishing hub.