Structural History & Reconstruction

The fort is situated atop a mesa which is surrounded by ravines which abut the sea. It is constructed of redwood planks (there is no other wood used in any of the structures) and forms a palisade. It is four varas high, uniformly, and is surmounted by a beam set with pointed stakes intended to dissuade any assault. It has three gates: one to the northeast, one to the west and one to the southeast...
Diary of Fr. Mariano Payeras, 1822.

"It was called Ross by its commander and founder Kuskov," writes Father Payeras, whose diary contains some of the earliest descriptions by an outsider after the fort's completion, September 10, 1812 (modern calendar).

A report by Lieutenant Mariano Vallejo to Governor Figueroa in 1833 says its "walls form a quadrangle of exactly 100 varas (1) square." The fort's formidable appearance was enhanced by two well-gunned blockhouses, and sentries on the two corners without blockhouses, "from which the sentinels chime bells each hour." In spite of these defenses, erected against the natives and Spanish, the cannon were never fired in defense. Inside the stockade were "the commander's house, two warehouses...another warehouse filled with provisions for the fort; a barracks and three officials' houses..." A "draw-well" was dug inside the stockade, in case of siege.

The chapel was added a few years later (circa 1825); the set of three suites for clerks (officials) described by Payeras is believed to have been remodeled around 1836 for Manager Rotchev. Two buildings were added between 1836 and 1840, the "new kitchen" and “new warehouse." Only six buildings may be seen in the fort today—the original Russian-built Rotchev house and five reconstructions. The compound is aligned on the compass slightly east of magnetic north. Outside the stockade were a bake house, bath houses, threshing floors, two windmills with grindstones, a tannery and a brickworks (until 1832 when it was moved to Bodega Bay). There were large barns and corrals, the houses and gardens of the Russian artisans and promyshlenniki, and the low, possibly semi-subterranean dwellings of the Aleuts. In 1833 Mariano Vallejo reported as residences "59 large buildings more or less...arranged without order or symmetry." Near the sandy beach were a smithy, boathouse and shipways. All of this has disappeared.

The elements are harsh on the California coast. A Bostonian visiting in 1832 described the structures as "weather-beaten." Baron von Wrangell, governor of Russian America, wrote in his official report of 1834 that all the fort buildings "are neatly and orderly maintained and look comfortable, even handsome. However, almost all the buildings, as well as the stockade wall and watch-towers, are so old and dilapidated that either they need repairing or else they should be replaced by new structures." Some were indeed repaired, but most had to wait a century, until they became a California state park! The State acquired the fort just before the earthquake of April, 1906. At this time seven Russian buildings and some of the stockade were still standing: two blockhouses (not in very good shape), the chapel, the Rotchev house, the officials' quarters, and two warehouses (the "old" and "new" warehouses mentioned in the 1841 inventory had been combined into what was known as the "Dance Hall"). The chapel was knocked down in the earthquake, but its restoration was not begun until 1916. In 1925 the State appropriated $2,500 to rebuild the stockade and blockhouse and repair the Rotchev house. The first caretaker/ranger, William Turk, was hired in 1930, although funds for preservation were very limited from the 1920s until after World War II. Beginning in 1948 Curator John McKenzie initiated the restoration of the Rotchev house and the seven-sided blockhouse. In October, 1970, an intense accidental fire destroyed the chapel. A few months later an arson fire burned the roof of the Rotchev house. These calamities spurred the state to action, and the era of reconstruction began which produced the restorations seen today.
[1] A vara (Spanish) is almost a yard: 33 inches.