By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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The final $40,000 needed to finish the memorial — created to remember the lives lost when the Russian brig Sv. Nikolai beached in heavy squalls along the Pacific coast of the North Olympic Peninsula 205 years ago — couldn’t come too soon for the lead organizer of the project.
“I’m kind of anxious to get it completed,” said Forks resident Bill Sperry, who has been working with volunteer labor and donated funds since January 2011 to build the monument.
“This will be the last project that I will do.”
Sperry, 73, expects the final touches on the monument, which include installation of flag poles, landscaping and adding informational signs, to be done in time for an opening next spring.
Volunteers already hadve completed the focus of the monument: a cedar-and-metal-covered structure built on a donated piece of property along Upper Hoh Road.
The covered area eventually will house interpretive signs telling the story of the 22-person crew of the Nikolai and the hardships the surviving 13 faced while living for nine months in hand-built shelters roughly 9 miles up the Hoh River, Sperry explained.
The informative plaques will tell the story of Russian crew, accompanied by a handful of native Alaskans, and the Quileute and Makah they encountered from multiple perspectives, Sperry said.
“There’s a huge amount of history involved with this whole incident,” Sperry said.
For example, Anna Petrovna, the 18-year-old wife of the Nikolai’s captain who made the voyage with her husband, is thought to have been the first non-native woman on Washington’s shores.
The funds for the remaining work to be done came from a grant request added to the state’s 2013-2013 capital budget, supported by the North Olympic Peninsula’s three legislators and state Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, the capital budget chairman of the Senate’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.
“The senator said it was him [who added the grant funding to the budget], with concurrence with Sen. [Jim] Hargrove,” said Penny McWain, Honeyford’s legislative assistant.
Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, serves the 24th Legislative District along with state Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, both Sequim Democrats.
The 24th District comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.
Honeyford said Thursday that he visited the site earlier this spring after an invitation from the organizers and was impressed with the amount of work that already had been done.
“It’s well-done and very attractive,” said Honeyford, who represents the state’s 5th Legislative District in south-central Washington.
Honeyford said he supported the project in part because of the unique place in state history that the wreck of the Nikolai holds.
“This was a tremendous story of early exploration and survival in what is now Washington state,” Honeyford said.
Hargrove echoed Honeyford’s sentiment about the history the Nikolai monument will showcase.
“History is very interesting to me, and the Olympic [Peninsula] has such a varied and rich story,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove said he knew Sperry’s track record with such projects, such as the Fort Nunez Gaona-Diah Veterans Park that he spearheaded in Neah Bay in 2007.
“So I knew that it was somebody who was going to get it done,” Hargrove said.
And get it done Sperry has, though he said the work still to be done is substantial.
“There’s some pretty good expenses yet to incur,” Sperry said.
The effort has been funded predominantly with both large-scale and smaller donations, totaling about $45,000 to date, Sperry said.
The monument is built on a piece of land donated by the Peterson family of Forks to the nonprofit Association of Washington Generals, of which Sperry served as an officer during the planning phases.
The nonprofit association is overseeing the project and has donated about $25,000 of its own money, Sperry added.
The Russian government plans to donate a religious icon of St. Nikolai for display at the monument, Sperry said, and representatives from the Russian consulate in Seattle are expected to be at the monument’s opening in the spring.
Researchers from a university in Kursk, Russia, also have contacted Sperry and his volunteer historians about the story of the Nikolai, Sperry added, as they have become leading experts on the shipwreck and the events that followed.
The Russians, led by Capt. Nikolai Bulygin, left the Russian settlement of New Archangel — now Sitka, Alaska — in search of hunting land in the Pacific Northwest.
After a handful of skirmishes with the Quileute, the survivors eventually turned themselves over to tribal members and ended up in the Neah Bay area with the Makah.
Two years later in May 1810, a brig from Boston captained by J. Brown anchored in Neah Bay and traded with the Makah for most of the survivors, soon returning them to New Archangel.
Anna Petrovna, however, never saw the shores of the Russian settlement again, Sperry said, as she is believed to have died of tuberculosis while living with the Makah.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.