This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Visitors to Kenai’s Old Town may have noticed some construction at the Saint Nicholas Memorial Chapel. Restoration efforts are underway.
At the beginning of the month, restoration experts began patching up and waterproofing the roof of the iconic chapel in Kenai’s Old Town, which sits across the street from the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church.
Dorothy Gray is the treasurer of the nonprofit group Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska, the secretary and treasurer for Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai and a lifelong member of the church. She said the chapel is in great need of repair.
The restoration efforts are broken up into three phases. The first is to repair the roof, and to waterproof it for years to come. The original cedar shakes will be replaced with cedar shingles, slowing the wood’s deterioration at the walls and corners of the building. Gray said the roof phase should be finished soon. The second phase should begin later this summer, with an assessment of the condition of the chapel’s logs. The third phase, which will come at a later date, will address the church’s foundation and fence.
The chapel received two grants to help renovate the National Historic Landmark. In 2017, the chapel received a $13,000 donation grant from the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America. Last September, the Alaska Historical Commission awarded a $14,964 grant to the chapel. Gray said a private donor has also recently provided additional funds.
The chapel is one of the most recognized landmarks in Kenai, and is featured on the city’s seal. The chapel has been sitting in Old Town since 1906.
Gray said the chapel recognizes the first Christian influence on the Kenai Peninsula.
“This place matters because it is the final resting place of the first Christian missionary here,” Gray said. “He brought the smallpox vaccine responsible for saving people’s lives far beyond Kenai.”
Gray said the chapel is also a poplar tourist attraction.
“It’s one of the most highly photographed places on the Kenai,” Gray said.