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First Museum of Russian America marks 30th anniversary of its foundation

The year 1990 saw the opening of the Kuskov Memorial Flat in Tot’ma, a small town even by the Vologda Region’s standards. The town once prided itself on its salt making and the seafaring merchants who traded in Siberia and America. It was a native of Totma, Ivan Kuskov, who founded Fort Ross in California.

On December 1, an exhibition dedicated to the 30th anniversary will open at the Kuskov Museum. The exhibition will feature the history of cultural and historical ties between Tot’ma and California.

Now Kuskov’s former house has been made into a museum full of objects from his California adventures brought by friends of the museum.

The museum tells the story of life of a Tot'ma-born navigator Ivan Kuskov. Tot'ma was once a powerhouse of merchant Russia. Adventurers from the town opened up trade routes to Siberia, Alaska, China and the west coast of the United States. One Tot'ma native, Ivan Kuskov, founded Fort Ross in California in 1812, and after years in North America, retired to his birthplace along with a wife, who by some accounts was a Native American. At that time Tot'ma was a flourishing merchant centre, dealing in furs, wax, silks and salt. It is not by chance that the town's coat of arms has a black fox on it, an animal native to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, not to northern Russia.

There is a long-standing friendship between the Tot’ma regional experts and the workers at the Fort Ross museum. They met each other back in the mid-1970s and have always supported each other since. In the 1980s, Americans assisted with the displays for the museum, which was opened in a former communal apartment. And in 2010, when there was a danger that For Ross would be closed due to unprofitability, the residents of Tot’ma asked the Vologda Region Governor to meet with California’s then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the behalf of the museum. They did meet, and the historic national park Fort Ross was not closed.

Every year on a Russian American Day, the townsfolk of Tot’ma make contact with Californias via the Internet. The tradition of ringing bells in exchange with each other began many years ago, and now it is reinforced with an image. The town of Tot’ma was often visited by official delegations from the USA and representatives of indigenous American groups.

Vologda Oblast official website