Seated along the north bank of the Andreafsky River aboutfive miles from where the Yukon and Andreafsky rivers meet, Saint Mary’s encompasses two Yup’ik villages, Saint Mary’s and Andreafsky.
Established in 1899, Andreafsky served as a winter headquarters and supply depot for a riverboat fleet that belonged to Northern Commercial Company, then Alaska’s largest rural retailer. The village gets its name from the Andrea family, who founded a nearby Russian Orthodox Church.
Saint Mary’s was originally formed in 1903, when Jesuit missionaries set up a mission about 90 miles downriver on an island in a slough to care for local children sickened or orphaned by a flu epidemic that swept the country in the early 1900s. The location was known as Akulurak, which means “in between place.” By 1915, the mission’s school had flourished with 70 full-time students.
In 1948, sick of being silted in, village residents decided to move to higher ground and headed to the area near Andreafsky. Andreafsky remained independent from Saint Mary’s until 1980, when residents voted to be annexed into the city.
Saint Mary’s is home to a federally recognized tribe, the Algaaciq Native Village; Yupiit of Andreafski. The Yup’ik Eskimos live a traditional subsistence lifestyle, harvesting salmon, moose, bear and waterfowl. Jobs in Saint Mary’s are often seasonal, and tend to center around trapping and fishing. In 2010, 72 residents held commercial fishing permits.
Saint Mary’s has a population of 554, according to a 2011 Department of Labor estimate. Approximately 185 students attend the only school in town, and there are two general stores. A 22-mile state road links St. Mary’s to Andreafsky as well as the nearby communities of Pitka’s Point and Mountain Village. Although the road is not maintained during winter months, it is still traveled on by snowmachines.