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Purpose of the Plankhouse. To build and interpret a traditional Chinookan cedar plankhouse which evokes the plankhouses that stood on the Cathlapotle archaeological site on Ridgefield NWR. Art Petersen, Cedar Tree Architects . Lewis and Clark’s map showing the “Quathlapotle Nation”. 1805 -1806.

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Purpose of the Plankhouse

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purpose of the plankhouse
Purpose of the Plankhouse
  • To build and interpret a traditional Chinookan cedar plankhouse which evokes the plankhouses that stood on the Cathlapotle archaeological site on Ridgefield NWR.

Art Petersen, Cedar Tree Architects

cathlapotle archaeological site
Cathlapotle Archaeological Site

Occupied from at least A.D. 1450 to about A.D. 1850.

cathlapotle archaeological site1
Cathlapotle Archaeological Site
  • One of the few large Chinookan villages on the lower Columbia River that has not been lost to development, flooding, or looting.
cathlapotle archaeological project 1991 present
Cathlapotle Archaeological Project 1991-Present

PublicOutreachandEducation & Archaeological Research

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland State University, Chinook Indian Tribe

archaeological research
Archaeological Research
  • Dr. Kenneth Ames, PSU, Department of Anthropology
  • Archaeological field schools
  • Professional technical reports
  • 11 Master’s theses and PhD. Dissertations
  • Dozens of professional papers and presentations
  • Lab work continues

Education and Outreach

  • Virginia Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Chinook Indian Tribe
  • Artifact and heritage education kit and curriculum
  • 2500+ Clark County students
  • Events and festivals
purpose of the plankhouse1
Purpose of the Plankhouse
  • To build and interpret a traditional Chinookan cedar plankhouse which evokes the plankhouses that stood on the Cathlapotle archaeological site. The plankhouse should have cultural value to the Chinook Tribe and the community, and interpretive value to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Paul Kane 1846


Project Partners and Steering Committee

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee for Vancouver/Clark County
  • Chinook Tribe
  • Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
  • Community of Ridgefield

Cameron Smith


Design Objectives

  • Build a structure that conveys the grandeur of a full-size plankhouse and the atmosphere of Chinookan culture
  • Use proper materials, designs, and building techniques based on archaeological and historical information
  • Minimize modern intrusions
  • Incorporate certain engineering elements to ensure a safe and long lasting structure

Interior of a Chinookan Plankhouse

Paul Kane 1846


Functional Objectives

  • Interpret natural and cultural world of the Cathlapotle Chinookans.
  • Make the building accessible to all public.
  • Emphasize educational opportunities for school children.
  • Provide the Chinook Tribe a place to celebrate their cultural heritage.

Cathlapotle Plankhouse Project

  • Budget
  • Architecture and design $ 35,000
  • Project Manager $ 60,000
  • Cedar Logs $ 125,000
  • Roof plank fabrication $ 17,000
  • Post Carvings $ 45,000
  • Fasteners and small equipment $ 17,000
  • Interior features $ 26,000
  • Interpretive materials, curriculum, events $ 134,500
  • Landscaping, paths $ 30,000
  • Total $ 486,500
funding and support
Funding and Support
  • Funds
    • Individuals and community organizations $19,200
    • Ferguson Foundation $7,000
    • Meyer Memorial Trust $60,000
    • M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust $75,000
    • National Park Service $150,000
    • Estate of Gladys Hare (maintenance endowment) $100,000
    • Fish and Wildlife Service $92,175
  • In-Kind Materials and Services
    • Cedar Logs from community members $14,300
    • Cedar Logs: Mt. Hood and Gifford Pinchot N. F. $34,898
    • Other supplies and services $7,800
    • 50+ Volunteers have logged 2,161 hours $32,415

Total $586,488


Cross section of Cathlapotle Plankhouse

  • Dimensions = 37 feet by 78 feet, semi-subterranean
  • Designed using archaeological and ethnographic data
  • Constructed of western red cedar planks, posts, and beams
  • Cedar plank roof with adjustable smoke hole
  • Traditional oval entry at front and ADA accessible door at rear

Art Petersen, Cedar Tree Architects


Interior plan view of Cathlapotle Plankhouse

Art Petersen, Cedar Tree Architects

  • Two fire hearths
  • Benches along walls
  • Storage under benches

The ridge beam will be supported by posts carved from massive slabs of old growth western red cedar

Working sketches for ridge posts by Tony Johnson


Design Limitations and Adaptations

  • Modern tools and materials facilitate construction
  • Limited availability of old growth cedar
  • Public use requires certain ADA and safety features

Cathlapotle Plankhouse Site

  • About one mile from Cathlapotle archaeological site, away from the river
  • Secure and easily accessed location
  • Above flood level, next to a pond

Log Donations

  • Enough timber has been donated to produce most of the building’s posts, eave beams, and wall planks.


  • 50+ volunteers have logged over 2000 cumulative hours


  • 450 contacts on mailing list
  • Monthly e-mail updates go to 270 contacts
  • Website displays latest volunteer opportunities at
Project Manager:

Greg Robinson

  • Volunteer Log Site Coordinator:
  • Pat Campbell
  • Volunteer Log Jam Committee Chairman:
  • Truman Sturdevant
  • Wood and antler wedges
  • Cordage making
  • Basket making
  • Cedar and withe bark harvest
  • Wapato harvest
  • Adze manufacture
  • Mats and mat creasers
  • Stone tools
work parties of volunteers are building the plankhouse
Work parties of volunteers are building the plankhouse
  • Moving logs
  • Eave beam and post fabrication
  • Splitting wall planks
  • Notching posts
  • Setting posts
  • Raising beams
  • Attaching wall planks
  • Harvesting and processing raw materials

Carving the Ridge Posts

  • Tony Johnson and Adam McIsaac
  • Building a traditional Chinookan structure in the 21st century on a National Wildlife Refuge open to the public.

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