D’Suq’Wub: Old Man House – a Poster

Old Man House: computer reconstruction of one end. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

“Old Man House” is on the Kitsap Peninsula just north of Bainbridge island, across Puget Sound from modern downtown Seattle.  The “house” was the subject of one of the earlier excavations on the NW Coast by Warren Snyder and team from the University of Washington.  The house formed the locus of a major village of the Suquamish Tribe, and its most famous historic resident was Chief Sealth, also known as Chief Seattle.  The Suquamish Tribe has a very nice poster on the history and archaeology of Old Man House which can be downloaded from their website – clicking here will start a moderately sized JPG file.

Interpretive sketch of Old Man House. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

It is a bit of misnomer to call this structure a “house” though.

One of ca. 22 frame elements of Old Man House as seen in 1870. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

As mapped by Snyder, the structure is a whopping 161.5 metres long.  Subdivided into compartments, it would be more accurate to call it an apartment block, or a condominium.  You can imagine the archaeological challenges of this immense structure, which in essence contained the entire village.

Old Man House post as seen in 1903. Source: U. Washington

According to various stories, the house was burned down by the Indian Agent in the late 1860s – some say to eradicate smallpox, others to break up the solidarity of the multi-family households.  This page, which records the 2005 return to the Tribe (via some interesting non-Tribal community activism) of a portion of the original house site, states about the lot:

The street is Angeline Avenue, named after Chief Seattle’s daughter, Princess Angeline.

There is a story that when the longhouse was burning, word got to Angeline, who was then living in Seattle. She rushed to the waterfront and paddled her canoe the nine miles across Puget Sound, arriving in time to find only embers left where the great longhouse had stood. She poured water from the Sound on the smoldering embers, weeping, “They’re burning down Papa’s home, they’re burning down Papa’s home.”

Angeline (Kick-is-on-lo), daughter of Chief Seattle, ca. 1893. Source: U. Washington

A rather handsome cultural centre – the sgwәdzadad qәł ?altxw, or House of Awakened Culturenow stands there and seems to be a vibrant and essential part of a resurgent Suquamish tribal identity.

The sgwәdzadad qәł ?altxw, 2009. Source: Kitsap and Beyond.

Coast Guard chart showing Old Man House, 1868.

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