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. (Edit 2018: archived copy here)

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.”



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.

6 responses to “D’Suq’Wub: Old Man House – a Poster

  1. Very interesting information. The link to the poster cannot be found.


  2. Melanie Bandy

    To become aware of this history and view the most recent renderings of the structure and its destruction seems a timing too fortuitous not to have greater meaning. To think that the time spent together with family and friends, old and young cared for, sharing work and resource so that everyone can do less and be more was considered a corruption of morals, is such a misguided interpretation as to the meaning of life. Single family homes are where violence is hidden, abuses of children are ignored, people are isolated from their support, their wisdom and their feet from the soil. It may be the ideal living situation for a few but it isn’t for most. My heart hurts to think of the connection we severed for those communities and the lessons from this place’s history with the single strike of a match.


  3. I am related to Seattle through my Mother’s mother side. I am learning and speaking one of the native languages (one dialect) he spoke. Although, Chief Seattle spoke a southern dialect. This type of history takes a few generations to heal & acknowledging it occurred is the first step. I love Melanie Bandy’s comment on the communal living.


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