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Cathlapotle Plankhouse

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The recreated Cathlapotle Plankhouse (Steve Hart)
The door to the plankhouse (Steve Hart)
Inside the plankhouse (Jeff Black)
Inside the plankhouse (Steve Hart)


When Lewis and Clark traveled westward through this area on November 5, 1805, they found a thriving community near here called Cathlapotle. They documented 14 plankhouses with an estimated 900 residents. Lewis and Clark again visited the natives in March of 1806 on their return trip. The site was the largest Chinookan community that Lewis and Clark found and was long an important trade center. Modern radiocarbon dating has found evidence that humanity has lived in the area for over 2,300 years.

The specific site of Cathlapotle was first settled in about the year 1550. The village was documented by Englishman William Broughton in 1792. Lewis and Clark met with the local population when seven native boats joined them on their westward trip for a few miles downriver. Returning east, they traded with the Chinook and camped for the night at Wapato Portage, about one mile upriver from Cathlapotle. In the 1820s and 1830s, European diseases such as smallpox decimated the local native populations, and Cathlapotle was abandoned. In 1839 or 1840 the Carty family claimed the land and built a homestead. Most of the land remained wetlands, used for duck hunting and some farming, until 1965, when the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge was formed. The site of Cathlapotle lay undisturbed until the 1990s.

In 2002, a group of volunteers investigated the possibility of building a native plankhouse. In November 2003, the first pole was raised and the building was completed in March 2005, 199 years after Lewis and Clark's visit. Today, the plankhouse is typically open weekends from mid-April to early October, 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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