Plank house taking shape

Historical Society’s ambitious ‘Gathering Place at Washuxwal’ pavilion to celebrate area’s indigenous history

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Preliminary renderings show what the outdoor "plank house" style "Gathering Place at Washuxwal" pavilion next to the Two Rivers Heritage Museum in Washougal might look like. Plans call for cedar planks and wood carvings to highlight the area's Native American Indian history and culture. (Contributed illustration courtesy of Lewallen Architecture)

Washougal’s newest community gathering space will celebrate the area’s rich Native American Indian history.

The Camas-Washougal Historical Society (CWHS) is fundraising to build “The Gathering Place at Washuxwal,” an open pavilion on the south side of the group’s Two Rivers Heritage Museum, near the Pendleton mill in Washougal.

With a design based on the traditional cedar plank houses used by Native American tribes who called the Columbia River area home, and wood carvings crafted by a Native American artist, the pavilion will pay homage to this area’s indigenous heritage.

“This project started about two years ago,” explains CWHS President Jim Cobb. “The museum had a landscape architect come to give ideas for improving the grounds, and one of the things he suggested was having a pole building for meetings and gatherings.”

At the same time, Cobb says, CWHS members had been trying to increase the museum’s collection of Native American artifacts.

“Our museum represented about 90 percent of white history, but there was very little native history,” Cobb says. “We wanted to increase our Native American displays.”

Eventually, a CWHS member, Donna Martinez, became the museum’s Native American curator, bringing in an impressive basket collection and working on displays that would help educate visitors about the Camas-Washougal area’s rich Native American history.

Although the pavilion was primarily meant to be a community gathering space — perhaps hosting school groups who come to the museum or even being rented out for small outdoor concerts or private weddings — Cobb says CWHS members also wanted the building to refer to the area’s Native American history and modern culture.

Current plans call for three phases for the $230,000 project. The first phase, slated to cost about $80,000, will build the basic structure. After that, depending on the money available, the group would start to add things like landscaping, artwork and other phase two and phase three elements.

Since the museum’s annual budget of $30,000 is just enough to keep the doors open and not enough to pay any staff members, funding for the new “Gathering Place” will need to come from a combination of donations, grants and corporate giving, Cobb says.

“We are looking for grants and hoping to get some bigger corporate donations, but we are also reaching out to the local community, to individuals who want to donate to this project,” he says.

“The cost is why we’re doing this in phases. There are a lot of items that could be phased in.”

Architect Jason Ferrier, of the Camas-based Lewallen Architecture firm, researched historical Columbia River plank house designs, toured the Cathlapotle Plankhouse at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and met with CWHS members, the museum’s Native American curator and Chinook tribal members before planning how the pavilion might look.

“After talking to some of the people from the Chinook community, we did change some things,” Ferrier says. “For instance, we were looking at using Doug Fir, but if you go back and look at native tradition, cedar was highly respected and used (to build plank houses). We’re going to try our best to stick with cedar, if possible.”

After working primarily on residential and commercial buildings, Ferrier says he jumped at the chance to work on such a unique project.

“I’m really excited,” Ferrier says. “This is out of the box and different from what we usually do.”

Although they’re listed as a later-phase piece of the pavilion, Ferrier says the Native American carvings are, in his mind, “a key component of the project.”

“Without the art, it’s just a cover,” Ferrier says. “We’re interviewing different local artists, hoping to find somebody to lead the art efforts and put their own spin on it and bring some awareness of the native art from this area. There are (Native American) carvings north of here, but a lot of the carvings from this area are nowhere to be found. They were almost lost until recently, when people started bringing awareness to them.”

The “Gathering Place at Washuxwal” is named for the Cascades Chinook’s name for Washougal, which means “rushing water.”

“I think the name adds a little intrigue,” Cobb says. “It grabs a person’s imagination.”

The extra attention is a good thing, Cobb adds, since the pavilion is intended to be another draw for Washougal-area tourists as well as community members looking for a gathering space.

“They’re trying to (bill) Camas-Washougal as a tourist destination and we want the people who come here on tour boats to stop at the museum and view our plank house,” Cobb says. “For locals, this is something that everyone can use. They could have outdoor meetings here, or even catered luncheons to have something different than just a restaurant. And we have plenty of parking for special occasions.”

The project also has the full backing of the nonprofit’s 12-member board of directors, Cobb says: “All 12 members have supported this project and all 12 have donated to the project.”

To learn more about the pavilion project and the Two Rivers Heritage Museum, or to contribute to The Gathering Place at Washuxwal online, visit