Evidence Largely Verifies 1840 Ground Plan - Garth, 1948 Archeological Report
Archeological evidence largely verifies the construction of the Mission House as shown in the 1840 ground plan.
We were extremely fortunate in having a ground plan of the Mission House to guide us during our excavating. This was sent by Mrs. Whitman to her mother in New York in 1840, when the house was ready for occupancy. (7) Considerable information about the house is included in the explanation written by Mrs. Whitman along the margins. (See Figure 2.) We found the walls almost exactly as pictured here, except that room A was never built and the back wall of "L" was extended the full width of the building and joined by an extension of the south wall to make an additional room. This was probably the new room which was being worked on shortly before the massacre. In 1947 we thought we had discovered another room 10 feet farther east, but this proved to be merely a ridge of earth, colored and shaped in a peculiar manner, and not a true wall. The total length of the building was 99 feet, and the length of the "T" front was 61 feet 6 inches.
The dimensions given in the 1840 ground plan were not strictly adhered to. Sometimes they appear to be outside measurements (from outside wall to outside wall) and at other times they appear to be inside measurements of the rooms. Also the drawing is not accurate as to scale. Although the outside widths of the building- 19 feet for the front section and 22 feet for the east wing--agree with the 1840 plan, room dimensions are at considerable variance. The following table gives the room measurements as we found them:
Fireplaces and hearths were found in rooms B, D, E, and G. However, only for the one in G was there evidence of a chimney. This extended from the cellar floor to a 3 1/2-foot height. Even the firebox was partially intact. (See Figure 3.) There was nothing left of the fireplaces above the level of the hearths. The kitchen hearth was of exceptional size, being 13 feet long by 8 1/2 feet wide. (See Plate IIa.) It was here that Dr. Whitman was said to have been first struck at the onset of the massacre. Farmhouse cellars, the first dug about 1873 and the second in 1912, have largely obliterated the south wall of the old Mission House. The north wall fared better, especially toward the rear of the building. The walls of rooms I and K were of different sized brick (9 by 5 by 18 inches), these rooms being added some time after the rest of the house had been completed. The walls here were 18 inches thick, and the walls for the new room in the southeast corner of the building were 27 inches thick. In nearly all instances the bricks were laid header-and-stretcher fashion, starting with a header row. (See Plate IV.) The partitions were also built of adobe and were brought from the ground up. Only once did a partition shown on the 1840 plan fail to be found. This was the partition between I and K, which may possibly have been of log or board construction. The cellar under room H (the schoolroom) constituted one of the most interesting features uncovered. Here the various levels appeared as before, though they were much exaggerated. There was a 20-inch accumulation of adobe-brick rubble over the ash layer of floor 4 (the cellar floor in this case),which meant that after the 1848 fire the cellar was more than half filled with brick rubble, charred beams, ash, and the like from the room above. Over this were two levels of packed earth, the first probably made by the soldiers of 1848 and the one above, on which were charred timbers and ash from the 1855 fire, representing the ground level (floor 3A) in 1855. The dirt floor (floor 4) of the cellar was nearly covered by charred boards (see Plate IIb), no doubt the fallen flooring of the schoolroom above. The joists and planks were in excellent condition. In some cases the adze marks were visible on the joists, which proved to be squared 2-inch by 6-inch pine timbers. The flooring was one-inch planks, varying from 8 to 12 inches in width. In the center of the cellar was a granite footing 2 feet across and one foot high which must have supported a post, which in turn supported the floor above. (See Plate I.) The stone must have been carted in from some distance, as granite is rare in the region. Possibly it was chipped off a larger piece being shaped for a mill stone.
The cellar was only 3 1/2 feet deep. No doubt Whitman profited from the bitter experiences he had with the cellar of their first house which was full depth, the adobe-brick walls starting on the cellar floor. Floods had filled the cellar shortly after the house was built, causing the adobe walls to bulge and sag and badly damaging the structure. (8) However, in the Mission House, besides having the cellar exceptionally shallow, Whitman had its dirt side walls sloped to about a 45 degree angle with the adobe walls laid above. (See Figure 4.) Doubtless to enter the cellar one must have needed to stoop over. Nevertheless, added height may have been gained by raising the height of the floor above. The cellar was probably used as a storage place for potatoes and similar perishables. Spalding's inventory lists this cellar with bins (for foodstuffs, no doubt) and an outside door. (9)
Did You Know?
The Whitmans’ mission was important to early Oregon Trail travelers. Those who were sick, tired, or hungry or who needed a wagon fixed would make the side trip to the mission. Some would spend the winter with the Whitmans before continuing on to the Willamette Valley.