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Nanny Ooyahtona House

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turn of the twentieth century. Second row from south, Tigara Village
  • Nanny Ooyahtona House (interior)
  • Point Hope Cemetery
  • Nanny Ooyahtona House (entrance)

The most complete sod-covered house at Point Hope, one of the most extraordinary vernacular structures in America, was occupied until 1975. The house has extensive whalebone framing, as well as one lumber-walled room. The entire building is covered with sod, forming grassy mounds in the summer.

The house is approached on the level, via a path to the front door outlined with vertical whalebones. Through the doorway, which is framed with sawn driftwood, is a hallway 3 feet long and 2½ feet wide. It opens into a large room, approximately 8 feet by 17 feet. The walls are densely lined with vertical whalebones. Whalebone posts against the interior of the walls support the wall plates, which are both whalebone and lumber. Lying crosswise on the wall plates are the whalebones that constitute the ceiling. The height of the dirt-floored room is about 5½ feet. There is a square skylight.

At the back of this room is a hallway, also lined with whalebones. The hall, which is 3½ feet wide, 4½ feet high, and 10 feet long, leads to the back room, which is finished entirely with shiplap vertical planks. The room measures 11 feet by 14 feet. There were two parallel 6-inch-diameter ridgepoles, one of which has collapsed, leaving the room open to the elements. The height of the room from the plank-lined floor to the bottom of the standing ridgepole is 5 feet 8 inches. The ceiling was also shiplapped lumber.

A rare survivor, the Nanny Ooyahtona House displays a combination of traditional and transitional building forms. The whalebone framing, sod covering, and lack of windows are the most striking traditional elements. But unlike traditional dwellings, this house is on grade—not semisubterranean—and it is reached through a hallway on the same level, not a tunnel with a trapdoor into the living space. The use of lumber is not unusual, although here it is machine sawn, reflecting technology from Outside. This wood-walled room may have been a later addition; a one-room living space would have been traditional. Although there are many grassy mounds at Tigara and other places, indicating abandoned dwellings, this one can be entered, enclosing the visitor with whalebones and sod.

Writing Credits

Alison K. Hoagland



Alison K. Hoagland, "Nanny Ooyahtona House", [Point Hope, Alaska], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Alaska, Alison K. Hoagland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 257-259.

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