The Iroquois longhouse was named this way because the actual building was longer then it was wide. Usually there was a door at each end of the longhouse to enter and exit from.
A fire pit or set of fire pits was set up within the long house for heat. By cutting a hole in the ceiling most of the smoke escaped naturally.
As with all Native American tribes the Iroquois used what was in nature to build the longhouses. The Iroquois were located primarily in New York State and had access to large amounts of Elm bark. This made a good material for building the Iroquois longhouses because it was durable and provided decent resistance against the rain and cold.
In the winter the both ends of the Longhouse were covered with animal fir to help keep the cold out and the heat in.
A longhouse was designed to hold a large number of families. The length could vary from twenty meters long up to over one hundred meters long. Within each Longhouse were small sections similar to today’s cubicles in an office. In each section would be a family. By combining families the Iroquois not only helped build the sense of community and tribe they also were able to stretch out their natural resources.
The design of a Longhouse was pretty straightforward. The frame was built by forming a bow frame with flexible poles or smaller trees. These poles formed the curved roof, this slight curve helped during the winter. The heat from the fire would rise out of the ceiling and help melt the snow and ice off the roof. This melted snow and water could be collected and used either in cooking or as drinking water.
As with all things Native American there is a reason behind everything. Nothing is wasted and everything is maximized.
Joseph Paige © 2006