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Construction at the Council House

The Apalachee Council House at San Luis was one of the largest historic Indian structures in the southeastern United States.
Council houses were the focus of Apalachee religious and ceremonial activities, including dances, rituals, and preparations for war.
They were also city halls where Apalachee rulers met every day to discuss community business.

If you visit the historic site right now you will notice that the Apalachee Council House is under construction.

The first step was “de-thatching.” De-thatching is the process of removing the many layers of palm fronds that cover the wooden frame of the Council House and act as shingles. Palm fronds are bio-degradable and periodically need to be replaced. If left on too long, old fronds act like a sponge for moisture and can compromise the supporting structure underneath.

How was maintenance of the Council House done in the 17th century? Just like we do today; in the 1600s the Apalachee community would regularly repair and maintain the Council House’s palm-frond walls. They may have proactively replaced aging thatch in sections, patched damaged palm fronds, and/or replaced the entire palm-thatched covering at one time.

What are the plans to re-thatch the Council House?  We are in the process of re-thatching the Council House with natural-looking synthetic thatch. This type of thatch is much more wind and fire resistant, and is longer lasting than natural thatch. It is what is installed on our reconstructed Franciscan Church across the plaza. 

You can still explore this impressive Apalachee structure virtually in the links below!


Mission San Luis Resources

•  Mission San Luis Thatched Council House - Walk in 

    Short video showing exterior and interior views of the Council House prior to de-thatching

•  The Apalachee and the Council House - Interpretive video tour by our living history guide

•  Archaeology of the Council House - Video tour with our Senior Archaeologist, Jerry Lee  

•  Palm Thatch Places: Apalachee Architecture - A Summer Camp Quest video with lesson and craft 

•  Reconstructing Mission San Luis: The Council House - Overview information

•  Council House De-thatching / Re-Thatching Time-Lapse - Video from the 2013 re-thatching

Additional Resources

•  Timucua Building Technology By Florida Archaeology Network

•  Thatching - First Colony: Our Spanish Origins - Video on thatching by Florida Museum of Natural History


 Did You Know...?

  • Native peoples in the Southeast built various types of council/meeting houses for hundreds of years, including before the arrival of Europeans.
  • Similar buildings around the Southeast were said to hold up to 3,000 people.
  • This building is reconstructed based on archaeological evidence and is in the same location the original burned down in 1704.
  • Our Council House is about 120 feet in diameter and 50 feet high and approximately 90,000 palm fronds were used to cover the structure in thatch in 2013.
  • Apalachee women and men could have worked together in maintaining the Council House. Women might have helped with the preparation of palm fronds as well as rope for lifting logs and tying beams together.



Council House Construction Diagram



Fun with Geometry

If you study the engineering of the Apalachee Council House you will see that although it looks like a circle from above, the perimeter (outside edge) is made up of many straight lines. Notice in the diagrams below that the greater the number of straight sides a shape has the more it looks like a circle!

How many side segments do you count at the bottom of the Council House? 
How many are at the top at the oculus (opening)? Why is the number different?

Note that some logs (purlins) span two segments between angled roof rafters, with some "bent" by cutting a notch in the wood!