Fillmore County, MN

Here’s a really nice three room Norwegian-American three room house I located this past summer outside Highland, in Fillmore County, MN.  Excuse the crummy photos.  They were taken at sunset and I haven’t yet been back to get more.  It measures about 16′ x 26′ and is unusually tall and gives more the appearance of a framed house than a log house.  Notice the porch brackets, the spun posts as well as the railing posts on the second level of the porch (attached to the building).  The individual porch balusters were all laying on the porch floor.  The windows are all four light and have simple hoods above.  It was clearly abandoned long ago but has been maintained to some degree over the years.

All this detail coupled with an unusually tall massing suggests a construction (or perhaps extensive remodel) date of 1870 to 1885.  It’s likely a “transitional” house:  One in which the walls of the building are log but the interior and exterior meant to be concealed from day one.  A modern house by all accounts, yet one whose skeleton happens to be log.  It’s a beautiful house and I especially like how tall it is, yet at the same time I find it too stylized.  Your thoughts?

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2014 Project

It feels good to be done for the season!  I began last March by disassembling the building and finished yesterday afternoon by wrapping the exterior in plastic.  I went into the project unsure of how everything would go— after all I have never “restored” a building as rotten as this one— but looking back everything went pretty smoothly.  The building was a complete wreck when I started.  It sits in a low area where the water has a difficult time draining out and away.  Each spring the cellar fills with about five feet of water.  And over 3/4 of the logs were rotten.

For better or worse, I made the decision to keep the original foundation.  To fix the drainage problem I hired an excavator to dig out the original walk-down storm door and trenched from that point 150’ down the slope to an area of lower elevation.  And this was after I spent about 120 hours tuck pointing the cellar walls.  We then lined the base of the trench with drain tile and filled it with rock.  We also filled the cellar with rock to grade.  The top of the rock is lined with a plastic vapor barrier.

With the foundation squared away, I then laid a foot of stone atop the original foundation walls.  The old house sat at grade, which was no doubt responsible for most of the log rot around the lower courses.  I used 4” bed platville stone from a quarry outside Spring Grove, MN.  It’s pretty nice stuff.  I was able to keep the old floor system in place.  Someone had replaced the old rotten floor beams in the 1980s with pressure treated 2”x8”s.  Looking back, I should have gotten rid of the whole thing- it was simply too weak.  So to strengthen it, I laid a log underneath midspan (atop the rock-filled cellar) and blocked up to the bottoms of the joists for support.  Notice the vents in the stonework.  These are essential in a basement-less building to keep humidity low.

I replaced over 3/4 of the logs.  Most of the long pieces came from an Amish sawmill.  The replacements closer to the ground are white and red oak, but the pieces throughout the second floor are white pine.  Oak is hard to come by this year.  The price has increased significantly; apparently it’s all being shipped to China.  The other replacements are from a building I took down back in 2007.  That building was pretty crappy and had a ton of door and window openings, so I decided to piece it out for this project.  Every log is held in place with bur oak pegs.  I make the pegs out of old oak 2”x4”s, which seems to work pretty well.  They’re dry as can be and won’t shrink.  The pegs are 1.5” in diameter and I bore the holes using a big-ass auger bit connected to a 36v cordless Dewalt drill.  And somehow I managed to not break my wrists.    

The 2nd floor beams were also deflected and needed to be replaced.  They turned out pretty great!  The second floor is now a loft that covers half of the footprint.  The original beams were 5”x6” and were totally inadequate given the span (and the resulting deflection).  I kept two of the beams the original size, and upped the middle beam to 5.5”x7.5” and tapered the joist over the end two feet so they’d fit into the original 5”x5” mortise pockets.  And the joist ends are dovetailed to keep the walls from splaying.  The Amish mill was able to make me some near flawless eastern white pine pieces.

I framed the roof with white oak 2”x6”s and the roof boards are a combination of oak and pine.  The roof is covered with metal.  It’s cheap and gets the job done.  The soffits are boxed in with 1”x6” boards.  The interlacing joints at the corners are pretty great.  The downspouts are half-round galvanized steel.  And the gables are sided with salvaged clapboard siding.

Most of the window sashes are original with their wavy glass.  I took the old sashes to a local contractor who stripped the paint and reglazed them.  Next, they went to an Amish guy (Crist, who’s made the doors and windows for all my other projects) who made new oak frames and screens. They’re beautiful.  And the front door with the two side windows turned out pretty fantastic.

Log house for sale!

Here ya go!  This dandy of a house must be removed within two weeks or else it’s firewood.  An Amish family owns it and wants to build a new house on the same piece of ground.  The house measures 16′x25′, the logs are all oak, and the corners are notched with a shallow full dovetail.  It sits near Highland, MN about forty miles north of Decorah.  Contact me if you’re interested.


A three room Akershus plan

A three room Akershus plan


Oak logs and full dovetail corner notching

Oak logs and full dovetail corner notching

Akershus, Fillmore County, MN

Here’s a very large three room akershus house I located just last night in Fillmore County, MN.  This building is totally incredible, and it isn’t too often I find something as big or substantial as this.  It measures 18′x28′ and is a story and three-quarters high.

The interior has been remodeled extensively, making it quite difficult to tell exactly what’s going on.  It’s fair to say that there once was an interior log wall that separated the large (stue) room from the two smaller (bedroom and pantry) rooms.  There’s a masonry wall in the cellar to carry the wight of this log wall and the bottom-most log located below the elevation of the first floor is still intact.  But the wall on both the first and second floors has been removed.  The staircase has been moved to a corner, and the two small rooms have been combined into one.

Unlike the large Overland house I’ve been piecing back together for the last number of years with its roof of heavy purlins and logs that extend to the gable peaks, the logs in this place extend just to the start of the gables.  The gable framing and roof rafters are peeled trees hewn flat on one side to accept roof boards.  It’s quite something!  I rarely find rafters made of hewn trees.

This house is quite special and should be saved in its place or disassembled and stored for future use.  It was occupied till just this past January, at which point its owners bought a farm across the road.  The local Amish could be hired for a cost of about $6,000 to disassemble the whole building.  Dumpster disposal fees would add an extra cost, as would asbestos testing and potential mitigation.  It’s a sweet little place, and definitely a house worthy of preservation.

Coon Valley Akershus

Here is a fantastic example of the three room Akershus plan.  This house sits just outside Coon Valley, Wisconsin.  It measures 16′x32′ and is a full two stories in height.  It was built by Ole Knutson Rundahl of Telemark, Norway in 1855.  The house remains incredibly unaltered and is in good repair.  The outbuildings include a tobacco barn and a stone milk house/tobacco bailing shed.  Southwest Wisconsin was once a primary chewing tobacco growing area, believe it or not, and the region still maintains an impressive number of tobacco drying sheds.

The people of southwest Wisconsin are incredibly gracious and kind.  The owner of this house, a man in his 70s or 80s and a many-generation descendent of tobacco farmers, let me poke around inside and out of the house and the outbuildings, and told me all about the intricacies of tobacco growing, harvesting and storing.  It was a really cool learning experience.

German House, Houston County, MN

I drove past this house last fall and decided it wasn’t log.  It’s too tall, the proportioning isn’t right, and the configuration of the door and windows is strange.  It isn’t Norwegian, that’s for sure.  And the failed gutter on the front gives the illusion the whole house is sinking into itself like framed houses so often do.  Last week I was taking the back roads up to La Crosse, WI for school and happened past the place again.  I hiked up to it and sure enough, it’s a very big two-story log house.

It measures 18′x26′.  The proportioning is a bit odd, as it’s too narrow and rectangular given its overall massing.  And given the fact the windows are inset so far in from the opposing gable ends, it’s unique to say the least.  The logs are all oak and the corners are inverted V, a characteristic of the German-American tradition.  In my humble opinion, the V kind of sucks (no offense):  It’s really difficult to minimize the log spacing if you’re working with large timbers and aren’t willing or don’t have the knowledge to reduce the notch smaller than the overall tree diameter.  The result is huge spacing between log courses.  Notice the 1′ or so gap between the first and second floors?  Yikes.

There are very few full two-story log houses that survive unoccupied in my area, so finding something like this is pretty special.  In fact, it made my whole week.  The 1878 and 1896 Houston County plats both show the house as owned by Charles Martin.  In general, the township appears to be German settled.  And surely the house is not much older than 1878 given its size and exterior ornament.