Blexrud Parstue, Outside Spring Grove, Minnesota

I have a habit of touting every new house I find as the best one yet.  But seriously, this one actually is.  I found it last weekend driving outside Spring Grove, Minnesota.  The house is impressive in many ways, if not entirely by its sheer size.  It measures 19.5′ x 36′ and has an interior square footage of 1,295.  It stands a full two stories in height and feels airy and substantial, both inside and out.

Most Norwegian-American buildings I’ve located are easily pigeon-holed into convenient building tradition classifications.  There’s the single room stue, the two and three room stuer, the stue with attached svalgang entry porch, the midtkammer or parstue, and many variations of each.  This particular house is the midtkammer or parstue plan.  This house type– both executed in frame construction and log– is quite rare here in North America, unlike its unexceptional occurrence in Norway.  Of the few hundred Norwegian-American log houses I’ve located throughout northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, only one other is a parstue.  See prior Guttebo House post.  Darrell Henning has located at least one in Wisconsin, and a frame construction example within the  town of Spring Grove.

Jerri Holan in Norwegian Wood: A Tradition of Building (a must have!) writes of the parstue (midtkammer) stue:  

“The midtkammer stue was also common in eastern valleys, especially in Østerdal, but it can be found in some central valleys as well.  The midtkammer stuer were an an eighteenth-century development in Norway’s farmsteads, featuring an entrance in the middle of the building with a pantry behind it and a stue room to either side.  One was the “best” stue, akin to a parlor, and the other was for working and eating.  Later in the eighteenth century this latter room became the kitchen.  Originally, the type was a one-story structure, but as larger stuer became customary, it easily developed into two stories.  The later midtkammer houses were quite popular in eastern Norway, and from there they spread north, providing a basis for the trønderlåner houses characteristic of Trøndelag.”

The parstue plan is very similar to the classic American I-house, but differs in a few distinct ways.  Like the I-house, the parstue consists of a central passageway sandwiched between two roughly square shaped rooms.  The walls that divide the two rooms from the passageway are both log.  In the case of the Guttebo House, one was log and the other conventional stud framing.  The dwelling’s primary entrance is centered on the 36′ long side and enters into the middle passageway.  Upon entry into the house is the staircase to the second floor.  Behind the staircase is a pantry/closet, which would have been used in conjunction (functionally) with the working (kitchen) stue.  The closet would have been accessed through the working stue and not through the central passageway.  In the case of the Blexrud house, the closet/pantry was converted into a bathroom and its doorway modified to sit directly next to the staircase within the central passageway.  Parstue houses are easily identified by the presence of two chimneys, both centered around the interior walls comprising the center passageway.

Its rare to find an occupied house so nearly intact, especially one as significant as this.  It retains much of its original 19th century flare both inside and out.  The exterior is sheathed in wooden clapboard siding and retains its original eave and gable trim.  The windows are largely intact, too, including original twelve light sashes, interior window trim, and exterior pediment (triangular shaped) window hoods.  Much of the interior remains intact, too, including the staircase and 6″ tongue and groove pine floors, and (I’m sure) countless other features guised under later modernizations.  It’s an old house.  And I’m sure it’s really difficult to live in, but oh my god, is it beautiful.

A large house measuring 19.5′ x 36′.  A parstue, the house has a central passageway sandwiched between two large rooms, one a kitchen and the other a more formal parlor-like space. The two interior walls that frame the center passageway are both log.

The dwelling sits on a working farm north of Spring Grove, Minnesota. There remains a garage, a granary, a storage shed, a machine shed, and the ruins of a barn.

Rear, north elevation. There once existed a window on the bottom right. Notice the chimney placements- one serving each stue.

east and north elevations

West elevation. The one story framed addition dates to about 1860-1880.

South elevation of one story framed addition. The addition is divided into three rooms: one large room abutting the original log house with an addition on its west side, and two small rooms on the south. The wall dividing the two small rooms is centered between the two windows, above.

Original entrance into center passage, right, entrance into one story framed addition, left.

Gable detail

Floor joist system; shot taken from area of cellar entrance. Log joist (the butt timber facing viewer) supported atop a log plate. The closest log (near the top of the photo) is the sill log of the log wall. The foundation walls were constructed thick enough to carry both the log sill (the bottom of the log wall) as well as a plate log supporting the floor joist system. Nearly all houses I encounter have this or a variation of this system.

Original twelve light sashes with characteristic mid-late 19th century window pediments (the triangular hood atop the window).

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