Author Archives: Paul Cutting

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.

Hey Everyone,  Here are some photos of my current project.  I started the Overland house back in 2011 and have been working on it ever since as time and money allow.  Without much else to do during this cold Iowa winter, I’ve spent the past few months plugging away on the inside.  Given the success I’ve had running my other house as an overnight rental, I hope to do the same with this one beginning in 2015.

 

The tiny house before the tiny house.

Here’s a really nice example of the Norwegian-American one room house.  The house was built around 1865 and lived in till about 1930.  It’s small- just 13.5′ x 17′.  The logs extend about six inches short of waist high.  It’s a pretty crude little building and sits way high up on the ridge.  The logs that carry the joists of the second floor were spliced and lap-joined.  They’re pretty important timbers, or at least ones you wouldn’t want to splice together given the fact the second floor rests on them entirely.  But it’s held up well.  The fact that the house sits way high up on the landscape probably explains the use of short, gnarly timbers.  Take note of the roof.  The roof originally had a ridgepole, which was removed at some point.  See the butts of the old ridgepole?  And also notice the dovetailing of the stair treads into their frames.  I’ve seen dovetailing like this done quite often in Norwegian-American houses.  And I also frequently see it in keys driven into vertical board doors.

Enjoy these photos and I’ll try to post more often.  pImage

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Glenwood House

Hey All!  Below are photos of a log house I inherited a few weeks back.  It has sat empty since 2008 and was going to be bulldozed and burned this winter.  I stepped in and its owner gladly agreed to let me take it down.  The original log core was built in the 1860s and measures just 15’6″ by 17’8″.  It’s of the prototypical Norwegian-American one room plan and was surely constructed by its occupants, and not a professional house building crew.  It’s a crude little house.

The interior first floor is absolutely beautiful!  The room is currently stripped to the point it looked originally.  With its wainscot chair rail, board ceiling, and 2/2 windows with hearty trim, it’s a fantastic space.

When the framed addition was added (about 1880) the abutting fourth wall of the log house was removed.  Reusing it will be difficult:  It could be attached to an existing house or rebuilt freestanding with much framing and stiffening.

Coon Valley, WI

 

There’s a lot to explore in southwest Wisconsin.  Last week I got in the car and drove over to Coon Valley and Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center.  If you’ve never been, Norskedalen is certainly worth the drive.  Norskedalen consists of about 400 beautiful acres of valley and forest.  And they have (tastefully) reconstructed several 19th century Norwegian-built log houses.

Coon Valley and much of Vernon County were largely Norwegian settled.  And with marginal land of forested valley floors and open ridge tops, much of that early settlement history has been preserved.  Below are some highlights from the trip.  I located five log houses and expect there to be a ton more to discover.

Episcopal Church, Brownsville, MN

I love carpenter gothic Episcopal churches.  Check out this link for more information about Richard Upjohn and his influence on 19th century religious architecture.

This particular church was built in 1869 and sits in Brownsville, MN in Houston Co. along the Mississippi River.  And about the colors?  I don’t know.

German Built House, Houston County, MN

Hey All!

I’m back after a year-long hiatus.  Things have been very busy on my end and life’s brought about changes and new adventures.  I hope to be more active with the blog this coming fall.  As part of that renewed energy, I plan to venture into other pioneer-era categories:  barns, churches, non-Norwegian-American log houses and other types of houses, etc.  I still have a lot of log house related content, but post after post about nearly the same thing gets boring and old.

And WordPress is an awkward platform.  Their system doesn’t work well with photos, formatting is often screwy and photos take forever to upload, especially with my slow internet connection.  If anyone has suggestions or alternatives, I’d love to hear about them.

So, to get on with it, here’s today’s building.  I found this place just yesterday afternoon.  I was driving back from La Crosse, WI and decided to take the backroads.  Instead of the usual 1 hr 10 minute drive, it ended up taking me 3 hrs 20 minutes.  I found this sweet little house in Houston Co, MN, not far from the Iowa border.  The front part of the house is log and the back, later addition is framed.  The house is surely German built, as its floor plan and overall form is very different than from what I’m used to.  The main door to the house enters into a large room and immediately to its left is a smaller room.  The wall separating the two is nothing more than two opposing faces of vertical tongue and groove board..  It appears as though the smaller room served as a bedroom.  The staircase to the second floor is located in the back left corner of the building with its door exiting into the big room and the bulk of the staircase is inside the smaller room.  Underneath the staircase is a closet, whose wall is framed in a beautiful tongue and groove, oak look-alike faux finish.  The faux finish carries on throughout the first floor of the original log core on the lower chair rail wainscot and on the paneled and tongue and groove board doors.

The first floor is heated by a still-present stove located inside the big room but centered in the opening between the big and smaller rooms.  Its chimney enters the second floor directly above the unit, passes to the ceiling of the second floor, makes a 90 degree turn, and feeds into a masonry chimney that is mounted on a shelf above the log walls on the west gable of the building.  The masonry chimney exits the house through the gable peak.

All the logs I could see were oak and the corners full dovetailed.  The original daub between log courses is earthen:  nothing more than mud with a fibrous organic bonder material.  I’ve never encountered a non lime-based log daub in Minnesota or Iowa.  Perhaps its use speaks to tradition, but likely more so to frugality and practicality.

I didn’t find door or window hardware to suggest the house is older than about 1870.  The house was electrified at some point but never plumbed.  It appears to have been abandoned (just guessing) perhaps 40 years ago or so.  I ooo and awe about all of these, I know, but it’s not too often I find such a house as perfectly preserved as this one.  Original doors and windows, original wall coverings, original hardware, original siding, etc, etc, etc…this place is pretty special!

Looking west.  Trees are gigantic silver maples.

Looking west. Trees are gigantic silver maples.

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Inside large room, looking (right, through door) into framed addition and (left, behind stove) into smaller room, likely a bedroom.

Inside large room, looking (right, through door) into framed addition and (left, behind stove) into smaller room, likely a bedroom.

Notice oak simulated, faux finished chair rail wainscot and vertical board door.  Behind vertical board door is staircase to second floor.

Notice oak simulated, faux finished chair rail wainscot and vertical board door. Behind vertical board door is staircase to second floor.

The logs I could see were oak and the corners full dovetailed.  Notice the brown colored earthen daub between logs.  Simply mud with an organic bonder.  I've never encountered something like this in Iowa or Minnesota.

The logs I could see were oak and the corners full dovetailed. Notice the brown colored earthen daub between logs. Simply mud with an organic bonder. I’ve never encountered something like this in Iowa or Minnesota.

Corner notch:  a hybrid full dovetail with an inverted v-notch for fun.  Perhaps a mistake?

Corner notch: a hybrid full dovetail with an inverted v-notch for fun. Perhaps a mistake?

Porch off of framed addition.

Porch off of framed addition.

2/2 hung sashes suggest a build date of perhaps 1870-1890.

2/2 hung sashes suggest a build date of perhaps 1870-1890.

Front door

Front door

Front facade of original log building

Front facade of original log building

Church pew?

Church pew?

Three legged Aeromotor windmill.  It's a biggie!  I know an Amish guy who has the exact same model.  He told me his stands 80'.

Three legged Aeromotor windmill. It’s a biggie! I know an Amish guy who has the exact same model. He told me his stands 80′.

Another view of earthen daub between log courses.  And no, I did not pry off the siding.  I don't do that type of thing!

Another view of earthen daub between log courses. And no, I did not pry off the siding. I don’t do that type of thing!

Crawl space vent, located on framed addition.  Original log core contains a full depth cellar and later framed addition just a crawl space.

Crawl space vent, located on framed addition. Original log core contains a full depth cellar and later framed addition just a crawl space.

Inside first floor of framed addition looking away from the log building.  Colors are pretty sweet, eh?

Inside first floor of framed addition looking away from the log building. Colors are pretty sweet, eh?

chalk board and calendar.  Why the hell didn't I look at the calendar?  That would have told me the exact move out date!

chalk board and calendar. Why the hell didn’t I look at the calendar? That would have told me the exact move out date!

Sweet wide guage tongue and grove bead board.

Sweet wide guage tongue and grove bead board.

Eastlake-era hinge, approx 1880

Eastlake-era hinge, approx 1880

Inside log core, looking to primary facade (right wall) and east gable (left wall)

Inside log core, looking to primary facade (right wall) and east gable (left wall)

Faux finished board door with staircase behind.

Faux finished board door with staircase behind.

Looking into bedroom

Looking into bedroom

Closet under staircase inside bedroom.  Notice the alternating faux finished boards?

Closet under staircase inside bedroom. Notice the alternating faux finished boards?

Eastlake era door latch, faux finish boards

Eastlake era door latch, faux finish boards

Inside bedroom, looking to primary facade

Inside bedroom, looking to primary facade

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Chimney mounted on shelf.  Notice where logs end and dimensional lumber gable framing starts, left of window

Chimney mounted on shelf. Notice where logs end and dimensional lumber gable framing starts, left of window

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Inside small room, second floor.  Notice where logs end on the left side.

Inside small room, second floor. Notice where logs end on the left side.

Staircase railing

Staircase railing

Inside framed addition, second floor

Inside framed addition, second floor

Inside framed addition, second floor

Inside framed addition, second floor

Top of staircase looking down

Top of staircase looking down

faux finish

faux finish

west and south elevations

west and south elevations

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Luvsteun House

I located this place back in 2007.  The house sat on a 220 acre farm enrolled in CRP, a government sponsored set-aside program that pays farmers not to plow marginal and environmentally sensitive lands and instead plant them with native prairie grasses.  With the contract up in 2008, the owner decided to not renew and bulldozed the farmstead and plowed up the native prairie for corn.  The before and after photos were taken from the same perspective.

Farmstead as it appeared in 2007.

Farmstead as it appeared in 2007.

yikes!  the owner had pushed trees up against the front of the house for years.

yikes! 

Two light windows with pediment hoods above.  Very nice detail.

Two light windows with pediment hoods above. Very nice detail.

segmental arch window hood!!!

segmental arch window hood!!!

metal chimney

metal chimney

Rear framed addition

Rear framed addition

Glenwood Lutheran Church, built of limestone in 1871.  Photo taken from second floor dormer window.

Glenwood Lutheran Church, built of limestone in 1871. Photo taken from second floor dormer window.

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shoes!

shoes!

Second floor domer detail

Second floor domer detail

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Luvsteun family stone.  This original family stone was replaced in about 1910 and brought back to the farmstead and stuck in a shed.

Luvsteun family stone. This original family stone was replaced in about 1910 and brought back to the farmstead and put in a shed.

granary

granary

Farmstead as it appeared in 2008.

Farmstead as it appeared in 2008.

Impeccable dovetail notching

Impeccable dovetail notching