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

 

Howes House

The Howes house was built by an English family sometime in the 1870s or 1880s using logs salvaged from existing buildings.  The area in which the house sat, French Creek Township, Allamakee County, was settled beginning in the late 1840s.  Twenty or thirty years later existing structures were already being taken down and repurposed into new houses .  What I do isn’t particularly new or unique.

I disassembled the house in 2008 and it was rebuilt as an addition onto an existing house.  See portfolio page for the end results.  I really, really appreciated this sweet little house and was sad to take it apart.  The family who owned it had had it since the 1960s and did not know the core of it was log.  I found it and immediately called the owner and asked whether I could have the thing.  “What log house?” they asked.

The logs both inside and outside were covered from the day it was built.  The corner notching was an impeccable full dovetail, but the spacing between the logs was ridiculously large.  Keep in mind they simply meant the logs to serve as framing much like 2″x4″s do in a conventional house.  The species is all oak.  In disassembling it and putting it back together I conjectured there were at least logs from two, possibly three houses.  The timbers had existing V-notches, dovetail notches, notching for doors and windows, and odd weathering patterns where they shouldn’t have been.

Enjoy!

House as it appeared 2008.  It was abandoned sometime during the 1960s.

House as it appeared 2008. It was abandoned sometime during the 1960s.

A symmetrical facade!  Very tidy and uniform.  Notice the four light windows and pediment hoods.

A symmetrical facade! Very tidy and uniform. Notice the four light windows and pediment hoods.

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West and south facades

West and south facades

Bay window

Bay window

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Very pronounced full dovetail corner notching unlike anything I've seen before.  The full dovetail is usually executed pretty shallow on both the top and bottom, unlike the steeply cut undersides shown here.

Very pronounced full dovetail corner notching unlike anything I’ve seen before. The full dovetail is usually executed pretty shallow on both the top and bottom, unlike the steeply cut undersides shown here.

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The farmstead sits in stunning French Creek Township in Allamakee County, Iowa

The farmstead sits in stunning French Creek Township in Allamakee County, Iowa