It isn’t too often that I stumble on a house like this. This extremely intact beauty is located in Highland Township in far northeastern Winneshiek County and was abandoned some seventy-five years ago. Highland Township was once brimming with Norwegian-built log houses, barns and granaries, but unfortunately so few remain today. That said, Highland still retains some pretty amazing trademarks. Highlandville, with its old schoolhouse, general store, campground, and Bear creeks attract untold numbers of outdoor enthusiasts. Just east of town down Quandahl Road is an amazing log and timber framed barn, and further down sits the ruin of the town of Quandahl.
This house was built entirely with oak timbers, measures 16′ x 20′, is one and one half stories in height, and has logs that extend to the peaks of the gables. The corners are joined with full dovetail notching and the spacing between log courses is minimal. The house is transitional between the two room stue and forstue plan and the larger three room akershus plan, but pigeonholing something like this into a rigid classification does little to describe the house. The main entrance is centered on the longitudinal south elevation. Being a Norwegian-built house we’d expect a window placed next to the door, but who knows, maybe the lowly builder forgot. The door enters into the nearly square main room, or stue, and a small rectangular room exists to its left and forms the western 1/3 of the building. In long ago Norway this small rectangular room would have been divided into two, with the southern room (the southern half of the rectangular room) unheated and served as the primary entrance to the building (with the exterior door along the west gable facade). The other northern sub-room would have served as a living quarters or pantry. See Overland House for what I’m talking about. In the case of this house, the rectangular room likely served a multi-purpose function as both pantry and sleeping quarters. The staircase to the second floor is located in the far northwest corner of the building, just north of the (shorter) northern wall of the rectangular room. The lean-to off the north facade was constructed sometime after 1920.
So much of the original house remains! The building is sided with wood clapboard fastened with square cut nails. The windows are four light sashes and were installed sometime between 1870 and 1890. If they aren’t original (which they probably aren’t) they likely replaced earlier twelve light hung sashes. Inside, the walls were never plastered over, and instead were whitewashed with a lime-water pancake batter-consistency mixture. Many of the original interior doors remain, including one spectacular example made of vertical boards keyed together with dovetailed horizontal splines. I’ve seen just a handful of these doors over the years, and they’re always marked with superior craftsmanship. Much of the original mid-19th century mass-produced hardware remains, too. Notice the amazing door latches? The upstairs is divided into two rooms by a partition wall that runs north-south. Both the wall and the ceilings are sheathed in tongue and groove pine boards painted a beautiful sky blue.
The house’s location well off the road has likely spared it from vandals and the match. It sits amongst a grove of mature walnuts and white oaks, and is buffered on its west by a craggy clump of red cedars. To its south sits a few-acre pond with dense forest beyond.