Monthly Archives: June 2011

Glenwood House, Winneshiek County

Here’s a beautiful log house that’ll be demolished this year or next.  Its owners are open to someone taking it down, and if not, they’ll likely topple it and extract the logs for use elsewhere.  Want to salvage one of these things?  It sits in eastern Winneshiek County on top of an incredibly exposed knoll.  It was lived in until just two years ago.  I don’t blame them for abandoning it, though.  The house was neglected for half a century.  And damn, it must have been miserable to spend the winter in there!  So, it needs a new owner and a new location.

The house was undoubtedly Norwegian built (like I say they all were).  The log part is the right half, the part that has the front door with the window to its right.  Notice the ghost mark where the front porch once stood.  The framed addition to its left measures 15′ x 24′ and was likely built between 1870 and 1890.  How old is the original log core?  I’d guess 1850s-1860s.  It’s pretty incredible how intact the whole thing remains:  original bevelled lap siding, 2/2 sash windows with pediment hoods, 6″ pine tongue and groove flooring, beadboard wall and ceiling covering throughout, etc, etc, etc.

The log part measures just 16′ x 18′ and is a story and a half in height.  From the few failed siding pieces I could peek behind the logs were oak and the corners were full dovetailed.  The logs run from eave to eave, meaning they stop where the roof gable begins.  The gable is framed in conventional 2″ x 4″ lumber, a roof system that I’d say accounts for 80% of log houses in NE Iowa.  The other 20% have logs that extend to the peaks of the gables.  Notice how the basement was at one time just a crawl space and later dug to full cellar depth.  The two feet or so of coursed Plattville stone above the red brick mark the original crawl space.  The crawl space was dug out from inside (underneath the floor…yuk!) and the brick walls constructed below the stone.  Digging out a crawl space into a cellar from underneath the original floor was quite common.  I know many examples of this.

Last fall I debated taking on this project for my workshop.  This house is the perfect candidate to move whole in two separate parts- the log part and the framed part.  They’d easily disconnect and reconnect on a new foundation.  Once on a new foundation you’d have to strip the siding from the log house part and replace the rotten sill logs.  At that point you could spray foam between the siding furring strips and reapply the siding.  The same approach would be taken with the framed addition.  Remove the siding, replace the rotten sills and splice-in repair any rotten wall studs that came in contact with the sills, spray foam between the studs, reside and repair as needed, repair/replace any window frames and sashes that are rotten, and presto!  You’d have an incredibly tight and efficient house.  Any takers?


South elevation. The original log part (right) measures 16' x 18' and was likely built 1850-1870. The framed addition (left) measures 15' x 24" and was built 1870-1890.











Telltale Norwegian construction: front entrance on the longitudinal side with window adjacent. Front dormer gable was likely a later alteration. Also notice ghost mark where porch once stood.












West and south elevations. Notice original four light windows capped with pediment hoods.











East elevation of original log core. The original windows were likely twelve lights and altered to four lights when the framed addition was added.














Cellar: Plattville stone on top two feet signifies original crawl space, whilst red brick below added when the crawl space was dug to full cellar depth.











Pressure tank and well components wrapped in heat tape and styrofoam: The reason the house hasn't been demolished yet is because the well components (for the jersey cows who reside out back) hasn't been moved outside to a different location. Once that happens the house will be demolished.












First floor of log core






















Attic with conventional framing. Logs run to eaves and the attic is framed with 2"x4"s.






















Highland House

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.


An amazing setting! A mature white oak with west and south house elevations. The front porch was added in the 1980s or 1990s when the house was reroofed.











South and east elevations










East elevation with exposed full dovetail corner notching under failed clapboard























East elevation










West and south elevations, note original four light window










Exposed logs inside attic of 1920s lean-to addition. Notice the dovetailed corner notching.











Interior, exposed logs, south elevation




















Door of vertical boards keyed together with dovetailed horizontal splines











2nd floor partition wall doorway






























2nd floor west, logs extend to gable peaks













Four light windows, maybe originals or else added sometime between 1870-90













Staircase from 2nd floor




















Iron bed and coat hanger