Monthly Archives: February 2012

Anders O Lomen-Gulbrand Olson Tuve House, Springfield Township, Winneshiek County, Iowa

This house sat six miles southeast of Decorah in section 3 of Springfield Township.  I disassembled it fall of 2007.  It was built between 1856 and 1869, either by Anders O. Lomen or Gulbrand Olsen and Torbjør Salvhus Tuve.  A friend who studies dendrochronology at Cornell University in Ithaca is currently dating the logs, so in a month or so we’ll know the exact year the house was built.  It sat on the transitional boundary between prairie and forest, the place where the hills get more pronounced and the prairie more interspersed with oak.  The oak trees harvested for this house came from exposed, windblown ridge tops, the places where oaks grow really gnarly and slow.  The growth rings are really tiny.  I wish I had a good photo to convey this.  You can count back over a hundred and fifty rings on most of the logs, meaning these trees started growing somewhere around 1700, or perhaps earlier.  To get really straight, knotless trees, builders usually went to the valley floor for logs, to the hospitable climates where oak grows tall and straight, not to the ridge tops where trees grow slow and their rings tight.

The landscape that surrounds the house today is really bleak- row crops as far as the eye can see with very few trees.  It’s surely very different from the time when Anders or Gulbrand fell their trees.  The original core of the house measures 16’x24′ and highly conforms to traditional Norwegian building tradition.  The main room of the house, the stue, was of log construction, and the smaller room, the forstue, was built in heavy framing.  The top log courses extend out past the log stue through the forstue and are capped by hewn upright posts.  The house remained occupied until 1954 when a new ranch house was constructed a stone’s throw away, and since that time it was used as a hog house and storage shed.

I found the building in 2007 and took it apart December of that year.  Of the many houses I’ve disassembled, stored, and relocated, every one was threatened in some way or another.  Impending demolition to make way for a new house, a severely failing roof, or maybe the whole farmstead to be burned for increased crop ground.  But this house wasn’t really threatened; it had a good roof and sat full of useful farm stuff.  So, for better or worse, it sits in storage awaiting new life.

Lomen-Gulbrand Tuve House, circa 1900, log house is two story section, foreground lean-to a later addition

Gulbrand and Torbjør Tuve in front of house, circa 1880

2007, taken from similar perspective as first photo. What a hundred years does!

The 1880s photo of Gulbrand and Torbjør was taken in front of the half boarded up door

Interior shot of the second floor. Yes, that's a toboggan. The interior walls were covered in a wide gauge tongue and grove bead board.

The weight of engine blocks, lumber, scrap metal, and just about everything else you could think of caused much of the second floor to collapse into the first.

hackberry tree

farmstead from afar, house located to the right of white barn.


The house did not have a cellar and the rock walls the building sat on had completely failed. The bottom log course had literally melted into the ground.

Interior, first floor. Ceiling joists of drawknifed white pine with chamfered edges.

huge bur oak logs hidden under sawn oak siding!!!


interior log walls, likely covered from the day it was built


greek revival ornament- 15" wide frieze


full dovetail corner notching at location where log stue meets the heavy timbered forstue. 2"x4" studs were placed vertically between top plate and bottom sill and infilled with nogging of culled brick.


vertical post of forstue with studs and brick nogging


siding removed, log stue right 2/3 and forstue left 1/3


framing of forstue: plate logs of log stue cantilever out and are capped by vertical posts and tied together with horizontal timber































the house was originally not sided. to avoid ripping out the original windows that were isntalled flush against the exterior log walls, they simply scooped out the outside faces of the logs to allow for furring strips.





Busness House, Springfield Township, Winneshiek County, Iowa

Built in 1851 by Norwegian immigrant Thorgrim Busness, this was the third house I reconstructed.  Beginning December 24, 1853, the house was used as a place of worship by Vilhelm Koren, the first Norwegian Lutheran minister to settle west of the Mississippi River.  Local Norwegian immigrants met for religious services in the house in the years following, and it is regarded as the founding place of Washington Prairie Lutheran Church, Decorah, Iowa.  The house and its historic components were catalogued, disassembled, transported, and reconstructed for a folk school in 2009.

The house was built in strong Norwegian-American tradition:  the front door on the long end with abutting side window, hewn logs with extremely tight-fitting, full dovetail corner notching, and a plan consisting of two rooms.  Originally constructed with logs exposed on the exterior, the house was sided and ornamented in then-fashionable Greek revival-inspired embellishment in the mid 1860s or early 1870s.  After falling empty in 1916 when its owners upgraded to a modern four-square, the house was later used as a granary and chicken coop before falling into disrepair.  All historic components- gable returns, frieze boards, soffit pieces, roof rafters, roof boards, wide plank flooring and siding pieces- were accurately catalogued and stored for reconstruction.  What was not able to be reused outright- like the rotten gable returns- were used as templates and recreated to accurately approximate the originals.  The house will be used as educational classroom space for the non-profit folk school.

Thorgrim Busness house as it appeared summer 2008...the log prairie version of the Greek revival! The house was remarkably original without remodeling, plumbing, electricity or updates of any kind.

Front door with side window are dead giveaway Norwegian-American building tradition. The hand-made four paneled door is original to 1851. For reconstruction, we contracted with a local sash maker to replicate the door exactly, down to the location of the oak pegs that hold the panels together.


15" wide frieze


Gable with clapboard removed. Below it are the original 1851 slabbed oak clapboard gables.


Siding removed, showing how house looked originally. The six light sashes were found inside and used as templates during reconstruction.


Interior cupboard with draw knifed white pine ceiling beams above. Cupboard dates to about 1905.


I laid three courses of Platville limestone directly atop the extra wide 10" poured walls. The floor system is carried by stud walls that extend to the basement floors. The floor system is damn strong! 2"x12" douglas fir joists 12" on center over a 15' span.

Floor boards between first and second floors: hand planed eastern white pine boards 1 1/4" thick, most measuring greater than 15" wide. The largest was 21" wide by 12' long.

original oak rafters and oak roof boards reinstalled exactly as they were!

New bur oak plate log and new bur oak floor beams.


Notice the front door with side window...exactly as the original. I hang the windows and doors about 3" off the log walls to allow for furring strips and siding.


gable returns match their originals

clapboard was salvaged from many houses. I was able to side about 2/3 of this gable elevation with all the siding that came off this particular building.


finished exterior that looks damn close to how it did originally, except it's a bit straighter!





Southeast Minnesota

I haven’t really explored southeast Minnesota.  Maybe five times at most, plus Kendra and I took down that house near Choice last spring.  From what I can tell there’s a lot up there, way more than what survives around here.  Our northerly neighbors have definitely done a better job of keeping stuff around.  Maybe it’s the rough topography, or the fact the state won’t let you burn buildings to get rid of them.  You actually have to have them crunched and hauled to the landfill.  Either way, it’s a place I’d really like to explore.  Here are photos from a day trip last fall.

one room log house left half, right half frame


stone house with walls at least two feet thick...yuk!

log chicken coop

Three Room House

Another wonderfully intact three room Norwegian-built house…

a traditional three room house, main room comprising left 2/3 of house is log, whilst the two smaller rooms of the east 1/3 are framed construction


west elevation, summer kitchen in rear

farmstead from afar, granary below silo, various other outbuildings have collapsed


primary entrance with side window

inside main room looking toward the two smaller rooms, staircase far left


kitchen in back lean-to with easy access to summer kitchen!


logs on second floor; two top courses white pine, third course oak


1870s-1880s hinge


second floor, inside main room looking east into framed 1/3


cellar is dry, dry, dry, sill logs show zero rot...amazing!

cellar stairs directly below staircase above, notice full stone treads


mid 19th century latch on board and spline door


cellar, floor system without rot




Houston, MN

A hipped roof log house?  Yup.  Nathan and I found this gem south of Houston, MN.  This place is really intact!  Other than a new asphalt roof installed a few years back, the place hasn’t really changed since about 1890.  The front half of the hipped roof block is log.  The log core was originally a one and 1/3 story three room house, likely Norwegian built.  It measures 16’5″ x 27′.  Sometime between 1870 and 1895 the roof was taken off, a second floor added, and the back half of the house constructed, and all tied together with a hipped roof.

hipped block measures 27' x 33', first floor of front half is log

side elevation, left half frame, right half log

rear elevation

front elevation

back entrance with three light transom

stone steps!

full dovetail corner notching

front door with side window