Monthly Archives: October 2012

houses with purlins and ridgepoles, cont.

as i mentioned in the previous post, houses with purlins and ridgepoles are quite rare.  of the six houses i’ve located with this type of roof, four were one room plan, while the other two the larger three room plan.  below are photos of the five buildings.  for most examples i’ve included two photos- one of the exterior and one taken from inside the attic.

located in houston co, minnesota, just west of the town of spring grove. house has six purlins and a ridgepole.

inside, looking southwest. house has six purlins- three on each side, and a ridgepole

located south of decorah in springfield twp. house is three room plan, with the larger room log and the two smaller rooms framed. the house is built of eastern white pine with logs extending to the gable peaks with two purlins and a ridgepole.

inside springfield twp house, looking south. purlins run roughly rafter midspan. like the walls, purlins are eastern white pine.

a weird place: a bulldozer project till it was discovered the back half was log. the house is built almost entirely of eastern white pine. notice the butts of four purlins and a ridgepole.

svalgang stue: left lean-two an original entry porch or gallery- a very rare plan. log core is a full two stories in height with an attic above. the house originally had four purlins- two butted against each other on each side of the roof. in the way of getting into the attic, its occupants cut out two of them, leaving the other two in place.

inside svalgang stue. purlins were originally paired together but were later cut out. the staircase to the attic was directly below, limiting head height. notice hewn 3″x5″ oak rafters and hand planed floor boards

overland house: three room akershus plan. six purlins without a ridgepole, all oak. the walls are mostly oak with mixed in white pine and red elm.

inside overland house attic

house with a purlin and ridgepole

Here’s a very primitive house with a purlin and ridgepole roof.  This place sits just south of Decorah near the village of Nordness.  I located it a few years back and returned just recently to get some better photos and drawings.  A holdover tradition from Norway, this type of roof system is rarely found here in northeast Iowa.  I’ve located six buildings with such roofs, and estimate it occurs on less than 5% of (surviving) houses.  Bulky and able to support a lot of weight, this type of framing would have been used to support an earthen roof.  The settlers who constructed this house likely didn’t intend to put a green roof on it, though, but merely built their house with it because it was what they knew to do.  This type of roof would have been discontinued quickly, meaning it was likely built within the first few seasons of the first Norwegians’ arrival beginning in 1851.

The house measures exactly 14′ x 16′ and is a story and a half in height.  The primary entrance is on the long side of the building (east) and has an accompanying side window.  The staircase to the second floor is located in the northeast corner of the building, directly to the right of the primary entrance.  It has no cellar.

Unfortunately the roof was not maintained, which has resulted in one whole side of the building rotting away.  Which is too bad, considering its significance as a superb example of a primitive building tradition and an early example of Norwegian-American settlement.

west and south elevations

original 6/6 sashes with 1/2″ wide muntins

west elevation, notice the four floor joist pockets and joist butts. the joists measure 4″x6″, three are oak with one another species, and all are hand planed and chamfered

2nd floor, looking south. notice cool bed!

hand planed, chamfered joists measuring 4″x6″, three oak, one another species

first floor, looking northeast


i’ve been driving around houston county, minnesota, a lot.  it seems like i find an incredible number of abandoned buildings every time i’m up there.  this particular house is pretty special.  i think the photos do a reasonable job conveying just how lonely and exposed the site is.  it sits on the very top of a ridge overlooking miles and miles of steeply cut valleys below.  next to it are two, half-dead cottonwoods, each about eight feet in diameter.  i can imagine why they abandoned it.

and it’s not too often i find a house that’s almost entirely original.  if i had to guess, i bet it was abandoned between 1920 and 1940.  no plumbing, no electricity, and only wood heat.  most places i encounter have been extensively updated and modernized over time.  usually the only way i can tell a house has a log core buried inside it is by the depth of the window wells.  not this place.  the first floor was plastered throughout (see photo of plaster and stenciling) and the second story logs left exposed.  the woodwork is pretty simple, too:  planed and sanded 1″x6″ pine, simple block plinths, and block rosettes.

this house nicely conforms to the akershus prototype, too.  with two/three rooms– the larger room, or stue, with exterior entrance, and one or two smaller bedchamber and pantry rooms– the akershus was the prototype plan norwegian americans aspired to model their houses after.  the original entrance door with customary side window was located on the north elevation (the side onto which the addition was built).  notice the sole window on the north side right next to the addition?  the original entrance to the log house is located just to its right, inside the addition.  adjacent to the large room is the bed chamber, which encompasses roughly the west 1/3 of the original log building (roughly the area directly to the right of the left window on the south elevation, extending west (left) to the end of the building.  just north of the small bed chamber (directly to your right upon entering the original log building from the newer addition) is the staircase to the second floor.  this house does not have a cellar.

also of interest is the plank-like thickness of the log walls.  log walls are usually hewn 6″-8″ thick, but this building’s walls are a mere 4″ thick.  notice the photo with the notch and hand reference.  why were they hewn so thin?  i don’t know.  unlike sawing in which multiple pieces could have been extracted from a single log, hewing a log to 4″ would have resulted in a lot of waste.

a lonely existance: closest section is later framed addition, three room log house behind it

west and south elevations: three room akershus plan house with smaller bedchamber comprising the left 1/3 of the building with larger room to its right. the original entrance to the log house is located opposite on the side onto which the addition was added. the original entrance entered into the larger room.




































west and south elevations


















east and north elevations: original entrance into log building directly right of single window on north side

















2nd floor, looking west. notice staircase, right, and 2nd floor partition wall


















log house original entrance is right door.  notice simple block plinth and rosette interior trim


























4″ thick log walls; dovetail notch directly above palm

















single coat plaster walls, notice stenciling































one room house, houston co, mn

this is a fantastic little building.  originally the farmstead house, it was later converted into a summer kitchen, and eventually into the all-purpose junk shed.  the building measures something like 15’x17′ with the gable ends on the longer sides instead of the shorter.  unique.  the door facing the newer house is not original and was likely added when the new house was built.  excluding this single door, the house is totally original.  notice the steep staircase.  it sits directly to the right of the original entrance in the northwest corner of the building.  the corners are full dovetailed and the logs are oak.  it’s not too often i find something like this!

original farmstead house converted into a summer kitchen.  the door facing the newer house was added later.



















south and east elevations, south elevation door not original



















east and north elevations, north elevation is original entrance



















north and west elevations.  notice the depth of the door well!



















looking north, original entrance center and staircase left, bigbird on the floor