I have a habit of touting every new house I find as the best one yet. But seriously, this one actually is. I found it last weekend driving outside Spring Grove, Minnesota. The house is impressive in many ways, if not entirely by its sheer size. It measures 19.5′ x 36′ and has an interior square footage of 1,295. It stands a full two stories in height and feels airy and substantial, both inside and out.
Most Norwegian-American buildings I’ve located are easily pigeon-holed into convenient building tradition classifications. There’s the single room stue, the two and three room stuer, the stue with attached svalgang entry porch, the midtkammer or parstue, and many variations of each. This particular house is the midtkammer or parstue plan. This house type– both executed in frame construction and log– is quite rare here in North America, unlike its unexceptional occurrence in Norway. Of the few hundred Norwegian-American log houses I’ve located throughout northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, only one other is a parstue. See prior Guttebo House post. Darrell Henning has located at least one in Wisconsin, and a frame construction example within the town of Spring Grove.
Jerri Holan in Norwegian Wood: A Tradition of Building (a must have!) writes of the parstue (midtkammer) stue:
“The midtkammer stue was also common in eastern valleys, especially in Østerdal, but it can be found in some central valleys as well. The midtkammer stuer were an an eighteenth-century development in Norway’s farmsteads, featuring an entrance in the middle of the building with a pantry behind it and a stue room to either side. One was the “best” stue, akin to a parlor, and the other was for working and eating. Later in the eighteenth century this latter room became the kitchen. Originally, the type was a one-story structure, but as larger stuer became customary, it easily developed into two stories. The later midtkammer houses were quite popular in eastern Norway, and from there they spread north, providing a basis for the trønderlåner houses characteristic of Trøndelag.”
The parstue plan is very similar to the classic American I-house, but differs in a few distinct ways. Like the I-house, the parstue consists of a central passageway sandwiched between two roughly square shaped rooms. The walls that divide the two rooms from the passageway are both log. In the case of the Guttebo House, one was log and the other conventional stud framing. The dwelling’s primary entrance is centered on the 36′ long side and enters into the middle passageway. Upon entry into the house is the staircase to the second floor. Behind the staircase is a pantry/closet, which would have been used in conjunction (functionally) with the working (kitchen) stue. The closet would have been accessed through the working stue and not through the central passageway. In the case of the Blexrud house, the closet/pantry was converted into a bathroom and its doorway modified to sit directly next to the staircase within the central passageway. Parstue houses are easily identified by the presence of two chimneys, both centered around the interior walls comprising the center passageway.
Its rare to find an occupied house so nearly intact, especially one as significant as this. It retains much of its original 19th century flare both inside and out. The exterior is sheathed in wooden clapboard siding and retains its original eave and gable trim. The windows are largely intact, too, including original twelve light sashes, interior window trim, and exterior pediment (triangular shaped) window hoods. Much of the interior remains intact, too, including the staircase and 6″ tongue and groove pine floors, and (I’m sure) countless other features guised under later modernizations. It’s an old house. And I’m sure it’s really difficult to live in, but oh my god, is it beautiful.