Monthly Archives: November 2014

Three Room House, Fillmore County, MN

This amazing house sits east of Lanesboro, MN. The house started off as just one room sometime in the mid 1800s.  In 1897 it was disassembled and rebuilt in its present location.  At that point its owners added a three-walled log addition of two rooms separated by an interior log wall.  Notice the butt ends of the interior log wall in the gable end.  When the house was rebuilt the staircase was removed from the large room and placed into the smaller room of the three walled addition.  The room adjacent the staircase served as a bedroom.  Unfortunately the outside log wall and corner notching of the room containing the staircase were removed when the one story shed roof addition was tacked onto that corner.  The intriguing part of this house is its clear delineation in building phases:  It began as a single room building and evolved into the prototypical Norwegian-American three room plan, and finally as a modern house with a large framed addition. 

The logs of the original one room house extend to the gable peaks on both gable ends but there are no purlins or ridgepole.  All the logs are oak. The logs of the addition are (I believe) red elm and are pretty amazing!  The largest one measures about 22″ in diameter.

I have no idea why the logs of the addition extend to only the height of the first floor.  Notice the framing above, including the huge 2” thick slabbed lumber used as sheathing. 

The original entrance to the house sat on the long side of the building facing the big framed addition. The current entrance (metal door w/ glass) was originally a window.  

The chimney is mounted on a stand centered in the middle of the wall separating the main room from the two smaller rooms. There is a cellar under the large room but not the two smaller rooms.

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Fillmore County, MN

Here’s a really nice three room Norwegian-American three room house I located this past summer outside Highland, in Fillmore County, MN.  Excuse the crummy photos.  They were taken at sunset and I haven’t yet been back to get more.  It measures about 16′ x 26′ and is unusually tall and gives more the appearance of a framed house than a log house.  Notice the porch brackets, the spun posts as well as the railing posts on the second level of the porch (attached to the building).  The individual porch balusters were all laying on the porch floor.  The windows are all four light and have simple hoods above.  It was clearly abandoned long ago but has been maintained to some degree over the years.

All this detail coupled with an unusually tall massing suggests a construction (or perhaps extensive remodel) date of 1870 to 1885.  It’s likely a “transitional” house:  One in which the walls of the building are log but the interior and exterior meant to be concealed from day one.  A modern house by all accounts, yet one whose skeleton happens to be log.  It’s a beautiful house and I especially like how tall it is, yet at the same time I find it too stylized.  Your thoughts?

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2014 Project

It feels good to be done for the season!  I began last March by disassembling the building and finished yesterday afternoon by wrapping the exterior in plastic.  I went into the project unsure of how everything would go— after all I have never “restored” a building as rotten as this one— but looking back everything went pretty smoothly.  The building was a complete wreck when I started.  It sits in a low area where the water has a difficult time draining out and away.  Each spring the cellar fills with about five feet of water.  And over 3/4 of the logs were rotten.

For better or worse, I made the decision to keep the original foundation.  To fix the drainage problem I hired an excavator to dig out the original walk-down storm door and trenched from that point 150’ down the slope to an area of lower elevation.  And this was after I spent about 120 hours tuck pointing the cellar walls.  We then lined the base of the trench with drain tile and filled it with rock.  We also filled the cellar with rock to grade.  The top of the rock is lined with a plastic vapor barrier.

With the foundation squared away, I then laid a foot of stone atop the original foundation walls.  The old house sat at grade, which was no doubt responsible for most of the log rot around the lower courses.  I used 4” bed platville stone from a quarry outside Spring Grove, MN.  It’s pretty nice stuff.  I was able to keep the old floor system in place.  Someone had replaced the old rotten floor beams in the 1980s with pressure treated 2”x8”s.  Looking back, I should have gotten rid of the whole thing- it was simply too weak.  So to strengthen it, I laid a log underneath midspan (atop the rock-filled cellar) and blocked up to the bottoms of the joists for support.  Notice the vents in the stonework.  These are essential in a basement-less building to keep humidity low.

I replaced over 3/4 of the logs.  Most of the long pieces came from an Amish sawmill.  The replacements closer to the ground are white and red oak, but the pieces throughout the second floor are white pine.  Oak is hard to come by this year.  The price has increased significantly; apparently it’s all being shipped to China.  The other replacements are from a building I took down back in 2007.  That building was pretty crappy and had a ton of door and window openings, so I decided to piece it out for this project.  Every log is held in place with bur oak pegs.  I make the pegs out of old oak 2”x4”s, which seems to work pretty well.  They’re dry as can be and won’t shrink.  The pegs are 1.5” in diameter and I bore the holes using a big-ass auger bit connected to a 36v cordless Dewalt drill.  And somehow I managed to not break my wrists.    

The 2nd floor beams were also deflected and needed to be replaced.  They turned out pretty great!  The second floor is now a loft that covers half of the footprint.  The original beams were 5”x6” and were totally inadequate given the span (and the resulting deflection).  I kept two of the beams the original size, and upped the middle beam to 5.5”x7.5” and tapered the joist over the end two feet so they’d fit into the original 5”x5” mortise pockets.  And the joist ends are dovetailed to keep the walls from splaying.  The Amish mill was able to make me some near flawless eastern white pine pieces.

I framed the roof with white oak 2”x6”s and the roof boards are a combination of oak and pine.  The roof is covered with metal.  It’s cheap and gets the job done.  The soffits are boxed in with 1”x6” boards.  The interlacing joints at the corners are pretty great.  The downspouts are half-round galvanized steel.  And the gables are sided with salvaged clapboard siding.

Most of the window sashes are original with their wavy glass.  I took the old sashes to a local contractor who stripped the paint and reglazed them.  Next, they went to an Amish guy (Crist, who’s made the doors and windows for all my other projects) who made new oak frames and screens. They’re beautiful.  And the front door with the two side windows turned out pretty fantastic.