Below are photos of a recent visit to Hauge Lutheran Church, Dane County, Wisconsin. Built in 1852 by Norwegian immigrants, the church survives remarkably intact. Its setting is stunningly beautiful…a must see should you head to Madison!
Siding a log building requires time, patience, and a lot of string. Since log walls are highly irregular and won’t allow siding to be applied directly to them, a flat plane to apply siding needs to be created. The first step in this process is making sure door and window openings stick out past the farthest outward point on the log wall. This particular building’s walls are about 6″ thick, but the window frames are 9″ deep, meaning they hang out past the wall surface by about three inches. This allows the ability to shim backward from those door and window openings with vertical nailer strips. One needs to make sure the openings all fall on the same plane with one another. For example, if there are two windows and a door on one side of a building, they all need to hang off the wall same amount and line up with each other on a straight line. Make sense?
Once the windows and doors are installed, the corners need to be established. This is a bit confusing, so I’ll do my best to explain it. I string two lines across each side of the building, one near the bottom of the wall and one near the top. Using pieces of wood tacked to the opposing two walls on each side of the one you’re trying to calculate, fasten the string to the wood pieces at the point in which the string brushes against the window openings. Do the same on all four walls walls on both the top and the bottom.
With windows installed and corners established, install the corner boards. The corners on this building are 4 1/2″ wide and 1″ deep and of red cedar. Since the boards get butted together at 90 degrees, one board needs to be 4 1/2″ wide and the other 3 1/2″ wide. Nail them together on the ground and tack them onto the corner pieces created in the previous step. The corners need to be level with one another so the siding doesn’t go up crooked. For this, install one corner and string from it across the wall to the other to determine the height of the next corner.
The next step is installing the vertical nailer strips. I like to use old scrap material for this purpose, usually anything about an inch thick works. Old tongue and groove flooring, bead board or whatever… Using the string line you set up for the previous step for making sure each corner was level, tack on the vertical strips every 16″ or so. Use a 16d nail and tack each nailer strip at some point high up the wall. Leave the strips loose as they’ll be shimmed in the next step.
Next, using scrap material for shimming, tack on nailer strips behind the trim pieces of the windows, doors, and corner boards, making sure those strips are tight up against the back sides of the trim.
Now the not so fun part. Using string tacked to the nailer strips running from opening/corner to opening/corner, determine the flat plane surface across the entire wall and shim each nailer strip accordingly. Shim behind every other log all the way up the wall surface.
Whether to install a horizontal trim piece and water table at the bottom of the wall, or to start the siding right away, is up to you. Since this building originally had one, I opted to do it. This can be done in a variety of ways, but make sure the trim and water table can shed water properly. In this case, I cut the edges of the 1″x6″ trim at a 10 degree angle (creating a trapezoid shaped profile) and attached a similarly cut water table piece atop it. The water table sits at 10 degrees off flat, as does the bottom of the 1″x6″ trim piece below it, allowing water to run off the wall completely. Whether you decide to flash behind the water table is up to you. Since it’s sloped downward and out, I opted not to. Bad idea?
Now, the fun part. After a week of tedious work to get to this point, we’re ready for siding. I use salvaged clapboard siding installed with an exposure of 4 1/2″. You could buy new red cedar clapboard, but at like a dollar a running foot there’s no way in hell I could afford it. Make sure to wear a respirator or at minimum a N95 mask when scraping old paint from siding. I use a 3M full faced respirator with P100 filter.
Once installed, caulk the old nail holes, the areas where the siding meets the corner boards, and around the doors and windows. Prime with oil paint and finish with a high quality latex. Looks nice, eh?
Below are three abandoned houses in Winneshiek County. Two are log, one is framed, and all three are significant mid 19th century buildings anyone would be foolish to tear down. The first house is a huge Norwegian-built three room log house with attached entry sval. It was likely built sometime just before or just after the civil war. It’s the most materially intact and substantial 19th century Norwegian-built house I’ve ever located. Truly a gem! It was abandoned in 1922 and has sat empty since then, and today is used for storage (it sits on a working farm) and as a sheltered place to house an electric fencer for cows. The county classifies this building as a “20′ x 30′ agricultural shed” with an assessed value of $6,750. The yearly taxes on just this building (not talking land or anything else) is $380 a year! Holy shit, why wouldn’t you just get rid of it! Should a building like this be taxed at all, given it serves no value to its owner, other than perhaps a sentimental one? What about it being the most significant log building within the state, does that earn you any brownie points with the Winneshiek County Assessor? No. Totally stupid. Buildings such as this- old “sheds” as the county calls them- shouldn’t be taxed at all. Fortunately, its owner understands it has value and continues to pay annual taxes on it and has even gone to the extent of replacing its roof two years ago.
The second building was occupied until sometime during the late 1990s. Prior to its abandonment, the county assessed its value (minus credits and whatnot) at around $16,000 with annual taxes hovering in the $750-800 range. Instead of it falling off the tax roll when it went abandoned, the county now classifies this building as “salvage” with an assessed value of $2,500. A decade after this building went abandoned, its owner continues to pay somewhere between $220 and $250 a year in taxes! Exactly what is “salvage” anyway? The value of the building down, in other words, the value of its building components, I guess. Really? The county actually continues to tax something it admits has no value standing whole?
The third building is a very old abandoned farmhouse that sits north of Decorah in Pleasant Township. Its owner died about ten years ago and the property was transferred to their children who have since sold the farm. Despite having sat empty for nearly a decade, the county still assesses its value at $38,350, which amounts to a yearly payment of roughly $1,075! The county is very reluctant to take once-lived-in houses off the tax roll or reduce their assessment to “salvage” state for fear the assessor will return years later to find someone living there.
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.
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.
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.
Another wonderfully intact three room Norwegian-built house…
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.
Log House Locations: Green (67) signifies occupied dwellings, orange (51) abandoned, and red (18) for ones that have been demolished since 2007. Not shown are houses that have been moved and rebuilt in recent memory, or houses that were demolished since 2007 and have since been rebuilt. If it doesn’t have an intact roof, it’s not shown. There are a tremendous amount of “ruins” scattered across the county. Shown are roughly 140 resources. I’ve covered Winneshiek County pretty thoroughly, but many more undiscovered resources exist within the surrounding counties.
Houses at risk: Green (72) indicates occupied houses, and for the sake of of this representation, I’ve classified all of these as not at risk. That said, with each passing building season a number of these are demolished for new, more modern structures. Orange (22) indicates threatened status and red (19) indicates highly threatened status, say catastrophic roof leak or impending demolition. Sorry Tom Ridge, this wasn’t your idea.
Yellow (61) signifies one room plan houses, red (65) signifies two or more room plan houses. The distinctions between two, three, and more longitudinal-type houses are blurred, especially when I can’t get inside to poke around.
Notch type: red (44) signifies full dovetail notching, yellow (8) v-notching, and green (4) square notching. The three v-notched houses (yellow pins) in western Winneshiek county were Norwegian built, and the five in eastern Allamakee were likely that of a different ethnic origin.
Here are photos of the Overland House rebuild (see prior posts of the disassembly). I began with stonework in mid July, and am finally at the point of wrapping up for the winter months. I replaced the bottom course of logs, and other than a bit of warping and twisting, the building went up as planned. Believe it or not, we raised every last log by hand. Thank god for friends.