Category Archives: Uncategorized

Barn

Below are photos of a barn I just finished rehabilitating.  Located in western Allamakee County, this small 12’x18′ building was built by Norwegian immigrants sometime in the latter decades of the 19th century.  Very similar to the Norwegian-inspired two and three room plans, this building consists of a main room, or stue, and an attached forstue.  The stue is log and the forstue heavy frame.  The upper level was a hay mow, and the bottom an animal shelter, likely for cattle and pigs, and later on for chickens and rabbits.

The building was a complete wreck when I found it, having been neglected for decades.  It had sunk a good foot into the ground, rotting out the bottom three to four courses.  I ended up replacing sixteen logs.  The roof was completely rotten, too.  About three quarters of the aspen pole rafters had rotted, and every last roof board was punky.  The whole roof had to come off and be reconstructed.  The building was originally set on small rocks set directly on the ground.  Realizing this wasn’t adequate, I had to elevate all four corners and dig and pour new corner piers.

The barn will be used as a bunkhouse for family vacations.

This project took about 260 hours to complete.

Jacking up the building is actually pretty easy. You just need to have a creative mind to envision how the building could fall apart and compensate accordingly. I use wood or cement block cribbing, bottle jacks, and heat tempered blades taken from the buckets of road graters and excavators. Build cribbing inside and out, shove the blade between the log courses, and start pumping. The bottle jacks are a pain, though, as they only raise about three inches, most of which is spent pushing the cribbing down into the earth. It becomes a matter of pumping, wedging, relieving the pressure, repositioning, and more pumping.

The posts that form the forstue had rotted at their base, causing the west third of the building to sluff off.

New dovetail joint. The logs were never stripped- good in that it provides a rough surface to mortar to, bad in that it encourages powder post beetle infestation. The joinery is shaped with my trusty hand axe.

The entire roof had to come off. The plate logs split at the junction of the forstue. I didn’t want to replace these pieces, though, so instead I connected them with metal plates.

The building was originally set on the dirt. Once all the logs had been replaced, I jacked all four corners up and dug holes and puddled them full of concrete. I then sat stones on the concrete and lowered the building down.

Naked: notice the way in which the forstue was framed. The plate logs extend outward and are capped by vertical posts. Getting this all aligned and set was tricky. The vertical posts rest on limestone mortared to the tops of concrete pours. I drilled holes into the limestone and epoxied in 6″ pieces of stainless steel rebar. I drilled holes into the bottom of the posts to accept the stainless steel treading and epoxied the whole thing together. The entire time I was devising this elaborate and unnecessary complex scheme, I kept going back to the idea of digging a hole and burying them in the ground like they were done originally…

Now we’re getting somewhere! I had to custom shape every aspen pole. I made the two outside sets and strung a line between. I then had to measure from that line down to a point on the plate log and shape every last rafter accordingly. Like the logs, I did this with a hand axe. And since the the aspen were highly irregular, I had to hew their upper face flat to accept the roof boards. A very long and tedious process!

Finished product: I shingled the roof in first grade 16″ cedar shingles, the original roof treatment. Notice the scale treatment on the boards of the gable end. That was not original nor appropriate. But it looks cool!

The original building did not have window frames, windows, or shutters. The original gable end doors into the hay mow were converted into windows.

A beautiful setting! The original log house is background right. Unfortunately its roof wasn’t maintained, either, and is beyond salvage. It will be taken down next spring.

Blexrud Parstue, Outside Spring Grove, Minnesota

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.

A large house measuring 19.5′ x 36′.  A parstue, the house has a central passageway sandwiched between two large rooms, one a kitchen and the other a more formal parlor-like space. The two interior walls that frame the center passageway are both log.

The dwelling sits on a working farm north of Spring Grove, Minnesota. There remains a garage, a granary, a storage shed, a machine shed, and the ruins of a barn.

Rear, north elevation. There once existed a window on the bottom right. Notice the chimney placements- one serving each stue.

east and north elevations

West elevation. The one story framed addition dates to about 1860-1880.

South elevation of one story framed addition. The addition is divided into three rooms: one large room abutting the original log house with an addition on its west side, and two small rooms on the south. The wall dividing the two small rooms is centered between the two windows, above.

Original entrance into center passage, right, entrance into one story framed addition, left.

Gable detail

Floor joist system; shot taken from area of cellar entrance. Log joist (the butt timber facing viewer) supported atop a log plate. The closest log (near the top of the photo) is the sill log of the log wall. The foundation walls were constructed thick enough to carry both the log sill (the bottom of the log wall) as well as a plate log supporting the floor joist system. Nearly all houses I encounter have this or a variation of this system.

Original twelve light sashes with characteristic mid-late 19th century window pediments (the triangular hood atop the window).

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

akershus

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