Here’s a really nice example of the Norwegian-American one room house. The house was built around 1865 and lived in till about 1930. It’s small- just 13.5′ x 17′. The logs extend about six inches short of waist high. It’s a pretty crude little building and sits way high up on the ridge. The logs that carry the joists of the second floor were spliced and lap-joined. They’re pretty important timbers, or at least ones you wouldn’t want to splice together given the fact the second floor rests on them entirely. But it’s held up well. The fact that the house sits way high up on the landscape probably explains the use of short, gnarly timbers. Take note of the roof. The roof originally had a ridgepole, which was removed at some point. See the butts of the old ridgepole? And also notice the dovetailing of the stair treads into their frames. I’ve seen dovetailing like this done quite often in Norwegian-American houses. And I also frequently see it in keys driven into vertical board doors.
Hey All! Below are photos of a log house I inherited a few weeks back. It has sat empty since 2008 and was going to be bulldozed and burned this winter. I stepped in and its owner gladly agreed to let me take it down. The original log core was built in the 1860s and measures just 15’6″ by 17’8″. It’s of the prototypical Norwegian-American one room plan and was surely constructed by its occupants, and not a professional house building crew. It’s a crude little house.
The interior first floor is absolutely beautiful! The room is currently stripped to the point it looked originally. With its wainscot chair rail, board ceiling, and 2/2 windows with hearty trim, it’s a fantastic space.
When the framed addition was added (about 1880) the abutting fourth wall of the log house was removed. Reusing it will be difficult: It could be attached to an existing house or rebuilt freestanding with much framing and stiffening.
There’s a lot to explore in southwest Wisconsin. Last week I got in the car and drove over to Coon Valley and Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. If you’ve never been, Norskedalen is certainly worth the drive. Norskedalen consists of about 400 beautiful acres of valley and forest. And they have (tastefully) reconstructed several 19th century Norwegian-built log houses.
Coon Valley and much of Vernon County were largely Norwegian settled. And with marginal land of forested valley floors and open ridge tops, much of that early settlement history has been preserved. Below are some highlights from the trip. I located five log houses and expect there to be a ton more to discover.
I love carpenter gothic Episcopal churches. Check out this link for more information about Richard Upjohn and his influence on 19th century religious architecture.
This particular church was built in 1869 and sits in Brownsville, MN in Houston Co. along the Mississippi River. And about the colors? I don’t know.
I’m back after a year-long hiatus. Things have been very busy on my end and life’s brought about changes and new adventures. I hope to be more active with the blog this coming fall. As part of that renewed energy, I plan to venture into other pioneer-era categories: barns, churches, non-Norwegian-American log houses and other types of houses, etc. I still have a lot of log house related content, but post after post about nearly the same thing gets boring and old.
And WordPress is an awkward platform. Their system doesn’t work well with photos, formatting is often screwy and photos take forever to upload, especially with my slow internet connection. If anyone has suggestions or alternatives, I’d love to hear about them.
So, to get on with it, here’s today’s building. I found this place just yesterday afternoon. I was driving back from La Crosse, WI and decided to take the backroads. Instead of the usual 1 hr 10 minute drive, it ended up taking me 3 hrs 20 minutes. I found this sweet little house in Houston Co, MN, not far from the Iowa border. The front part of the house is log and the back, later addition is framed. The house is surely German built, as its floor plan and overall form is very different than from what I’m used to. The main door to the house enters into a large room and immediately to its left is a smaller room. The wall separating the two is nothing more than two opposing faces of vertical tongue and groove board.. It appears as though the smaller room served as a bedroom. The staircase to the second floor is located in the back left corner of the building with its door exiting into the big room and the bulk of the staircase is inside the smaller room. Underneath the staircase is a closet, whose wall is framed in a beautiful tongue and groove, oak look-alike faux finish. The faux finish carries on throughout the first floor of the original log core on the lower chair rail wainscot and on the paneled and tongue and groove board doors.
The first floor is heated by a still-present stove located inside the big room but centered in the opening between the big and smaller rooms. Its chimney enters the second floor directly above the unit, passes to the ceiling of the second floor, makes a 90 degree turn, and feeds into a masonry chimney that is mounted on a shelf above the log walls on the west gable of the building. The masonry chimney exits the house through the gable peak.
All the logs I could see were oak and the corners full dovetailed. The original daub between log courses is earthen: nothing more than mud with a fibrous organic bonder material. I’ve never encountered a non lime-based log daub in Minnesota or Iowa. Perhaps its use speaks to tradition, but likely more so to frugality and practicality.
I didn’t find door or window hardware to suggest the house is older than about 1870. The house was electrified at some point but never plumbed. It appears to have been abandoned (just guessing) perhaps 40 years ago or so. I ooo and awe about all of these, I know, but it’s not too often I find such a house as perfectly preserved as this one. Original doors and windows, original wall coverings, original hardware, original siding, etc, etc, etc…this place is pretty special!
I located this place back in 2007. The house sat on a 220 acre farm enrolled in CRP, a government sponsored set-aside program that pays farmers not to plow marginal and environmentally sensitive lands and instead plant them with native prairie grasses. With the contract up in 2008, the owner decided to not renew and bulldozed the farmstead and plowed up the native prairie for corn. The before and after photos were taken from the same perspective.
I was recently interviewed by New York photographer Angela Cappetta. See the interview and check out her amazing work at http://angelacappetta.blogspot.com/. Thanks, Angela!
The Howes house was built by an English family sometime in the 1870s or 1880s using logs salvaged from existing buildings. The area in which the house sat, French Creek Township, Allamakee County, was settled beginning in the late 1840s. Twenty or thirty years later existing structures were already being taken down and repurposed into new houses . What I do isn’t particularly new or unique.
I disassembled the house in 2008 and it was rebuilt as an addition onto an existing house. See portfolio page for the end results. I really, really appreciated this sweet little house and was sad to take it apart. The family who owned it had had it since the 1960s and did not know the core of it was log. I found it and immediately called the owner and asked whether I could have the thing. “What log house?” they asked.
The logs both inside and outside were covered from the day it was built. The corner notching was an impeccable full dovetail, but the spacing between the logs was ridiculously large. Keep in mind they simply meant the logs to serve as framing much like 2″x4″s do in a conventional house. The species is all oak. In disassembling it and putting it back together I conjectured there were at least logs from two, possibly three houses. The timbers had existing V-notches, dovetail notches, notching for doors and windows, and odd weathering patterns where they shouldn’t have been.
This place is pretty special. I visited it when I was about five years old with our family friend Leila Matter. Perhaps my earliest memory, it no doubt had great effect! Born in 1910, Leila grew up in this house and lived there till she met her husband Stanley. Leila died in 2009 at the age of 99. The house dates to about 1875 and was built by a German immigrant, a relative of Leila’s, though I’m not sure of the exact connection.
The house remained occupied till about 1940 and by some stroke of luck still stands. The roof has failed and the logs are pretty weathered. The original one room house measures 16′ x 18′, the logs are cottonwood (I think!), and the corners are all square notched. Notice the sweet tongue and groove wainscot used throughout the inside.