Coon Valley Akershus

Here is a fantastic example of the three room Akershus plan.  This house sits just outside Coon Valley, Wisconsin.  It measures 16’x32′ and is a full two stories in height.  It was built by Ole Knutson Rundahl of Telemark, Norway in 1855.  The house remains incredibly unaltered and is in good repair.  The outbuildings include a tobacco barn and a stone milk house/tobacco bailing shed.  Southwest Wisconsin was once a primary chewing tobacco growing area, believe it or not, and the region still maintains an impressive number of tobacco drying sheds.

The people of southwest Wisconsin are incredibly gracious and kind.  The owner of this house, a man in his 70s or 80s and a many-generation descendent of tobacco farmers, let me poke around inside and out of the house and the outbuildings, and told me all about the intricacies of tobacco growing, harvesting and storing.  It was a really cool learning experience.

German House, Houston County, MN

I drove past this house last fall and decided it wasn’t log.  It’s too tall, the proportioning isn’t right, and the configuration of the door and windows is strange.  It isn’t Norwegian, that’s for sure.  And the failed gutter on the front gives the illusion the whole house is sinking into itself like framed houses so often do.  Last week I was taking the back roads up to La Crosse, WI for school and happened past the place again.  I hiked up to it and sure enough, it’s a very big two-story log house.

It measures 18’x26′.  The proportioning is a bit odd, as it’s too narrow and rectangular given its overall massing.  And given the fact the windows are inset so far in from the opposing gable ends, it’s unique to say the least.  The logs are all oak and the corners are inverted V, a characteristic of the German-American tradition.  In my humble opinion, the V kind of sucks (no offense):  It’s really difficult to minimize the log spacing if you’re working with large timbers and aren’t willing or don’t have the knowledge to reduce the notch smaller than the overall tree diameter.  The result is huge spacing between log courses.  Notice the 1′ or so gap between the first and second floors?  Yikes.

There are very few full two-story log houses that survive unoccupied in my area, so finding something like this is pretty special.  In fact, it made my whole week.  The 1878 and 1896 Houston County plats both show the house as owned by Charles Martin.  In general, the township appears to be German settled.  And surely the house is not much older than 1878 given its size and exterior ornament.

Hey Everyone,  Here are some photos of my current project.  I started the Overland house back in 2011 and have been working on it ever since as time and money allow.  Without much else to do during this cold Iowa winter, I’ve spent the past few months plugging away on the inside.  Given the success I’ve had running my other house as an overnight rental, I hope to do the same with this one beginning in 2015.


The tiny house before the tiny house.

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.

Enjoy these photos and I’ll try to post more often.  pImage



Glenwood House

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.

Coon Valley, WI


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.

Episcopal Church, Brownsville, MN

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.