Located in Norwegian settled Glenwood Township in eastern Winneshiek County, this little 14′ x 16′ house is almost totally intact. It was replaced by a new house in about 1900 and converted into a shed. The primary facade (with door and most likely side window) was chopped out and two swinging doors installed in their place. The steeply pitched 12/12 roof is not original either, and replaces a much shallower 4/12 or 6/12 roof. The standing seam metal is perhaps a hundred years old and still functions like it is new. The logs are all oak and the corners are joined in a very shallow dovetail notch.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’ve driven past this place a million times and long ago decided it couldn’t be log. One day recently its owners ripped off the crumbling front porch, only to expose a log core underneath. The original log house measures something like 16’x18′ and is (likely) typical Norwegian one room plan with the primary entrance and side window (in this case two windows; the second likely added at some later point) on its longitudinal side. The corners are dovetailed, and most of the logs are eastern white pine with a few oak mixed in.
The framed addition dates to about 1900. In building the addition, they made a conscious move to relocate the primary entrance away from the original log core and into the more substantial and modern ell, this despite the fact the new “front” sits away from the road and approach lane. The log core then served the auxiliary role as kitchen, basement utility room, and upstairs bedroom.
This house was built sometime during the mid 19th century as a Norwegian Lutheran parochial school. In 1898 it was taken down, moved across a field, and rebuilt into a house by Norwegian immigrant Peter Losen. Two of Losen’s children, Helmer and Carl, lived in it until their deaths in the late 1970s. Seeing how horrible Helmer and Carl’s living situation had digressed, their brother Fred decided to have a metal roof installed sometime in the 1970s. Kudos, Fred, otherwise the house would be no more.
I found it during the winter of 2006 in a state of complete disrepair. The neighbor kids had long ago thrown rocks through the windows, the plaster walls had failed, and the floors were rotting into the dank cellar below. I disassembled it, moved it fifteen miles south, and now it’s my sweet little house. Enjoy.