Tag Archives: Winneshiek County

Highland House

It isn’t too often that I stumble on a house like this.  This extremely intact beauty is located in Highland Township in far northeastern Winneshiek County and was abandoned some seventy-five years ago.  Highland Township was once brimming with Norwegian-built log houses, barns and granaries, but unfortunately so few remain today.  That said, Highland still retains some pretty amazing trademarks.  Highlandville, with its old schoolhouse, general store, campground, and Bear creeks attract untold numbers of outdoor enthusiasts.  Just east of town down Quandahl Road is an amazing log and timber framed barn, and further down sits the ruin of the town of Quandahl.

This house was built entirely with oak timbers, measures 16′ x 20′, is one and one half stories in height, and has logs that extend to the peaks of the gables.  The corners are joined with full dovetail notching and the spacing between log courses is minimal.  The house is transitional between the two room stue and forstue plan and the larger three room akershus plan, but pigeonholing something like this into a rigid classification does little to describe the house.  The main entrance is centered on the longitudinal south elevation.  Being a Norwegian-built house we’d expect a window placed next to the door, but who knows, maybe the lowly builder forgot.  The door enters into the nearly square main room, or stue, and a small rectangular room exists to its left and forms the western 1/3 of the building.  In long ago Norway this small rectangular room would have been divided into two, with the southern room (the southern half of the rectangular room) unheated and served as the primary entrance to the building (with the exterior door along the west gable facade).  The other northern sub-room would have served as a living quarters or pantry.  See Overland House for what I’m talking about.  In the case of this house, the rectangular room likely served a multi-purpose function as both pantry and sleeping quarters.  The staircase to the second floor is located in the far northwest corner of the building, just north of the (shorter) northern wall of the rectangular room.  The lean-to off the north facade was constructed sometime after 1920.

So much of the original house remains!  The building is sided with wood clapboard fastened with square cut nails.  The windows are four light sashes and were installed sometime between 1870 and 1890.  If they aren’t original (which they probably aren’t) they likely replaced earlier twelve light hung sashes.  Inside, the walls were never plastered over, and instead were whitewashed with a lime-water pancake batter-consistency mixture.  Many of the original interior doors remain, including one spectacular example made of vertical boards keyed together with dovetailed horizontal splines.  I’ve seen just a handful of these doors over the years, and they’re always marked with superior craftsmanship.  Much of the original mid-19th century mass-produced hardware remains, too.  Notice the amazing door latches?  The upstairs is divided into two rooms by a partition wall that runs north-south.  Both the wall and the ceilings are sheathed in tongue and groove pine boards painted a beautiful sky blue.

The house’s location well off the road has likely spared it from vandals and the match.  It sits amongst a grove of mature walnuts and white oaks, and is buffered on its west by a craggy clump of red cedars.  To its south sits a few-acre pond with dense forest beyond.


An amazing setting! A mature white oak with west and south house elevations. The front porch was added in the 1980s or 1990s when the house was reroofed.











South and east elevations










East elevation with exposed full dovetail corner notching under failed clapboard























East elevation










West and south elevations, note original four light window










Exposed logs inside attic of 1920s lean-to addition. Notice the dovetailed corner notching.











Interior, exposed logs, south elevation




















Door of vertical boards keyed together with dovetailed horizontal splines











2nd floor partition wall doorway






























2nd floor west, logs extend to gable peaks













Four light windows, maybe originals or else added sometime between 1870-90













Staircase from 2nd floor




















Iron bed and coat hanger











Middle Calmar House, Winneshiek County, IA

Here’s another example of the forstue/stue two-room house plan.  This largely unaltered house sits in Springfield Township at the intersection of old Lincoln Highway and Middle Calmar Road.  Like I wrote about in the Haugen Hill House post, few examples of Norwegian log construction remain in the Washington Prairie community.  This house is quite special.

The original two-room house measures something like 16′ x 24′.  The western 2/3 (the main room, or stue) of the dwelling is of log construction and the eastern 1/3 (entry room, or forstue) is framed construction.  Like the Haugen Hill House, the 1/3 framed part was likely built by extending the upper plate logs the whole length of the house (24′) and supporting them at the end corners with upright heavy timber posts.

What makes this place unique is how intact it remains.  The exterior is clad in wood clapboard and all of the original 2/2 hung windows remain intact.  2/2 sash windows were common from roughly 1860-1880, but depending on the age of the house, these may have replaced earlier 6/6 windows.  But I’d bet these are the originals.

The adjacent barn is massive.  It was constructed in 1885 of huge hand hewn timbers and measures 36′ x 80′.


House bottom right, 36' x 80' barn center












Framed addition left, original log house far right












Original log house














Original log house: stue (log part) left 2/3, forstue (framed part) right 1/3



Guttebo House, Springfield Township, Winneshiek County, IA

The Guttebo House was located in the Washington Prairie community in Springfield Township, Winneshiek County, IA.  In 2010 the house was disassembled and rebuilt in Glenwood Township, about eight miles northeast of its original location.

The Guttebo House is really unique.  It’s of the midtkammer plan, a building form that developed in 17th century Norway amongst wealthy farmers.  In form, the midtkammer is essentially the same as the American I-house:  The primary entrance is centered on the longitudinal side and opens into a central passage.  The stairway to the second floor is located within this space.  On each side of the central passage is a large room; the left a kitchen space and the right a formal living space.

The midtkammer plan was seldom executed in Norwegian-American communities.  This is the only one I’ve encountered, but apparently there also exists one east of the Mississippi in southwest Wisconsin.  The Guttebo House measures 17′ x 34′ making it the longest house I’ve ever encountered.  No log runs the whole 34′ span, and instead timbers were spliced together with lap joints.  The house was made of eastern white pine timbers and the corners are full dovetailed.  The southern wall of the central passageway is built of logs whilst the northern partition wall is built with dimensional lumber.

Its former owner Les Guttebo is a pretty cool guy.  Les grew up in the house and wanted to find it a new home.  He tried and tried and tried to find someone to take it, allthewhile remaining steadfast against torching it.  After a few years of searching he found someone who wanted it, and now it sits rebuilt and utilized.


Guttebo House: west-south elevations, log house measures 17' x 34'













Circular stairway in central passage














View from framed addition on second floor: notice the lap joints and the butts of the partition wall logs





















Looking into and through the central passageway






















West elevation: the back of the house

































Hesper House, Winneshiek County, Iowa

This place is amazing.  It sits on an absolutely gorgeous spot about 300 yards east of a north-south road in Hesper Township, Winneshiek County.  The farmstead is a rectangular area a full ten acres in size.  The north and west sides (many hundreds of yards) are buffered by rows of huge Norway spruce.  The whole farmstead gently slopes to the south, and the southern border is defined by a cold water stream and beyond a north-facing bluff covered with native eastern white pine.

The settlers used these pines to make their house.  The house itself is pretty bizarre.  The log part is located in the far north and is a  story and a half in height.  It measures something like 16′ x 26′.  The western facade has one 2/2 window centered on each floor.  The eastern facade has the same, except that the bottom window was converted into a door and a porch was added at some point.  The north 26′ wall has only one window.  The original entrance to the log house was on the side that butts against the framed additions.  The log house was three rooms in plan:  The primary entrance (on the south facade) led into a large room comprising the eastern part of the structure, and two smaller rooms with a staircase to the second floor were located in the western third.

The many additions make the structure more complex looking than it really is.  A two story addition was added abutting the south elevation of the original log core.  That addition incorporated dormer gables on the east and west sides in an attempt to get more light into the core of the second story.  From there, two small rectangular additions were added to the southern corners of the original framed addition.  The result was two, small, pantry-like storage rooms on both floors.

Everything about this house was first rate.  Notice the fish scale shingle treatment in the gables?  Or the interior with diagonally run bead board below the chair rail, and vertically run bead board above?

Like most of the houses I encounter, this one is totally shot.  The decision to build with eastern white pine had many advantages:  It was light, a joy to shape, grew really tall and straight, and was sourced less than 100 yards away along the farmstead’s southern perimeter.  But white pine doesn’t hold up to water damage at all.  Notice the photo of the second floor where the logs have literally rotted to nothing.  A house built of oak instead of white pine would have sustained that water intrusion and likely still be salvageable.

Hesper house: west-south elevations, the far back left corner is the original log core

Approach from the west. The house sits 300 yards east of a north-south gravel road in a beautiful setting

South-east elevations

East-north elevations: Log core approx. 16' x 26'

Notice diagonal bead board below chair rail, vertical above, and bead board on ceiling!!! I love this look!

2nd floor: looking northeast

Gaping hole in 2nd floor wall: eastern white pine and water aren't compatible

2nd floor

Highland Township House, Winneshiek County, IA

I don’t know much about this place except that it’s really stellar.  The log part is in the center (one room or megaron plan) and measures something like 15′ x 17′.  Like the Bigler House, this one is largely intact and has seen little modification over time.  The interior walls are sheathed in narrow-gauge beadboard (circa post 1900).  The interior doors are much the same- made by sandwiching pieces of wainscot together- and all have their original hardware.

The future of this house is up in the air, unfortunately.  Its owners built a huge new house behind it and had the vision of making this into a little get-away house…but that was five years ago.  The house desperately needs a new roof.  So, we’ll see what happens.

South-east elevations

West elevation

Exposed oak logs under stairway

Second floor

Bigler House, Decorah, IA

The Bigler House is located in Pleasant Township, Winneshiek County, about twelve miles northeast of Decorah.  It was built sometime in the middle of the 19th century by Norwegian immigrants and is of the sval plan.  The sval plan essentially consists of a main log block (three rooms, in this case) with an attached entry porch (sval). The sval was the primary entrance to the dwelling, was unheated, and had a stairway to the second floor.  To get to the second floor you’d have to enter the unheated space and climb the staircase back into the heated space.  The sval was basically what we’d think of a foyer as being today, except that it was sealed off from the rest of the (heated) house.  This is the only sval plan house I’ve encountered in Northeast Iowa, but apparently there remain a few in Southeast Minnesota and Southwest Wisconsin.

The Bigler House was abandoned circa 1915 and has sat empty and unaltered since then.  As a result, nearly all of the original 19th century historic fabric remains, making it (unquestionably) the best preserved log house in all of Northeast Iowa.  Its owners understand its importance– both to their family and the larger community– and have done a commendable job keeping it up.

South elevation: sval left, main log block center, framed additions right

West elevation: sval with primary entrance

North elevation: framed addition left, main log block center, sval right

East elevation

Logs in second floor, taken inside the sval

Stairway in sval

Hand hewn joists and hand planed floor boards

Basement joists

Sandwich log: this log was dovetailed into the two top plate logs to keep the walls and roof from sagging

Logs extend to the gable peaks and purlins run lengthwise

Stairway in later framed addition