Restoring a Finnish Treasure: Alex Seitaniemi Housebarn
Located about 220 miles north of the Twin Cities Embarrass, MN is famous as “The Cold Spot” on the national weather maps. However, for those in the know, the community is just as famous for its deep Finnish Heritage. An unusual historical restoration project to stabilize and restore the exterior and foundation of a rare, immigrant-built housebarn was completed last year in Embarrass for the nonprofit Sisu Heritage, Inc. (Sisu is a Finnish word for the combination of stamina, perseverance, courage and stoic determination that defines the Finnish national character.)
Preservation Alliance Minnesota Honor Award Winner
Completed in 2015 with funding in part by a Legacy Grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, the Alex Seitaniemi Housebarn restoration has won a 2016 Preservation Alliance Minnesota (PAM) Honor Award, presented Oct. 6 in Minneapolis. The Honor Award recognizes the work of project participants including LHB, Inc., Bissonett Log Construction, Inc., and construction manager Kraus-Anderson.
The two-story log building combines the family dwelling, animal shelter, milking parlor and crop storage in one 90-foot structure. Constructed between 1907 and 1913 by a Finnish immigrant, it is a rare example of this type of housebarn; one of only three housebarns in the U.S. known to have been built by a Finn. The structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Members of the project team talked about this unusual project.
Q: You have a strong interest in local history; yet this project hits particularly close to home for you. Why?
JEFF IISAKKA, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, KA DULUTH OFFICE: My family have lived in Embarrass at the same property since the early 1900s, just a few miles from the Seitaniemi homestead. Our own homestead is constructed of hand-hewn tamarack logs with unique dove-tailed corner construction only found in Finland…the exact type of construction used at the Seitaniemi Housebarn. My mother, uncle and I are all members of SISU Heritage.
Q: Talk about the Seitaniemi Housebarn’s layout and how it functioned.
JEFF IISAKKA: On this project the small two-story home is on the far left of the structure as you approach the building. The entire lower level is one room, which is about the size of a modern day kitchen and dining area. 100 years ago it was the entire living space (less sleeping quarters) for a family of 6 to 10 people. The small upper level, more like a loft, was the one room open bedroom for the entire family. 6” to 8” wide logs with chinking between them was the only thing separating you from minus 40 degrees in the winter. Today you can see daylight between the logs in many locations.
Adjacent and connected to the house is the horse barn, where body heat from the animals helped keep the house warmer. Next is an open area where you can pass through to the other side. This may have been a maintenance and repair area or covered storage. Next is the cow barn where the cows were milked and lived during the winter months. Above the barns is the hay loft where they stored hay that was cut by hand with a scythe.
Q: The renovation is actually Phase III of the effort to restore the housebarn. What happened during Phases I and II?
JACK LAMAR, SISU HERITAGE BOARD MEMBER AND PHASE III PROJECT DIRECTOR: Phase I involved some stabilization and cleanup; and Phase II included restoration of some of the timbers in preparation for the overall renovation that came in Phase III. I came into the project in the middle of Phase III. This project is the result of the dedication and talents of many; particularly Paul Knuti, (former Sisu Heritage board member), who spearheaded the grant effort; and Leone Graf, (current board member), who brought her expertise in historic preservation to this project.
Q: What is involved in the renovation? What work is being done?
JERRY PALMQUIST, KA PROJECT SUPERINTENDENT: The renovation involves four main projects-finishing the roof, repairing log rot, replace and repair of doors and windows, and new ramps to the haymow. The roof was put back to original design. The corrugated galvanized metal roofing was placed on the front of the roof as it was very expensive back when the building was first constructed. The cedar shakes were placed on the back and side where you didn’t see them as much, as they were inexpensive back then (a big change from today).
The logs with decay were notched out on the exterior and new sections of good logs are glued and screwed into place. Screw holes were plugged then sanded back to original condition. The doors and windows were restored to original condition. The windows were removed, and the wood and glass are salvaged. New pieces were milled to replace the rotten wood, reassembled, and glass reinstalled. They were primed, painted and reinstalled into the original openings. The doors are rebuilt to original design. The ramps to the haymow were completely rebuilt using as much salvageable and native wood as possible. The rock approaches were rebuilt to accommodate the ramps.
Q: Talk about some of the challenges or considerations in doing renovation and repairs on a historical structure? What special materials or methods are being implemented to preserve the integrity of the building?
JERRY PALMQUIST: The main challenge was working with old rotted materials and incorporating new materials to make the building look as original as possible.
PHILIP WAUGH, AIA, LEED AP, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, PROJECT MANAGER, LHB CORP:
From our standpoint the challenges were really in translating the historic images into actual dimensioned drawings. We used several historic photos to determine sizes of wood support structure and ramp design, decorative element design, and missing door configurations. Sharing those drawings and images with Bob Matschiner at Bissonett Log Construction, he was able to craft the appropriate materials into the finished product. I really enjoyed working with Jack Lamar and the Sisu Heritage Board. This was a very rewarding project.
JACK LAMAR: It has been an honor and an absolute thrill to be part of this project and to serve the community by making sure we preserve this heritage and the vernacular architecture of this homestead.View Comments