Open Air Division
Vesterheim’s Open Air Division is a collection of 12 historic buildings located behind the Main Building. The Open Air Division is open from May 1 to October 31, and guided tours of the Open Air Division occur daily at 1:30 p.m., included with your admission purchase. (These tours are subject to guide availability and may occasionally take place at different times or, on rare occasions, be canceled. Please confirm tour departure place and time with a desk attendant upon your arrival at Vesterheim.)
Hans and Anna Haugan were in their fifties when they built this house between 1860 and 1862 on a farm six miles southeast of Decorah. They lived in it at least until 1880. Occasionally their daughter Ingeborg and her husband Sven Thompson lived with them. Like the Egge-Koren house and the Wickney house, this house resembles the modest homes of tenant farmers (husmenn) in Norway, but incorporates some American building techniques, such as shingles and chinking between the logs.
Erik Egge built this house in 1852 on his farm five miles southeast of Decorah. In July 1853, he married Helen Pedersdatter, a widow with two small children. From December 1853 to March 1854, the newlyweds, Rev. U. Vilhelm Koren and his wife Elisabeth, lived with the Egges. Elisabeth’s diary provides detailed insight into what it was like for four adults and two children to spend the winter in a one-room 14-by-16-foot log house. The Egges lived in this house until 1872, raising a family of six.
The Valdres House was built about 1795 on the Moahaugen farm in Heggenes, Øystre Slidre, Norway. The house was enlarged and a covered entry added in the 1860s. It represents a typical Norwegian landowner’s home. Vesterheim acquired the house through the efforts of the rosemaler Sigmund Aarseth and of Kolbein Dahle, director of the Valdres Folk Museum in Fagernes. Taken down and shipped to Vesterheim in 1975-76, it was reassembled by Norwegian carpenters commissioned by the Valdres Folk Museum.
Anders Vikne (Wickney) built the original 14-by-16-foot house in 1879 on his homestead near Northwood, North Dakota. He returned to Allamakee County in Iowa to marry Berthe Hagen, the daughter of the farmer he worked for as an immigrant lad. The resemblance to the building tradition shared with the Egge-Koren and Haugan houses is obscured by the lean-to addition of about 1890. The balloon-frame structure (two-by-four construction) was an nnovation, doubtless owing to the scarcity of timber on the prairie.
Hans Erikson built this storehouse near Rock Dell in Olmsted County, Minnesota, sometime after 1860. It served as storage for food and was set on posts or pillars to keep it off the ground to deter pests. The Norwegian term for a storehouse like this is stabbur. A building of this type was seldom found on a Norwegian immigrant farm. However, the stabbur style of storehouse was common on more substantial Norwegian farms and in fact announced one’s status.
Norwegian Lutheran Parochial School
This school building, erected in 1879 several miles southeast of Decorah, was used mainly for religious instruction conducted in two-week sessions during the regular public school term. Students were allowed to take that time out of public school. The day began and ended with devotions. Instruction was in Norwegian and included the Norwegian ABC’s, Lutheran catechism, Bible history, and hymns. Johan Hagen, born in Norway in 1849, taught parochial school here and at other locations in the area from 1888 until 1918.
Norris Miller Stovewood House
Norris Miller, a carpenter from Ohio, built this house in west Decorah in 1855-56. The lumber was probably sawed from trees on his lot. The building technique involved short lengths of wood laid in mortar. This system originated in the mid-1800s, apparently in Canada. Norwegian immigrants who returned to Norway introduced the construction technique around 1900 in Norway. This house has been restored to its pre-Civil War appearance. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the only known stovewood house in Iowa.
Mikkelson-Skree Blacksmith Shop
Mikkel and Hage Sinnes came from Telemark, Norway in 1849, finally stettling in Minnesota in 1853. Two years later, Mikkel erected this building, which served as both living quarters and as a blacksmith shop. He used the shop to forge tools and parts needed on the farm, and to craft leather and wooden shoes for his family. While nearly everything found in the shop is either homemade or of American manufacture, the shop itself is similar to blacksmith shops found on Norwegian farms of the period.
Bethania Lutheran Church
Bethania Lutheran Church was built in 1903 near Northwood, North Dakota, to serve a Norwegian-American farming community. The church architecture is typical of those that serves rural commuities in the early 20th century. The furnishings are original, including work by pioneer artisan Østen Pladsen and immigrant painter August Klagstad. Disbanding in 1988, the congregation gave Vesterheim the chancel furnishings by Pladsen and Klagstad. Vesterheim purchased the pews, other original furnishings, and the building. It was moved to Decorah in 1992. In 1994 the church was opened as a part of Vesterheim’s Open Air Division.The church is available for rent for your wedding, check here for information.
Tasa Drying Shed
In Norway a building like this could have been used as a bath house, a grain-drying shed, or a malting house for brewing. Knut Thompson Tasa built this one in about 1860 in Goodhue County, Minnesota, primarily for harvest and Christmas brewing. The oven in the shed would be fired to warm water-soaked barley until it sprouted, after which the brewing would take place.
Knut Norsvin is reputed to have brought his millstones from Norway because he had heard there were no such stones to be had in America. His grandson, Knut Norswing, visiting Norway in 1925, found a grist mill such as his grandfather would have had, and presented it to Vesterheim so that Norsvin’s millstones would be properly stored. When in use, millstones would be mounted on a vertical shaft and a flume would carry water to activate a horizontal waterwheel at the base of the shaft, causing the stones to turn and grind the grain.
William Painter built the original mill on this site in 1851 as a commercial flour mill. Shortly thereafter he enlarged it to its present size. The upper story was added in 1890. A millrace from a dam upstream on the Upper Iowa River brought water to power the turbine. The water power was replaced by diesel power in 1947, when the Army Corps of Engineers built the levee system. The mill continued to operate until 1964. It was dedicated on July 4, 1971, as part of Vesterheim’s Open Air Division. In 1974 the mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.