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Reprinted with permission from Wisconsin Architect November/December 1990

Perpetuating the Stovewood Tradition: The Kruza House Restoration by Martin C. Perkins
Photos by Alan Stankevitz

Among its rich assemblage of nineteenth century rural ethnic architectural forms, Wisconsin claims one of North America's largest collections of stovewood structures. This somewhat rare, but practical construction type tends to be linked with immigrant populations of northwestern and northeastern Wisconsin. In these regions, stovewood specimens have been identified and analyzed within rural communities of Norwegian, Finnish, German, and Polish settlement.

Stovewood construction is best characterized by logs cut into , short uniform sections. Individual pieces were then stacked perpendicular to the length of the wall in a bed of lime mortar. With the rounded ends left exposed, the logs resembled well-organized piles of firewood. Occasionally these pieces were split lengthwise before being encased in mortar. Usually sixteen to eighteen inches in length, the stovewood units formed the walls of houses, barns, stables, and other outbuildings. In recent years, many of these unique historic structures have succumbed
to the ravages of time. Those that still survive have generally fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair.

One such structure belonged to Shawano County resident, Charles Lasecki. Recognizing the building's historical and architectural significance, Lasecki generously offered it to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for its removal to Old World Wisconsin, where it would be properly restored and maintained for future generations. Although most recently he had used the sixteen by thirty-two foot stovewood building for general farm storage purposes, research of the structure's evolution indicated that its function had changed over time.

Local oral traditions reported that the building had been constructed by Polish immigrant Franz Stefaniak as a combination house and barn. A search through real estate records at the Shawano County Courthouse confirmed that he purchased the forty acres in 1883 and owned the property well beyond 1900. Further investigation located Stefaniak's 87-year-old daughter in Milwaukee. Viola Stefaniak Michalak's vivid memory of her childhood years on the farm revealed that her father had constructed the home for his elderly in-laws, August and Barbara Kruza, in 1884. She also recalled how her grandparents' home had been shared with the couple's chickens. This explained the double entry and the interior partition which separated the larger plastered room from a smaller unfinished compartment.

This documented fusion of domestic and agricultural functions housed under one roof further enhanced the building's appeal to the Old World Wisconsin staff. While several of Wisconsin's larger half-timber German house and barn combinations have been identified by students of vernacular architecture, the Kruza House represented a modified and rare version of this European based use pattern.

Once questions related to the building's origins and functions had been answered, careful observation and study of the physical fabric occurred. Like any structure being considered for disassembly and transferal to Old World Wisconsin, the Kruza House was measured and thoroughly photographed by the museum staff prior to being removed from its Shawano County setting. The preparation of fieldnotes and I architectural drawings helped to capture the degree of accuracy and understanding necessary to reassemble the building.

Most original fabric, which had survived the building's past relocation around the Stefaniak farm, was pronounced to be in good condition by restorationists. Approximately 500 pieces of white cedar survived the initial move, bringing the Kruza House from its original site into the barn and outbuilding complex in 1905. Here, following the death of August Kruza, it was relegated to use as a horse stable. But while a large percentage of stovewood remained intact, those courses positioned closest to the ground did not. It is theorized that modifications to the front wall also occurred as a result of the move. Here massive amounts of concrete were used to replace the original stovewood, jostled from the structure as it was skidded by horses to the farmyard location.

Further analysis of building components found the second story floor joists, rafters, and roofboards to be intact. However, many of these surviving materials were unmatched: several joists possessed unexplainable random notches; rafters varied between sawn lumber and hand-hewn bark covered poles; and roofboards exhibited inconsistent dimensions. This suggested that these materials may have been recycled from other local structures and that Stefaniak had simply used whatever supplies had been available. The presence of these materials is quite consistent with the overall rationale for building with stovewood: to take advantage of readily available construction materials which did not require a high degree of craftsmanship to assemble into shelters.

Disassembly of the Kruza House was performed by Eagle Restorations of Little Prairie. This followed a two-day tagging exercise by the museum staff of every original wooden building component. All 500 pieces of stovewood received a coded metal tag, giving each its own identity. This insured the return of each piece to its original location when walls were rebuilt at Old World Wisconsin. Eagle Restorations' three-man team successfully completed the dismantling and loading of the building in two and a half work
days. Wall disassembly proved to be surprisingly simple as the lime mortar easily crumbled apart from the stovewood, releasing each piece in the process. Remarkably, this final part of the leveling required only one half day of labor. Once systematically loaded into an enclosed truck, the tagged building components successfully endured the 175-mile trip from Shawano County to the outdoor museum at Eagle. Here the rebuilding process began atop a fieldstone foundation assembled by Art Thomas Construction, Palmyra. A substantial quantity of Price County white cedar also made the journey south and provided the appropriate material needed to replace the previously lost or rotted stovewood pieces. These replacements, of the same dimension as the originals, were used extensively at the lower level of the exterior walls and in rebuilding the sole interior partition.

Eagle Restorations fully enclosed the building over a two month period. Once walls were rebuilt and the roof attached, new windows and doors were fashioned to replace the old. Interior plastering occurred in the immigrant couple's quarters, while the chicken coop received new laying boxes and roosts.

Upon completion of the contractor's work, museum curators furnished the Kruza House with artifact pieces similar to those items believed to have been among the couple's possessions in 1900. Again the memory of their granddaughter provided invaluable insight. Her recollections justified the inclusion and placement of such basic items as the woodburning stove, worktable, and bed. Other period artifacts reflecting the couple's advanced age, religious persuasion, and barebones existence flesh out the restoration's furnishings. A costumed interpreter stationed at the Kruza House now brings the family's story to life for the museum visitor.

Today, the August and Barbara Kruza House stands as testimony to the successful and diligent efforts of many: a generous donor and numerous financial supporters, a conscientious and sensitive restoration team, and a dedicated museum staff. All contributed immeasurably to help perpetuate Wisconsin's unique stovewood tradition for future generations.


EDITOR: The author (Martin C. Perkins) is Curator
of Research and Interpretation at Old World Wisconsin. The State of Wisconsin, Division of State Facilities Management was the architect on this project.

Old World Wisconsin
Old World Wisconsin is a unique outdoor ethnic museum owned
and operated by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. More than fifty historic buildings, constructed by the state's diverse nineteenth century immigrant population, have been relocated to the 576 acre facility near Eagle. Here, nestled into the Kettle Moraine State Forest, they are painstakingly researched, restored, and furnished to accurately reflect their cultural origins. Costumed interpreters then share with the museum visitors the stories of the families and the ethnic traditions historically associated with the restored structures. Old World Wisconsin is open daily from May 1st through October 31st.

Additional information can be obtained by writing to Old World Wisconsin, S103W37890 Hwy. 67, Eagle, WI 53119, or calling (414) 594-2116.

Or better yet, visit their website: http://www.shsw.wisc.edu/sites/oww/kruza.html

 


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