Project Justification

Justification for the Project

Taken from The Historical, Architectural Analysis, And Restoration Plan for the Hans Hanson House (15 Dec 2009) Prepared by Alan Pape for The Door County Historical Society.

In the mid-19th century, the Norwegians constituted the second largest ethnic group in Wisconsin. By 1860, Wisconsin’s 44,000 Norwegians totaled more than half of all the Norwegians in The United States. Wisconsin became a center for Norwegian/American life and served as a launching area for migration to other western states. Today, Wisconsin has many active Sons of Norway Lodges, a dozen Norwegian log house museums and even a place called Little Norway, near Mount Horeb. Stoughton celebrates Norwegian Independence Day every May, and Norwegian Dancing and crafts are taught at several folk schools around the state. However, no Wisconsin museum has restored or is interpreting the post settlement period using a sided over forstue style log house.

The Hanson house enlarged and sided over demonstrates a true Norwegian/American house type. It is a Old World house that was modernized to reflect the Wisconsin farm house appearance of the day. All other museums strive to show the logs! But, the real Wisconsin experience is a clap board sided over house. The Door County Historical Society will present a more accurate picture of what went on in the late 19th century.

Also, the Door County area holds the only Norwegian Moravian settlements in Wisconsin. Plus, there are still many Door County families that can trace their heritage back to the Norwegian Moravian’s. Additionally, the Hanson House is connected to an existing educational program, The “Cross Roads at Big Creek”, and is adjacent to a major tourist route (Hwy 57/42). Nearly five acres of land is available to recreate the Hanson Big Creek farm into a living history center and parking area that will be connected to the other programs using a series of nature trails. It is a great fit.

Letter from Darell O. Henning

May 21,2009


I have spent much of my professional career (30 plus years as curator, director and curator) at Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in Decorah, Iowa) involved with, among other things the study of Norwegian American architecture and their origins in the homeland. The Hans Hanson house in Sturgeon Bay is a very special structure in many ways. Hanson drew upon his heritage when building his house, employing the meddrag or long groove between the logs to form a tight joint the full length of the timbers. He even “chinked” or sealed these long joints with moss, a technique which dates from medieval times. There are numerous other construction details which are indicative of traditional Scandinavian construction often abandoned or inadequately understood by the majority of Norwegian immigrant builders. The form of the house with its fairly typical cantilevered forbay dates to some of the earliest log building forms in Norway, but the overall floor plan, three rooms in a line, is unusual even in Norway and to my knowledge not found elsewhere within Norwegian American communities. Although the house has been altered significantly and often over the course of its 160+ years the basic form is still quite evident and many of the clues to its original appearance and function are sufficiently intact to reconstruct its history of changes made over the years by Hans Hanson and subsequent occupants. You are also extremely fortunate in that it sits on its original site which will provide significant data when properly excavated and interpreted giving all of us a more complete picture of the cultural history of the Hans Hanson family and the larger history of the area in which Hanson played a fairly significant role. Being able to keep the house on its original site is a significant plus. Most museum buildings have been moved from their original setting and environment thereby rendering their impact and interpretation significantly less realistic and difficult to understand when viewed by the visiting public. It is one thing to see the artifacts of history but quite another to actually walk in the footsteps of those who made history seeing what they saw from the very place they stood. With the Hans Hanson house and grounds, you have that opportunity. The restoration and interpretation of the Hans Hanson house and surrounds is a significant and important undertaking toward a better and more complete understanding of our history and cultural roots. I applaud your efforts and wish every success.

Darrell O. Henning
Curator Emeritus Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum

Bio brief:

Born in Decorah, Iowa 1939
Attend Luther College (2 years), degree in Anthropology from the Univ. of Missouri (Columbia)
M.A. degree from the Cooperstown Graduate Programs in history museum training, 1965
Curator of interpretations at the Nassau Co. I-list Museum and Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long
Island, NY 1965-1970
Curator, Vesterheim 1970-1992
Director to 1997, Curator to 2001
Retired, pursuing a fine art photography and historical consulting career at present

Letter From Alan C. Pape Consulting

P.O. Box 31
Greenbush, WI 53026
September 2, 2009

George Evenson, Pres.
Door County Historical Society
4994 Ripp Road
Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235

Dear Mr. Evenson:

I would like to congratulate you and the Door County Historical Society for undertaking a project to acquire, restore and activate the Hans Hanson farm house and site on Utah Road, Sturgeon Bay. Few examples of the Norwegian scribe fit “sval” log house construction are to be found outside of Norway and only two have been saved through museum restoration here in the United States. It was a privilege to recently inspect this example of ancient Scandinavian folk house building tradition. Many evolutionary secretes are yet to be discovered that will help in the structures eventual restoration. It is amazing to me that the Hanson house survived at all and that the property was not sold for development. To have it actually connected to the Cross Roads Museum Village property is truly a one in a million event. Keep up the enthusiasm for seeing this project through to a complete “living history” program that includes authentic period landscaping, out buildings and costumed interpretation. The Hanson house will help tell the story of the Norwegian Immigrant to Northeast Wisconsin in a very excellent manner.


Alan C. Pape
Historic Preservation Planner

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