Homes in the Heartland

Homes in the Heartland: Balloon Frame Farmhouses of the Upper Midwest

Fred W. Peterson
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttg03
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  • Book Info
    Homes in the Heartland
    Book Description:

    Homes in the Heartland offers a captivating explanation of the revolutionary balloon frame house construction that swept across Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin from 1850 to 1920, enabling the settlers of the upper Midwest to establish frontier homes. Fred W. Peterson leads readers through the technical aspects of farmhouse construction and discusses the social, economic, and aesthetic values of these familiar homes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5670-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE TO THE PAPERBACK EDITION
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    The advent of balloon frame construction in the Upper Midwest fundamentally changed the way people conceived of and built structures with wood. Invented in Chicago in the early 1830s, the popularity of balloon frame construction increased with each new wave of settlement of a predominantly agricultural region. As farmer-builders and carpenters increasingly employed balloon frame construction, the logic of the system convinced them and others of its advantages. These were qualities we associate with the positive results of industry and technology. Balloon frame farmhouses proved to be economical and efficient to build, convenient and flexible in use, and in time...

  5. 1. THE BALLOON FRAME STRUCTURAL SYSTEM
    (pp. 5-24)

    Balloon frame farmhouses are characteristic and important features of the upper midwestern rural landscape. Their simple shapes sharply defined and differentiated from their natural surroundings and their starkly white planar surfaces illuminated by the sun express qualities inherent in the structures and the way they were put together. These dwellings constitute approximately 90 percent of existing farmhouses in the region. The adoption of balloon frame construction on such a major scale suggests that the structural system became the norm, the basis of a way of thinking of, planning for, and realizing a farmhouse in the practice of local carpenters and...

  6. 2. A TYPOLOGY FOR BALLOON FRAME FARMHOUSES IN THE UPPER MIDWEST
    (pp. 25-39)

    Balloon frame farmhouses built in the Upper Midwest are of a bewildering variety. It appears as if each builder exploited the system’s potential for creating a structure that was unique. Despite this great variety, it is possible to sort these farmhouses into discernible groups or types.

    Two fundamental qualities of architecture are used to type farmhouses in this study—the basic shape of a structure and its floor plan.¹ Shapes of balloon frame farmhouses are rectangular or square or combinations of these as realized by the way in which the walls and roof of the structure form exterior volume as...

  7. 3. SETTLEMENT AND SHELTER
    (pp. 40-60)

    Before balloon frame construction became the primary way to plan and realize houses on farms in the Upper Midwest, settlers built small shelters intended to last for a limited number of years. These temporary dwellings met basic needs with minimum resources and taught most settlers how to “make do” with essentials for survival. Although balloon frame farmhouses differed from the shelters they replaced, the form and finish of the permanent dwellings were influenced by the practice of expedience and economy necessary to survive on the frontier.

    Pioneering began in the region when southern Wisconsin and eastern Iowa opened for settlement...

  8. 4. FARMHOUSE TYPES 1 AND 2: WHAT MAKES A HOUSE A HOME?
    (pp. 61-95)

    People who pioneered in the Upper Midwest from 1830 to 1920 experienced rapid and enormous changes in almost every aspect of their lives. They changed the physical environment from what they considered wilderness to a garden of productive farms. Entrepreneurs developed towns and cities as important trade centers, while others built railroad lines that commercially linked the rural and urban sectors of the nation. Agriculture that began as subsistence farming quickly became large cash-crop operations, which grew into diversified livestock and crop farming, and finally became specialized commercial ventures. A scientific approach to agriculture improved the quality of seeds and...

  9. 5. FARMHOUSE TYPES 3 AND 4: A VERNACULAR AESTHETICS
    (pp. 96-135)

    The most numerous and familiar farmhouse type in the Upper Midwest is the ell or T plan. Although farmers and carpenters built what seems an endless variety of these houses, many nostalgically recall them simply as “the house where Grandmother lived.” Its asymmetry and the expansive capability of its wings make the house pleasing in appearance and economically practical for a growing farm family. Farmhouse types 3 and 4 are essentially two units of one structure right angled to each other, resulting in a cross-wing effect. That characteristic configuration is evident in the pattern of the saddle roofs sheltering the...

  10. 6. FARMHOUSE TYPES 5 AND 6: STYLE, SUBSTANCE, AND COMMUNITY
    (pp. 136-173)

    The large number and wide variety of ell- and T-plan farmhouses in the Upper Midwest allow one to compare and judge levels of performance in vernacular building. Farmhouses of types 5 and 6 are fewer in number but are of such commanding scale, exhibit such classical balance, and display such appropriate use of ornament that most merit judgment as high-quality performances. Their ample proportions and commodious interior spaces sheltered large families and welcomed many guests for significant community events. These double-wing dwellings were built to impress the viewer and to communicate the substantial position their owners and occupants had attained...

  11. 7. FARMHOUSE TYPES 8 AND 9: CONSOLIDATION AND STANDARDIZATION
    (pp. 174-213)

    The simple monumental shape and utilitarian floor plan of one- and two-story foursquare houses embodied values related to major national trends from the 1890s to the 1920s. After generations of expansion and growth, the nation turned toward consolidating natural and human resources. Means to process raw materials and manufacture products became standardized. The conveyor belt, piecework, and mass production of uniform-quality goods developed. At this time the two-story foursquare farmhouse became the most commonly built because it offered labor-saving efficiencies at the lowest cost. The foursquare was a popular dwelling that prospective home owners could choose from a catalogue featuring...

  12. 8. FARMHOUSE TYPE 10: RURAL IMAGES OF SUCCESS
    (pp. 214-240)

    A significant way in which farmers signaled their success was the planning and construction of houses that were evidence of their prosperity. Houses of this type would approximate the high style mansions one could admire in towns and cities. Most farmers’ mansions, however, only approximated these urban models in scale, asymmetrical plans and irregular elevations, finishing touches of elaborate ornament, and complete furnishings for every room. In comparison with other farmhouse types, relatively few of the “large, irregular” kind exist in the region. Some two-story farmhouses have already been characterized as manorial (Figures 4.13, 5.8, 6.9, and 6.10). When these...

  13. 9. CONCLUSION: BRICKS, BALLOON FRAMES, AND HI-TECH
    (pp. 241-254)

    Builders adopted balloon frame construction in the rural areas of the Upper Midwest as an economical, adaptable, and easy method of building that met the demands of rapid growth in settlement and population that had resulted in an unprecedented need for domestic and commercial structures. Factors that facilitated using this new method of construction were the ready availability of materials and the technology necessary for its application—milled lumber from the great pineries of Minnesota and Wisconsin, mass production of nails, the means to transport building materials to or near virtually every construction site in the region, and the presence...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 255-272)
  15. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 273-288)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 289-296)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)