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Restoration - Start to Finnish

John Palo Homestead Oulu, Wisconsin

The John Palo Homestead before restoration
The John Palo Homestead before
restoration. The sauna building is
at far left.

Early in the twentieth century, when the lumber companies finished cutting Wisconsin's northwoods, they sold off the stump-covered "cutover" as homesteads. Many of these parcels were sold to newly arrived immigrants eager for farmland, unavailable in their homeland. That was the case for John Palo, a Finnish immigrant, who bought property in Bayfield County in 1909. Palo's property was in the town of Oulu, where three-quarters of the homesteaders were Finns, and where he built a log house and a number of outbuildings, including a combination woodshed, shop and sauna. Saunas were an important part of the Finnish homestead. In fact, they were often the second building constructed after the house — or even built before the house and used as temporary shelter until the house was finished.

Dovetail corner notches in log wall
Dovetail corner notches in log wall

The house's logs were originally left exposed on the inside but covered with clapboard on the exterior to be weather tight. The logs were carefully fit together with full dovetail corner notches, cut so that the logs are drawn together as the house settles.

The John Palo Homestead after restoration
John Palo Homestead after restoration.
The sauna building is at far left.

Though John Palo died in 1949, and his wife Tini in 1977, the property has stayed in the family to the present day. The Palos' grandson, Duane Lahti wanted to see this family legacy restored, especially since the many surrounding Finnish farmsteads were slowly being demolished because of deferred maintenance or were being altered piece-by-piece. So, in 1997, Lahti took on the challenge and began his restoration. He repaired siding, windows and foundations. He reshingled the roofs with wood shingles, restored the house's interior to its earliest appearance by removing modern finishes like plywood paneling and exposing the log walls. Plumbing and electrical services were updated. The work met state and federal preservation standards, and Lahti qualified for historic preservation tax credits. Besides preserving a part of his family and ethnic heritage, he has preserved an important piece of Wisconsin's history as well. The property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


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