Rare Finnish housebarn being restored in Embarrass

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There is rich history on the Iron Range. In Embarrass alone, there are seven historic buildings on the National Register.

One of them is the Seitaniemi housebarn.

“Its greatest fame is that it was the only housebarn built by a Finn, a Finnish-American person, in Minnesota. And there are only two others in the United States,” Paul Knuti with the Sisu Heritage group said.

A housebarn is a rare structure in America, and Knuti says it’s rare in Finland too. It’s made of the house, then the horse barn, then a manure handling area, then a cow barn. There’s hay storage on the upper floors too.

“What’s so great about a housebarn?” Knuti said. “Well, one of the things that everybody thinks was an attraction was that you put up the building, you have the heat from the animals in the wintertime that help keep that house warm. So they have this common wall.”

Sisu Heritage believes construction started on the Seitaniemi housebarn in 1907 and was completed in the early 1920s.

“The Sietaniemis were very successful farmers in terms of the number of crops they produced, in terms of the potatoes and rye and hay, but even more importantly, in terms of cattle,” Knuti said.

They designed a water system for their around 13 cows. Knuti said restoring the interior of the cow barn is a milestone Sisu Heritage is working toward.

Restoration work in October 2012. Courtesy Sisu Heritage

Restoration work started in 2009.

“We started right away with things like the foundation, like straightening the building,” he said.

They’re using a photo from the mid-1920s as a guide.

A photo of the Seitaniemi housebarn in the mid-1920s. Courtesy Sisu Heritage

Doors and windows have been carefully restored in the 1920s style thanks to a company in Minneapolis that specializes in restoration. Some of the original elements, such as a paper-like substance that covered the interior of the walls in the house, still exists.

But the historic photos don’t provide all the answers. For example, they’re not sure why each corner of the building was constructed differently.

The folks who are part of Sisu Heritage think the housebarn has a lot of potential, inside and out. They’re embarking on two more phases of restoration, one of which will help them envision future use of the building.

And there’s a Community Night Out from 4-6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, at the housebarn. People can set up chairs and blankets on the lawn, enjoy live music, and take tours.