WDAY: The News Leader

Published October 06, 2013, 04:37 PM

Home within a home: Five generations lived in, rebuilt Glyndon property

GLYNDON, Minn. - Moving is never easy, especially if you’re downsizing from a big house to something smaller.

By: John Lamb, Forum News Service, INFORUM, WDAY

GLYNDON, Minn. - Moving is never easy, especially if you’re downsizing from a big house to something smaller.

Years of accumulated material, most with significant memories, needs to be sorted through, packed up and loaded out.

One hundred and forty-three years’ worth of memories, in the case of Steven Johnk’s home.

The 61-year-old, better known as Spider, lives in the house his family has occupied since they built it in 1870.

With his son and daughter – the fifth generation to call the property northwest of Glyndon home – away at school and unlikely to return to live, Johnk says it’s time to give up the bit of family history.

“The reality is, we want to do other stuff,” he explains.

Stuff other than spending all afternoon mowing the lawn on the 26 acres of land, or all of the other bits of maintenance and upkeep needed on an old, rural property.

His maternal great grandparents, Targei and Gunhild Skrei settled the land in 1870 after Randolph Probstfield showed them the property. They promptly went to work cutting down nearby white oak trees to fashion the 6- to 8-inch-wide square timbers for the home.

With the logs stacked high, the original 16-by-19-foot structure included a loft, where the family of six lived. Johnk recalls hearing stories about how Targei would get up on cold winter mornings to pick up, reheat and replace the patching between the logs that had frozen, cracked and fallen out the night before.

In the early 1900s, additions were added to the cabin, allowing for a separate kitchen and bedrooms.

Johnk’s maternal grandparents, Leon and Anne Hammett, raised their family in Moorhead, but kept the property as a summer retreat. They moved back to the property in 1950.

In the late 1960s, a pony barn was converted into a single-story, 1,200 square-foot house, and Johnk’s mother, Kathryn, moved there in 1960 to be closer to her parents.

Johnk and his wife Cheryl Riley moved to the property in 1989 and discovered rustic living wasn’t always ideal.

Their first Thanksgiving in the old home, the well froze. The dinner for 16 went on, but plumbing didn’t return for a week.

The unfinished cellar and old structure led to the occasional mouse and from time to time, something bigger. Johnk recalls a night when a larger varmint got into the floor heating vents.

Shortly after that, the Johnks undertook a major remodel. The cabin was separated, jacked up and rolled away so a new foundation could be poured. Once it set, the original log cabin was moved back, and a new structure was built to connect it to the house.

New walls were added to the exterior of the cabin, giving it more insulation. The interior of the cabin became a living space with the renovated loft serving as an office and reading area.

New energy-efficient windows were added up high, further illuminating the space.

The family connections are displayed on the walls. The living space holds two paintings by his great aunt Orabel Thortvedt, who lived just up the road (A show featuring her work is up at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County). A wall in the adjoining dining room features an old wood oxen yolk Johnk found washed up after a recent flood.

The once exterior walls, now interior walls in other rooms, remain uncovered, allowing the whitewashed logs to give the spaces more character and better reflect the light. The exposed dovetail joints showcase the handcrafted skill that created the cabin all those years ago.

In the bedroom, Johnk framed in what was the old cabin, creating a built-in bookcase.

“I wanted a project,” Johnk says of the process.

Now, with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms, the 2,300 square foot home is finished. But the space is too big for empty nesters, Johnk says.

“It’s an embarrassment of space,” he says, sitting on their screened-in, wrap-around porch, gesturing out at the secondary home his mother lived in and the garage and shop.

With none of the relatives around to step forward and take over the property, the couple recently put it on the market.

Johnk says that when they moved out there, they never thought they’d move again. After a lot of thought, they’ve decided they’re ready for new experiences.

He’ll take some mementos with him. He recalls the time he decided to expand the door frame up another three inches. Six hours, many saw blades and a litany of curses later, Johnk held the 36-inch long chunk. He’ll keep that dense piece to remind him of what he left behind.

While they’re ready to move on, walking away from all the work they put into the space won’t be easy for the couple.

“That will be hard. After this, you want something of aesthetic interest,” says Riley, looking from the porch to the corn field across the road and wooded area that is home to deer and wild turkeys that often walk through their yard.

Her husband agrees.

“What I’ll miss the most is the aesthetic. But if you’ve had it as long as we have, you don’t appreciate it as much as you should,” he says.

Johnk says they will be selective about who they sell the home to ensure the new owner appreciates the property and its legacy.

“It’s like we are putting the house up for adoption,” he says.

He’ll miss the home, but he says an arrangement with the buyer will be made so that he and other family members can visit the old homestead from time to time.

“The tough part is over,” he says of the decision to leave. “It’s not fun to be the guy who gives it up. But if we didn’t do what we did 25 years ago, it’d be gone. We added 25 years of life to this thing. This ensures that this house could be here 100 more years, easy.”