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Adolf and Helga Gundersen Cottage

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1918, Bentley and Merman. Northern tip of Barron Island. Visible only by boat
  • (Photograph by Mark Fay, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

On a secluded estate overlooking the Mississippi River, Bentley and Merman created what is arguably their masterwork. With this Arts and Crafts cottage, laced with a strong Scandinavian flavor, they took a different approach from Prairie Style, for which they are better known. The builder was Peter Nelson and Sons. To capitalize on the scenic setting, the house’s single-story long axis is oriented parallel to the river, and a ribbon of windows runs the entire length to allow views of the water. Two cross-gabled wings—a one-story dining room at the house’s western end and a larger two-story living room near the eastern end—intercept the long axis and project toward the river. A shed-roofed wall dormer sheltering the kitchen is near the house’s southwest corner. Nordic details include vertical logs in the lower walls and decorative half-timbering (with alternating spindles and flat posts) in the gable ends and the second story of the living room. Large brackets support the gables’ overhanging eaves, and scalloped bargeboards converge at posts with pendants and finials. The casement windows are leaded, with diamond panes. Dragon-headed downspouts beside the entrance and a plank door with hand-wrought hardware reflect the Nordic theme.

This theme reaches its fullest development inside, where the Arts and Crafts aesthetic of natural materials and handcrafting is also evident throughout. Unpainted vertical-log walls and wooden-plank ceilings suggest rusticity. Under the living room’s cathedral ceiling, a balcony with a pierced wooden railing meanders around a massive cobblestone fireplace with a tapered chimney breast. Heavy beams support the balcony, and nine whimsical human heads—created by Rudolph Blatter, a Swiss woodcarver working for La Crosse’s Hackner Altar Company—cap the beam ends. Between beams, the molding is stenciled in a pattern suggesting dragons and intertwining vines, and stenciling on the ceiling beams resembles snakes and chains. The dining room has a frieze on its upper walls stenciled with dragons and gnomes. The cobblestone fireplace here, bearing a Norwegian inscription, dominates the room. Large window sashes slide ingeniously into the lower walls, turning the dining room into an open-air porch facing the river.

Adolf and Helga Gundersen immigrated to La Crosse from Norway in the 1890s. The Gundersens maintained strong ties to Norway, and Adolf, a surgeon, was knighted by King Haakon VII for his efforts to foster close relations between American and Norwegian medical circles.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "Adolf and Helga Gundersen Cottage", [La Crosse, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 361-361.

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