Vernon County attracted thousands of Norwegian settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Some came directly from Norway, and others came from older Norwegian enclaves in Rock, Dane, and Waukesha counties, following the wheat-farming frontier into western Wisconsin. They typically settled in tight clusters, often with others who hailed from the same valley or town in Norway. They arrived in the Westby area in 1848 and in the Coon Creek valley the following year. By 1860, almost half of America’s Norwegian immigrants lived in Wisconsin, and Vernon County boasted one of the heaviest concentrations of all.
Like many Coon Valley Norwegians, Nils Skumsrud came from Biri, in southeastern Norway. He immigrated to the United States in 1849, settling in Dane County, and then moved here and built this house. In typical Norwegian fashion, he joined the hewn-log walls with full dovetail corner notches, the most difficult kind to make. He chinked the walls with wood strips and mortar then applied a protective calcimine wash inside and out. Eight horizontal purlins support the rafters, and a tamarack ridgepole runs along the roof’s apex. The tiny door in one gable end leads to an attic loft. Inside, the single, pine-floored room served as living and sleeping space. Removable pegs inserted in the wall in the northeast corner functioned as steps, providing access to sleeping space (the Skumsruds had five children) in the loft. At an unknown date, someone added a course of logs, slightly raising the loft and roof. The cabin was also electrified.
The oldest known dwelling to survive in Vernon County, this house remains in its original location. The rest of the Skumsrud Heritage Farm consists of buildings that have been moved onto the museum grounds and are not associated historically with the Skumsrud House.