Reconstructing History

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Photo by Alex Strouf

Johnson Brings Cabin, Memories to Minnesota

By Alex Strouf, The Denmark News

Mark Johnson. (Courtesy of Artisan Restoration)

Denmark native Mark Johnson has been self-employed his whole life.

Johnson is the owner of Artisan Restoration, based in Kasota, Minnesota where he now resides. Artisan specializes in both the restoration and rebuilding of log cabins.

Johnson fell in love with the business back in 1976, and that love has only grown.

 

“It’s interesting. It’s challenging. It’s rewarding,” said Johnson. “It’s historic preservation, it’s green construction, and it’s all rolled into one.”

Johnson’s passion has taken him through Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin restoring what he believes to be over 60 cabins in the past forty years.

None, though, have ever come this close to his roots.

Johnson, a 1970 graduate of Denmark High School, has done cabins in River Falls, Norman, and even as close as Mishicot in the past decade.

As most entrepreneurs will tell you, self-employment allows for amazing business experiences.

Not only is Johnson’s newest project just up the road from his high school, it’s also the cabin he spent holidays during his childhood.

The cabin, located at 217 North Wall Street, was the home of Johnson’s grandparents in the mid-1900’s. After Johnson’s grandfather passed away in 1982, the house switched hands a number of times before last winter.

In March, United Cooperative purchased the land on N. Wall St., including the home. United eventually put the house, not the land, up for sale at a decently low price. That’s when Johnson’s phone rang.

“My niece called me up and told me that the place had a For Sale sign in front of it,” said Johnson of an April phone call. “I looked into it and it found out that it was just the cabin that was for sale.”

Although he thought he remembered hearing it was a log cabin from his younger years, Johnson had to make sure he was actually purchasing a log cabin. Otherwise, he would have no idea how to move the house to Minnesota.

“You know I was always told this was a log cabin but I never saw the wall,” said Johnson. “I actually hired somebody to come over here and punch a hole in the wall before I bought it just to make sure I wasn’t the biggest fool of the earth.”

Truth be told, Johnson wasn’t a fool, and his newest project was born.

In May, the plan was laid out and everything was getting underway.

In June siding began disappearing, along with windows, doors, and the upper floor.

Throughout the last month, crews have been stripping the log cabin down to just about that: logs.

Before the disassembly process began, Johnson took a final walk through the cabin, standing exactly where he did almost four decades ago.

Inside, the cabin had some worn-down floor, original stairs, and the same wooden pillars going across the cabin as it has since the structure was built.

Disassembly began on Monday as the roof of the home, which was cut into four sections, was taken off by a forklift. That allowed the following days to consist of drilling, lining up, and taking off the logs that made up the downtown Denmark cabin.

The only part that will remain of the cabin is the flooring, as it is too thick to just take out.

“We’re going to take it down to the floor. And I don’t know if we’re going to try to get any of the floor,” said Johnson.

“We’ve got at least two layers of flooring to pull off.”

As the moving process will begin next week, all of the wood that makes up the cabin will remain the same. Although there are more rules and regulations when it comes to building, Johnson and his team have very specific–yet sturdy–measures to take to preserve as much as possible of his grandparents’ former home.

“What we’re going to do is we’re going to take a big drill bridge like a one inch diameter drill bit and we’re going to drill through the top log all the way through it and into the next log a little bit,” Johnson said.

“You know the cabin is never going to blow away because of a tornado,” Johnson joked.

As for what will happen with the cabins, it doesn’t sound like a normal project for Artisan. At this point, their owner is pondering on whether or not he wants to keep this cabin for himself.

“I’ve got to I’ve got a vacant lot next door to me and I’m thinking about putting it up there,” Johnson said. “I might [build it] as my retirement home or maybe I’ll sell it to a total stranger. At least if I sell it to somebody it’ll still be close to me.”

Regardless of the future for the home, it’s clear that a piece of Johnson’s life in Denmark will move with him to his new home in Minnesota.