Wis. man revives history, restores approx. 170-year-old farmhouse

“Having these floors still alive for another maybe 100 years, to me, would be a joy that would well live beyond what I am.”
Old farmhouses are getting new love, and for one man, it’s an opportunity to preserve the past for future generations.
Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 6:23 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 29, 2022 at 7:00 PM CDT
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DEERFIELD, Wis. (WMTV) - Old farmhouses are getting new love, and for one man, it’s an opportunity to preserve the past for future generations.

Woody Knox, a master carpenter, is restoring a two-story farmhouse in Deerfield, roughly 170 years old. Also a retired project manager, Knox wants to make it his final project.

“Having the the wind blow through here and thinking that it was like this 100 or 200 years ago is an interesting prospect,” he said. “I get great joy out of that.”

Deerfield Farmhouse
Deerfield Farmhouse(Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society)

For almost a year, the 68-year-old has tackled cracked stones, uneven floors and a structure that’s far from square.

“As a day-to-day, get up, everyday kind of thing, this is what I like to do. I like to have some kind of project going on,” he said.

The details of the home are telling of its age.

Knox found square nails, for example, used by the builders. The hand-cut type of nail flourished after 1800 throughout the U.S., according to Anna Andrzejewski, a professor of American art and architecture at UW-Madison.

She said the family home takes on the “gabled L” form, also known as “upright and wing,” typical of settlers coming from the East Coast to the Midwest in the 19th century.

“We don’t have a lot surviving here in Wisconsin from that era, but it was typical at the time it was built,” she said.

“We see that as a common pattern in the middle of the 19th century separating the work or the dirty areas, where one would enter the house and one would do the cooking, from the more formal living areas of the house,” she explained. “This is a really great example of the form.”

While it is difficult to know much about the builders for vernacular buildings like the Deerfield home, Andrzejewski said a craftsperson was typically involved in construction. “For example, a joiner likely was involved in the construction of the frame of the house, and then the farmer or owner might finish the details himself,” she said.

Connecting past with present, Knox plans to install modern essentials like plumbing. But he also intends to keep and repurpose some features that reveal the home’s age.

“Even though there’s cuts here and there, and it’s not even, that’s part of the appeal of having a place like this,” Knox said, pointing to the floors.

Woody Knox is restoring a farmhouse in Deerfield, roughly 170 years old.
Woody Knox is restoring a farmhouse in Deerfield, roughly 170 years old.(WMTV/Curt Lenz)

“We can’t destroy our history entirely by taking down every building that we have here because it’s inconvenient or it takes long to do this kind of work,” he said.

Andrzejewski says the pandemic has spurred growing interest in these restoration projects.

“Some people are working from home. Some people have decided to get out of the city, so renovating farmhouses, especially [ones] that are within a metro radius of a city like Madison has become increasingly common I think,” she said.

For Knox, the hope is to revive a house as well as its history for generations to come.

“Having the walls still standing, having these floors still alive for another maybe 100 years, to me, would be a joy that would well live beyond what I am,” Knox said.