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A Timbered Tale: Building the New Welcome Center

After saying goodbye to the little Yellow House, a new project on campus begins: timber framing North House's future Welcome Center. In this blog post, Tom Healy and Ben Finley share about the first week of timber framing the new building. 

Posted on September 21, 2023

The smell of sawdust hangs in the air while shavings coat the ground of the North House Commons. Beneath the big top tent, a group of intrepid timber framers is working on what might be North House’s biggest timber framing project to date: building the new Welcome Center that will replace the little Yellow House.

Between September 18 and October 7, instructors Tom Healy and Peter Henrikson are leading a group of 16 volunteers each week as they cut the white pine timbers for the new building. If all goes smoothly, the structure will be ready for raising in mid-October.

A drawing of the future Welcome Center, which will in fact be yellow!

Timber framing has been an integral part of North House since its inception, with timber framing courses continuing to be some of the most sought-after classes at the school. Hundreds of timber framing students have passed through the doors of North House since 1998, and this traditional building method can be seen all over campus, from the timber-framed Blacksmith Shop and Fish House to the smaller structures and entryways that dot the property.

Tom Healy, one of the two instructors leading the Welcome Center project, has been a core part of the timber framing program since the school's earliest days. He moved to Grand Marais in 1997, and together with Peter Henrikson got North House’s first timber framing class on the books for the spring of 1998. (That class built what would become the North House Blacksmith Shop.) After that, Healy and Henrikson had the idea for a build-your-own timber framing program—together with Hedstrom Lumber Company, they created two different designs for the build-your-own timber framing classes. The rest, as they say, was history. 

“Here we are almost 27 years later, starting on the replacement for the Yellow House on the Eckel property that we acquired 25 years ago—it’s very cool,” Healy said. 

Students helped build the frame of the Blacksmith Shop in one of North House's earliest classes

Each timber framing session for the Welcome Center is a week long, with some volunteers participating in one session and others in multiple sessions. Since the Welcome Center will be a three-story building, each week will focus on the timbers for one particular story, a technique known as platform framing. In the first week, the group is working on building the first story of the building, and once that’s complete will start on the second story.

As with every experience at North House, the process of framing the new Welcome Center isn’t just about production; it’s also about community. Ben Finley is a volunteer participating in the first and second weeks of the project. As soon as he heard about the Welcome Center project he knew he wanted to be a part of it, and has been documenting the process on his Instagram.

“It’s been a blast so far making connections and meeting new people. There’s nothing better than starting your day right on the lake, getting coffee, and getting rolling,” he said. “Grand Marais has been a big part of my life, and will continue to be a big part of my life, and every time I come back I’ll be able to point at the building and say, ‘I made part of that.’”

Ben Finley and Tom Healy atop a timber beam under the tent

We’ll be sharing updates as the progress on the new building continues—follow along here on the North House blog or on our Instagram. You can also learn about the new Welcome Center and support the project here.