On Vernacular Architecture

Homes in the Heartland: Balloon Frame Farmhouses of the Upper Midwest 1850­-1920. University Press of Kansas, 1992. Second Printing 1993. University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Paperback Edition

Discover the Architecture and Construction Behind the Ubiquitous Farmhouses of the Midwest. Homes in the Heartland offers a captivating explanation of the revolutionary balloon frame house construction that swept across Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin from 1850 to 1920, enabling the settlers of the upper Midwest to establish frontier homes. Fred W. Peterson leads readers through the technical aspects of farmhouse construction and discusses the social, economic, and aesthetic values of these familiar homes. An engrossing account of a fundamental episode in American history.

New York Times Book Review

More than a book about houses and house types, Homes in the Heartland is a prolonged scrutiny of the building and structuring of a whole region, and a revelation of the extant treasures made manifest to the disciplined eye. Fred Peterson has written a very fine book indeed, one ballasted by common sense combined with erudition — a rare combination.

John R. Stilgoe

Author of Borderland: Origins of the American Suburb, 1820-1939

This is a pioneering study of an important chapter in American architectural history that has hitherto been almost entirely neglected. Years of meticulous research and on-the-spot investigation have resulted in a comprehensive description of the structural nature of the balloon frame house, its innovative features, and its wide appeal to farmers and other settlers who had outgrown their original primitive houses. Although Peterson limits his investigation to the upper midwest, it is clear that he recognizes the almost universal popularity of the balloon frame and its influence on other types of building. The effect of this book will be a radical and much needed re-writing of much vernacular architectural literature and theory.

John Brinckerhoff Jackson

Author of Discovering the Vernacular Landscape

Building Community, Keeping the Faith: German Catholic Vernacular Architecture in a Rural Minnesota Parish. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1998. Recipient of the 1999 Minnesota Book Award in History.

Fascinating, valuable, and strongly recommended. Peterson’s analysis of the structures in this German Catholic community makes an important and original contribution both to the burgeoning scholarship on American vernacular building traditions and to an understanding of the Minnesota landscape.

Kathleen Neils Conzen

Professor of American History, University of Chicago

midwest old farmhouse lit up bright sunny watercolor by Fred W. Peterson

Sun Bright Farmhouse I 1975
Watercolor on paper, matted and framed 30” x 36”

Norwegian farmer Ole Haldon old homestead ink drawing by Fred W. Peterson

Ole Haldon’s Place I 1977
Ink on paper, matted and framed 30” x 36”


Anglo­ American Wooden Frame Farmhouses in the Midwest, 1830­-1900: The Origins of Balloon Frame Construction
Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture VIII Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000.

Balloon Frame Construction
Braced Frame Construction
Platform Frame Construction
Norwegian ­American Rural Architecture
German­ American Rural Architecture 
Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World, Paul Oliver, ed.
Oxford: Oxford Blackwell Publishers. To be published 1997.

Tradition and Change in Nineteenth Century Iowa Farmhouses
The Annals of Iowa 57 (Summer 1993): 251­81.

Substance, Style, and Community: Selected Farmhouses of Lac Qui Parle County, Minnesota
Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture III (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989): 76­84.

My interest and subsequent research in vernacular architecture began with the drawings and watercolors of abandoned farmhouses and outbuildings on farms in western Minnesota.