Viking House on the UW-Green Bay Campus

An Unlikely Time Machine

UW-Green Bay’s new Viking House transports visitors to medieval Norway

The first glimpse of the low, wooden structure sitting alone near Wood Hall gives no clue it is, in a sense, a time machine, ready to transport visitors 1,000 years into the past, to experience daily life in medieval Scandinavia.

This is the Viking House, a 14-by-28-foot replica of the trestle-frame construction style called grindbyggning (GRINNED-big-ning), common in Norway. Until summer 2017, the house sat in Central Wisconsin on land owned by Owen and Elspeth Christianson.

When they retired in 2016, the Christiansons donated the house to UW-Green Bay, largely due to their strong friendship with Prof. Heidi Sherman (Humanities and History), who had taken many students to the Viking House in recent years for its hands-on experience living in the Viking Age.

Prof. Sherman with Viking Long House beams
Prof. Sherman prior to construction
with Viking Long House beams.

“Most college students say they learn best through hands-on learning,” said Sherman, “and that’s what the Viking House offers. These opportunities are the biggest draw of the house, especially in the cyber age, when people feel disconnected from basic skill sets like sewing, woodworking or cooking over an open fire.” Students from Sherman’s Public Humanities class spent three days in mid-September working with the Christiansons to carefully mark each piece and disassemble the building for its journey to Green Bay. Today, the Viking House rests comfortably on the campus site with authentic green slate shingles, timber painted with black tar and beams secured with wooden pegs.

Once inside, a visitor is transported to medieval Scandinavia. The interior is dark, lighted only by the filtered sun shining through the open front door and a two-foot square vent in the ceiling, above a central hearth.

The five grinds — each a separate post-and-beam trestle — reach to the peak of the ceiling and extend from the front door to the back of the house. These grinds are the elemental structures that give grindbyggning construction its name.

“The size of these structures symbolized the power and wealth of their owners,” said Kevin Cullen, deputy director of Green Bay’s Neville Public Museum. “The engineering provides exceptional load-bearing capacity and ample interior space. The conifer timbers in the fjords of the Baltic Sea region would have allowed Viking craftsmen and craftswomen to hone their architectural construction methods.” Standing in the dim sunlight, one can imagine living here. The wood-fired hearth would be used for heat and for cooking. At mealtime, a small dining table hanging at the far end of the house would be taken from its hooks and set on two carved trestle legs. Fabric would be woven on the vertical loom resting in one corner of the room. The family would sleep on the slatted beds near the hearth, while the family’s livestock settled in a similar room adjacent to this one.

It was an experience like this that had a major impact on UW-Green Bay graduate Ryan Matsen ’16, who is a history teacher at Holy Family School in Green Bay.

“The trip to the Viking House in 2012 showed me what type of history teacher I wanted to be,” said Matsen. “The weekend trip taught us weaving, cooking and blacksmithing, and I used that blacksmithing experience as my central research theme to complete that semester’s History Seminar course.”

“Reliving history through hands-on learning is such a wonderfully interactive way to teach students of literally all ages,” he continued. “Combined with educators who have true energy and passion for their subject matter, it creates an amazingly conducive learning environment. Having this resource for the education of all UW-Green Bay students and our region is absolutely wonderful.” These are the experiences Sherman and others in the community plan to create.

“We have already had several inquiries from the community about booking the house for special events and education seminars,” she said. “We will host several master craftsmen, blacksmiths, leather workers and a culinary archaeologist from Sweden. They will offer workshops for the community and students. We hope to offer a summer Viking camp for Green Bay district students and a workshop for Scouts to help them earn their archaeology badge.”

“UW-Green Bay is fortunate to have such a unique outdoor classroom,” said Neville’s Cullen. “It offers a rare opportunity for immersive teachable moments about Viking life. It also offers an ideal space to conduct experimental archaeological courses like textile manufacturing, cooking, ale brewing and metalsmithing. When I mentioned the Viking House to a former graduate school instructor, she was jealous! I hope this is the beginning of many collaborative learning opportunities to come.”

–Story by Jim Streed ’03

Riverview Middle School

Photo gallery: Riverview Middle School students enjoy the UW-Green Bay experience

Members of campus and community joined together to host 150 seventh-grade students from Riverview Middle School, Plymouth, Wis., on May 3, 2018. Four community groups joined UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Heidi Sherman (Humanities) at the Viking House, to teach history through fun, hands-on learning activities. Among them: Women from the Sons of Norway joined History faculty members to teach Norwegian culture; Mark Hawkins from Hands On Deck taught the kids basic wood working; members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms helped prepare medieval flat cakes; and Ric Furrer, known worldwide among blacksmiths for his sword-making craft, also helped mentor the students.

That same day, the Riverview Middle School students took part in a number of science labs, with Associate Dean Amanda Nelson (College of Science, Engineering and Technology) leading that portion of the visit.  Assistant Profs Maruf Hossain, Jagadeep Thota, Mohammad Mahfuz, and Riaz Uddin Ahmed assisted students in building and programming LEGO Mindstorm Robots.  Associate Profs. Dan Meinhardt and Amanda Nelson led anatomical dissections.  Joe Schoenebeck provided physics demos and led a brief tour of Lab Sciences.

Click to advance slideshow or view the album on Flickr.

Riverview Middle School Visit

– Photos by Dan Moore, Marketing and University Communication

Viking House in the news again

UW-Green Bay students who used to visit a Viking House near Marshfield, Wis. would call the trip the most memorable of their time at UW-Green Bay. Now students will have the opportunity to walk out of their classroom door to get a chance to “live” the 11th-centruty Viking experience. It’s reconstruction week for the Viking House which was donated to UW-Green Bay. WBAY is the latest media outlet to cover the story.

Viking House kickoff events

Reconstruction of the Viking House began Monday, Oct. 23. Donors Owen and Elizabeth Christianson, will give a presentation Wednesday (Oct. 25) evening in Fort Howard Hall of the Weidner Center, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on the history of the house and why they are donating it to UW-Green Bay. On Saturday, Oct. 28, the UW-Green Bay community will celebrate the new addition with an open house and ribbon cutting. Visitors can meet the Christiansons, participate in games and crafts, and enjoy refreshments at the Viking House, located to the north of the Wood Hall parking lot. The public is invited to both events.

UW-Green Bay receives rare ‘Viking House’

Reconstruction is scheduled for, Oct. 23-27

Green Bay, Wis. — UW-Green Bay is to become the new permanent home for a one-of-a-kind Norwegian Viking house. The house will have its grand opening Saturday, Oct. 28 from 3 to 5 p.m., with an official ribbon cutting at 3:30 p.m. Games, demonstrations, crafts and more will be available for all ages. Festivities will be adjacent to the Wood Hall parking lot, 2380 Wood Hall Drive, UW-Green Bay.

This unique replica is being donated by Owen and Elspeth Christianson, who have been studying Scandinavia’s Viking Age for more than 40 years. Owen Christianson is currently coordinating the reassembly of the house with UW-Green Bay’s Digital and Public Humanities students. The students are also preparing a catalog of the house to make available to anyone wishing to build their own.

The Christiansons will give a presentation about the house and their reasons for donating, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Fort Howard Hall of the Weidner Center. The event is sponsored by the

UW-Green Bay History Club and the campus community and public is welcome to attend.

The house, hand-built by the Christiansons, will provide hands-on learning experiences for members of the Green Bay community and beyond. UW-Green Bay aims to teach and engage in the day-to-day experiences of 11th century Viking life through explorations of crafts, customs and cuisine.

“The possibilities are endless,” Sherman says. “Students often describe themselves as hands-on learners and that they love acquiring applied skills in their college classes. Through Owen and Elspeth’s donation, we will be able to offer pre-industrial heritage skills to all students and community members who sign up for classes on campus.”

For more information regarding the grand opening, upcoming events, or Viking House details please email or visit or

About the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is a comprehensive public institution offering undergraduate and graduate programs to 7,158 students. The University transforms lives and communities through exceptional and award-winning teaching and research, innovative learning opportunities and a problem-solving approach to education. For more information, visit

1759 ### (Press Release written by UW-Green Bay student Joshua Fields)


Viking House

‘Viking house’ to be re-constructed at UW-Green Bay next week

Believed to be the only such construction on a college campus in the world.

No longer will UW-Green Bay students and faculty have to make the trek from Green Bay to Marshfield, Wis. to relive Viking-age Norway. They will simply have to walk outside the doors of Wood Hall, cross the parking lot, and step into the 11th century.

That’s in thanks to donors Owen and Elspeth Christianson, who have studied Viking-age Norway for 40 years, and have donated their replica of a Viking-age gryndbygg (a Norwegian timber-frame house) to UW-Green Bay. In mid-September, students from Prof. Heidi Sherman’s Public Humanities class spent three days with Owen carefully disassembling and numbering each piece of the house. The foundation has been excavated and poured (see the video), the concrete has been texturized (see the video) and reconstruction, piece-by-numbered-piece begins next Monday (Oct. 23, 2017). The house was delivered last week.

History students just published a website about the project and there is a facebook page with hundreds of photos.

Manager of the project, UW-Green Bay Chair of History, Heidi Sherman, said the reconstruction will go quickly, and should be near completion, except for a slate roof, by late Friday, Oct. 27. An open house is being planned for Saturday, Oct. 28 from 3 to 5 p.m, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3:30 p.m. There will be games for children and demonstration of Viking-age crafts from 3 to 5 p.m.

“We will be the only college campus in the world to have a replica of a Viking house,” Sherman says. “This will offer students hands-on learning experiences that they cannot gain in a traditional college classroom setting.”

The Christiansons will give a presentation about the house and their reasons for donating Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Fort Howard Hall of the Weidner Center. The event is sponsored by the UW-Green Bay History Club and the campus community and public is welcome to attend.

In the past, the Viking house has afforded students hands-on opportunities including medieval weaving, including with metal and blacksmithing — creating their own s-hooks used for hanging pots over the fire. They also prepared all of the food: apple-onion-bacon stew, porridge and flat bread (recipes from the Viking Age with ingredients available to medieval Scandinavians).

Sherman sees similar opportunities for students at UW-Green Bay as well as new and exciting partnerships with K-12 schools, other colleges and Universities and places such as the Neville Public Museum and community organizations such as the Sons of Norway and Society for Creative Anachronisms.  Plans are also in the work for Viking-themed summer camps.

“The possibilities are endless,“ Sherman says. “Students often describe themselves as hands-on learners and that they love acquiring applied skills in their college classes. Through Owen and Elspeth’s donation, we will be able to offer pre-industrial heritage skills to all students and community members who sign up for classes on campus. Having the house brings new opportunities to campus.  For example, we already plan to co-sponsor the visit of a Viking culinary archaeologist, Daniel Serra, next fall who will teach public workshops on Viking-age food using our medieval kitchen at the Viking house. The house will attract new people and organizations to our campus, and that’s really exciting!”

Contributions are still being accepted. E-mail Sherman at for details regarding donations.

Videos by UW-Green Bay Associate Prof. Jeff Benzow (Design).

Click to advance slideshow or view the album on Flickr.
Viking House Construction

– Photos by Dan Moore, Marketing and University Communication