Sunday, January 13, 2013

To Drive the Cold Winter Away ~ A collection of notations of surviving wintertime past - Colonial and Victorian~ (Revised 2018)

Updated in January 2018

~I say "Colonial and Victorian" because at this stage of the winter survival game there were not that many differences between the two eras in this particular subject. Without a forced-air furnace, cold was cold, but our ancestors were amazing people, I think you will agree.
And, as many of you may know, I like to try to experience what our ancestors did, even if only to get a sampling of their lives, if for nothing else than to have somewhat of an understanding and appreciation for the world in which they lived.
This is why I am in many of the photos accompanying this post ~
Are you ready to go back?

The 1750 Daggett Saltbox House

cautions the scroll along the bottom of your TV set.

declares the radio news station. 

screams the newspaper headlines.
~~~~~~~(don't you just love the media?)~~~~~~~

The weather outside is frightful: the temperatures are well below freezing, the wind is howling at your door, the snow is coming down at a blizzard pace. 
That's not a very pleasant thought, is it? 
Maybe not to some, but it is winter above the Mason-Dixon line.
And sometimes below the Mason-Dixon Line!
(I was given permission to use this wonderful photograph by the owner, 
Lisa Martin Lee, who beautifully captured Colonial Williamsburg during 
a major snowstorm that struck the south on Jan. 7, 2017
And it's really not so bad.
How do I know? 
Well...have you ever given any real thought to how the people many of us attempt to emulate during our reenactments survived the bitter cold dark winters in days of old? I have, and so I combed through a few of my books and magazines to see if it was as tough as I had heard.
In most cases it was far worse than I imagined.
Folks, I’m here to tell you we ain’t got nothin’ on our ancestors. What they had to live through each day of every winter and what they did to survive the bitter cold and snow in the pre-electric era makes everyone of us look like wimps.
And compared to them, the greater majority of us certainly are!

Come, journey with me to a cold winter's night a long, long time ago... 
(The Ackley Covered Bridge in Greenfield Village)
Wintertime in the pre-electric era brought in discomfort and dread to most in the United States, especially to those living in New England, the mid-west, and the plains areas. To begin with, darkness reigned, for one must remember the gradual decrease in daylight hours becoming more noticeable in late October to well into the first couple months of the new year, and during those few weeks from mid-December until early January there are only nine or so hours of daylight, leaving the remaining 15 hours in darkness. And the winter months are generally the cloudiest: in some areas in the mid-west, only 30 to 40 percent of the winter months have actual sunshine. In fact, for the entire 31 days of January 2017, the metro-Detroit area only had two days of sun. Talk about the bleak mid-winter! 
Grey skies, darkness, and snow...with no electricity.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

"But, things haven't changed, Ken," you tell me, "it's still cold and dark here in our 21st century winters!"  
You are quite right. Except for one thing: we have modern conveniences. You are cozy toasty in your home with the forced-air furnace blowing warmth throughout each room, the airtight windows ensuring the heat does not escape. Light at the flick of a switch staves off the winter darkness. With help from the radio, ipod, or CD collection, along with the hundreds of cable channels – as well as a decent quantity of DVD's – your entertainment is almost limitless. The internet can take you “to infinity and beyond” at the click of a mouse, either on your home computer, laptop, or even on your cell phone.  Then there's skype to allow you to "visit" nearly anyone without leaving the comfort of your house. And if you run out of food, the local Circle K, CVS, or Rite Aid party stores are only a moment’s drive from your front door by a motorized (and warmed up) vehicle, even in this horrible winter weather. 
Yes, let it snow...modern technology has rescued you from fear of freezing and solitude.
A cold and lonely walk to your darkened home. Lighting candles or an oil lamp to see to get around will be your first priority, followed by lighting the heating stoves to bring some warmth into this shut up house. I hope your lucifers are easily accessible.

And you still had to clean off your porch! A good, stiff corn broom will certainly come in handy, as you see in this 1750 saltbox!
(Daggett Farmhouse - Greenfield Village)

But, what if you should lose power? What then? 
Many modern folks rightfully panic, especially in the wintertime, for if they're like me they may not have a heat source without electricity.
And that can be devastating, especially if one is financially strapped; where would you go to keep warm?
 Not quite as devastating but certainly inconvenient, an outage would also mean no TV, no computer, no music, no electric lights or microwave...oh my gosh! - - what now?  
It's as primitive as can be!
 Oh, how will we survive the winter months? 
"If the only light and heat comes from candles and fireplaces because of a power outage at your house, it is frustrating and annoying - but when it comes in the form of intimate tours of a historic village, it is charming and peaceful."
~A quote from Old Sturbridge Village~

(The above photo was taken inside the mid-18th century Giddings House in Greenfield Village. 
Yes, that's me near the fireplace!)
A colonial winter scene in Greenfield Village 
(This is the 1750 Daggett Saltbox House you see here)
Rich, poor, or in the middle, losing power during the wintertime can truly cause great stress and problems. I know it definitely would for me, for I have no fireplace...well, no real fireplace (it's an electric one) even give off a bit of warmth should we lose power. I could survive without the neat little electronics - I have actual books to read, not a Kindl - but a power outage certainly would be more than unpleasant, if only for a lack of a heat source. 
~A cozy winter's eve~
The flickering flames can arouse an inner warmth, giving solace to the inhabitants.
(Giddings House - Greenfield Village)

A feeble circle of light emanates from the cabin's tallow candles with extra illumination from the fireplace.
It is highly unlikely that two candles would be burning in such a tiny area as shown in this single-room late 18th century cabin, but it does give a fair idea of what it was like to be shrouded in the darkness of a long January night.
(1780s McGuffey Cabin - Greenfield Village)

Up until the mid-19th century, it was the candle that provided the artificial lighting for most, with the gradual increase in the use of the oil lamp in the latter half, though candles were still in popular use well into the 20th century. Levi Hutchins, on a cold winter evening in 1810, remained at his brother's home instead of returning to his own home due to the "social circle of my brother's household, cheered by the mingled light of the bright woodfire and his domestic tallow-candles, caused so much happiness that I was induced to postpone our return till morning."
Our own sung fireside on a non-electric January evening. Even in a room with two oil lamps and two candles, darkness still reigned.

A solitary candle was
enough light for most
With darkness king of the 24 hour day, it dictated daily activities. Along with the bitter cold, being buried in the dark shadows of nighttime reduced the once family-sized home into a single room in many cases, for many families closed off the parlors to decrease the amount of warming space.  With a dim glow, life centered around the hearth or stove for warmth and possibly a candle or oil lamp to give little enhancement any of the limited activities of which they may have partaken. This low level of lighting - oil or candle - created only pockets of brightness, leaving most of the room in darkness.  Forget about the Hollywood movies showing people enjoying a pleasant winter's eve reading by candlelight or oil lamp - I've tried and it's pretty darn difficult to do for any length of time. As Laura Wirt wrote in 1818, "writing by a dim firelight. I can scarcely see." And Frederick Law Olmstead, in 1853, was chastised by the servant when he asked for a candle so that he might write a letter (I am quoting it here the way it was originally written): "Not if you hab a fire," the servant told him. "Can't you see by da light of da fire? When a gentleman hab a fire in his room, dey don't count he wants no mo' light 'n dat."  
This attitude was not unusual for it was a great luxury to have candles for many people. George Channing recalled his youth in Rhode Island where "little children were obliged to find their way to bed in the dark."
I could see fairly well with my two lit oil lamps from the 1880s as I wrote a letter at my desk in the above photo, but you can see I was surrounded by the darkness.
And it was even slightly darker in the colonial times, for the 19th century oil lamps give off a brighter luminescence than mere candle light, as you can see in the colonial scene below:

 Even with two other candle lanterns lit in the background, darkness was king...
Yes, there was reading, writing, sewing, mending, and other necessities done as best as one could by such low light, but on these long winter nights there was also socializing, singing, storytelling, bible recitations, games, family history lore, and other ways to pass the time. The glow of the hearth was sufficient enough for any of these activities, thus saving on candles and fuel. 
 Victorian entertainment on a winter's eve

Emily Barnes tells of her grandmother telling stories, and "how eagerly we sought our places in the sitting room around the low-cushioned chair, which was placed in the warmest corner, the room all aglow with the bright, blazing fire. 'There is no need to light the candles,' she would say; and we were glad to avoid the interruption occasioned by snuffing them, especially when so unfortunate to snuff them out."
(Snuffing in the old days meant to trim the wick rather than putting out the flame as we know it to mean today.) 
My daughter attempts to read a book by lamp and candle light.
It was in this clustered manner that the family ensured survival. However, that did not mean they were warm:  “A forest of logs, heaped up and burning in the great chimney, could not warm the other side of the kitchen. Aunt Lois, standing with her back so near the blaze as to be uncomfortably warm, found her dish towel freezing in her hand.”
In the kitchen at the Daggett Saltbox House.

There was also great danger. In 1794 Mary Tyler writes of one such dangerous occurrence when the fire had gone out: "Lucifer matches had not yet been invented, and to save herself the trouble of striking fire in a tinderbox, (mother) awoke little George, gave him a pair of small light tongs, and bid him to run to the next neighbor's house (to get) a fine lively coal in his little tongs. The sun made it appear as if the coal had gone out, and he lifted up the tongs to blow it and keep it alive; the action broke the coal and half of it fell into his bosom, and lodged near his hip."
His clothing caught fire and the child was terribly burned. Fortunately, he did recover after many weeks of agony.
The warmth of the kitchen hearth...the freezing blackness all around.  
(Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village)
While out-of-doors, winter prevailed - -
Three friends gathering on a New Year's evening visitation during the 1770s at the Daggett House.

Winter-wear for men & women of two different eras are shown in these two photos here. On the left I am wearing colonial-era wool cloak and mittens, while on the right we see Victorian cloaks for women (at Firestone Farm).
My mittens, I am proud to say, were made from raw wool my wife cleaned and carded, spun on her wheel, dyed, then knitted. My cloak of wool is from Jas. Townsend, and my hat was hand-made by hatter George Franks III (click the pic to get a larger view)

Winter wear stockings, flannels, double layered gowns, petticoats, shirts, trousers, and jackets all had to be altered and repaired after being stored away for the summer months, while new items had to be made to replace those worn beyond repair.  Anne Eliza Clark thanked her mother for the yarn mitts, which were of “great service to me when I sweep my chamber and make my bed.” Mittens were commonly worn inside as well as outside because, in many cases, there was little difference in the temperature. Paletots, sontags, woolen bonnets, and sometimes extra layers under the skirts were common winter-wear for the Victorian woman, while wool coats, cloaks, knitted hats & scarves, and boots were all a necessity for the Colonial or Victorian man.  
At the Daggett Farm House hearth

Many would cover their front doors with blankets or by pulling a curtain across to keep out the cold, but for those with an upper floor bed chamber, there seemed to be little difference from the outside; in 1793, Abner Spanger spent time clearing his attic bed chambers of snow!
Sleeping with another person was a way to generate warmth in the bed chamber. From earliest childhood, our ancestors had slept together – infants with their parents, then with their siblings, cousins, or even friends, and then with apprentices, or domestic help of the same sex. So used to sleeping with others that sleeping partners were often sought out. 
Of course, sleeping with a marriage partner was the most desirable way; in January of 1775 Esther Burr wrote, "Pray what do you think everybody marrys in, or about Winter for? 'Tis quite merry, isn't it? I really believe 'tis for fear of laying cold, and for the want of a bedfellow. Well, my advice to such is the same with the apostles, LET THEM MARRY --- and you know the reason given by Him, as well as I do --- TIS BETTER TO MARRY THAN TO ______."
An upstairs bedroom at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Note the warming stove.

From a 2nd floor 
bedroom window...
(Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village)
William Davis recalled that “fires in chambers were, in my day, far from being universal, (and I) never slept in a heated chamber, except when sick, until sixteen years of age.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe remembered her Aunt Lois setting a candle in their room and “admiring the forest of glittering frost-work which had been made by our breath freezing upon the threads of the blanket.”  
Using a long-handled brass warming pan filled with the hot coals from the hearth was one way to warm a bed before slipping in. It would be placed between the sheets and rubbed along the length of the bed quickly and steadily, as to not spill the burning coals. In this manner the bed would become sufficiently warm enough to climb in.
But not everyone had this sort of warming luxury, for Mrs. Stowe recalled a family taking their leave to "bed-chambers that never knew a fire, where the very sheets and blankets seemed so full of stinging cold air that they made one's fingers tingle; and where, after getting into bed, there was a prolonged shiver, until one's own internal heat-giving economy had warmed through the whole icy mass."
Mrs. Stowe also warned that “whoever touched a door-latch incautiously in the early morning received a skinning bit from Jack Frost,” while Harriet Martineau recalled those winter mornings when even with a good hot coal fire in her chamber stove “everything you touch seems to blister your fingers with cold.” James Stuart found it “difficult to preserve the body in sufficient warmth, even wrapped in two suits of clothes, and everyone kept on stockings and flannel garments during the night." 

"The ink froze in my pen in lifting it to the paper from an ink-horn, placed within the fender in front of a good fire." - James Stuart  
(Photo taken at the Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village)
Then there's keeping food. For Mary Tyler, in 1794, "it was very inconvenient, the fire in the kitchen had been out for hours and everything was frozen. We concluded that a cup of tea, some toast and cheese would do" - but all had to be thawed first.
Wells were frozen up, as it was for Samuel Lane in 1786 when he wrote that "after the weather grew cold in winter, water from the brooks were put into cellars to keep it from freezing for daily use." 
Ebenezer Parkman went without water for weeks in 1780: "Our lowest and best well has been ever since ye great storm (in January), froze up and filled with snow that we have not been able to use it, till today, when we got it open."
On the 19th of December 1856, Caroline Dustan wrote, “Water in Mamma’s and my wash bowl freezing thick as half a dollar.”
Thomas Chaplin wrote in January 1857, “The thermometer is down to 20 degrees in the house at eight in the morning, and everything is frozen hard, including eggs, milk, and ink, and every piece of crockery that water was left in overnight is cracked.”
Now that’s cold!
It was unfortunate for the woman who attempted to do her daily chores such as spinning, for this necessary activity required ample amount of floor space and nimble fingers. There are numerous diary entries that tell of the difficulty in performing this task inside a crowded room with frozen fingers. 
On the plus side, because of radiant heat of an active central chimney, the temperature in many attic spaces remained above freezing. According to the author of Our Own Snug Fireside, meal, flour, and dried foodstuffs such as corn, apples, pumpkins, and herbs normally kept in cellars could sometimes be safely stored in attics as well regardless of how cold it became. That is, as long as the heat was sufficient enough, for especially root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and potatoes would be damaged by extreme cold.

Currier & Ives "The Snow Storm" 1864
Staying home from school due to bitter weather is nothing new. Anna Green Winslow writes in her diary that on February 21, 1772:
"This day Jack Frost bites very hard, so hard that aunt won't let me go to any school. My aunt believes this day is 10 degrees colder than it was yesterday; & moreover, that she would not put a dog out of doors."
I can't imagine a man putting 
his feet upon such an effeminate 
luxury as a foot stove!
Small tin or wood foot stoves filled with an iron plate of glowing coals were used in both the parlor or in the carriage for traveling. These little warmers were considered a woman’s stove, or an “effeminate luxury.” In 1819, Theodore Dwight declared his toes “comfortably bitten, which excited much sympathy: & I came near suffering the indignity of having a girl with gold beads offer me a stove.”

Winter, by the way, was usually the best time to travel; the roads and paths were hopefully covered with snow, which would make it easy to glide over the smooth surface. Folks traveled in sleighs, cutters, and carioles, most of which had jingling bells attached to warn the pedestrians, who were bundled up head to toe and could not hear beyond the higher pitched ringing, to move out of the way since the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves were muffled due to the snow.  Instead of plowing the snow out of the way, as we do in our modern day, snow rollers packed it down. They rolled the roads, covering the bare spots so that sleighs could get through, and if they came to a covered bridge or an area cleared of the white stuff, they would shovel a layer of snow onto the bridge floor or the bare area so that the sleigh runners wouldn't stick.
In a sense, however, traveling to town or to visit by way of carriage could also be a great discomfort without the luxury of heat, though a foot stove would make it a bit more bearable, at least for the lady.
 Yet, there were travel dangers and concerns, as noted in the book The Colonial Tavern by Edward Field: The winter winds and heavy snow discouraged travel, and one unfortunate coach met a drift and overturned. The last 'ordinary' (tavern) the coach had passed was five miles behind them, and the next was five miles ahead, and the storm's intensity was increasing. The six passengers stood angrily staring at the overturned coach, knowing that to remain would mean to freeze and that the nearest shelter was five miles in either direction.

Now, let's imagine, that you and your family, who are twenty first century people, suddenly find yourselves in a carriage in, say, January 1860. Since you time-traveled to this era, this is a first ride for everyone. It's a tight squeeze, barely room for the four of you. Though everyone is dressed warmly, and the lady of the house also has a blanket to cover her lap as well as a wood-framed metal foot warmer filled with hot coals at her feet, she is still shivering, for the inside of the carriage is every bit as cold as the teen temperature outside. 
Are you ready for your winter journey? It will not be a long jaunt that you are taking, just enough to get a feel for period travel:
With a resounding “Hyaah!” from the driver, the two horses pull forward with a lurch, enough to shake the passengers a bit, physically as well as mentally. But, as you roll onto the road, everyone relaxes and settles in. In fact, as nerves calm, your family may even take great pleasure in the ride. If one had ever sat in an old truck as it bumped down a rocky path with no heat or shock-absorbers, one can envision the reality of a carriage ride on a rutted road in the winter, the snow crunching below the wheels. And it is a slow ride, hardly faster than a brisk walk. From inside the buggy, giggles and laughter abound in this new adventure. Though many carriages have glass windows in the doors, there are none in this one - only leather flaps that do little to help keep the weather out. 
When you finally arrive at your destination, the driver of the carriage asks, “How was your ride?”
“Cold,” the woman replies, even with her extra blanket and foot warmer. “And it was jerkier than I thought it would be.”
“It was bumpy!” the young daughter exclaims.
“I thought it was cool,” says your teenage son, though his definition not meant to be the meaning of a low temperature.
“I don’t know if I could handle a ride like this for too long,” you yourself mention.
The driver is astounded at what he was hearing. “Have you folks never ridden in a carriage before?”
Just imagine...

Victorians had their fun, too: "In much merriment the sleighing party is made up to dash along with chiming bells and song and laughter. An upset now and then is counted in with the amusements of the day, so that no one is hurt, and who ever is? by a fall into a yielding snowbank!" 
(This is a Currier & Ives print called "A Spill Out on the Snow" 1870)
(From the diary of Samuel Cormany): January 14, 1861 - Sleighing is fine - "Charlie" the horse is a very fleet-footed little fellow, and my cutter is very light, about 100 lbs, and with a Buffalo Robe under me and another over me, and fur gloves - zero weather is not to be dreaded at all.
And from one of the earlier settlers of my own hometown of Eastpointe (then called "Halfway") Michigan: "Some boys took a pair (of the outside wooden window blinds/shutters) down (from the school house) and made a sled."
And here is the rarely sung third verse of "One Horse Open Sleigh" from 1857 (better known now as Jingle Bells) showing that even in Victorian times men were not always so gallant:

A day or two ago, The story I must tell
I went out on the snow, And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie, But quickly drove away.

Of course, there was little protection from the elements while riding on the back of a horse, aside from the coat and cloak one had on.

No horse, carriage or sleigh? Well, one could always walk to their destination...

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As you find yourself surviving the winters of long, long ago, you also realize that there was more to winter than sitting by a hot fire trying to warm yourself. January was the month that the cellar was to be replenished with apples and late-season vegetables, packed in sawdust or sand. Pigs had to be killed, sausages made, and barrels of pork and ham put down. Pies were baked in large quantity to be kept frozen in the storeroom, the garrett, the guest chamber, or the closed–up parlor. Maria Church, on January 22, 1854, was happy to note that she “now completed all the winter jobs of sausages, pork, putting down hams, making candles, & mince pies.”
After a bit of rest from the arduous labor of the planting, growing, and harvest seasons, the Monday following 12th Night (or Epiphany – January 6), known as Plow Monday, was the traditional signal to begin another work year. It was on Plow Monday that the farmer began to get all of his farm equipment into tip-top shape for the growing season.
Winter time in the country 
~1882 Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village~
(photo by Jesse Hughes)
The winter months of January and February were considered the best time of year for woodcutting, and the rising of the sun was often accompanied with the sound of an axe as fuel supplies were needed. Wood chopping had a dual purpose in the wintertime: it warmed the axeman as it was being chopped and warmed him again as it was burned for fuel. The men spent long, hard days in the woods, sometimes hiring out help to complete such a task. They would cut and prepare specific firewood for the many needs such as for cooking, warming, and laundry.
It's not a large fire in the Gidding's hearth, but it is sufficient enough.
The amount of wood needed was impressive: a large family recorded in a journal that they burned forty four cords of wood within a one year period in a house with seven fireplaces, a bake oven, and two chimney’s. Another family documented burning “twenty seven cords, two feet of wood” between May 3, 1826 and May 4, 1827.  One impoverished woman mentioned that she endured a Boston winter on twelve cords of wood “as we kept but one fire except on extraordinary occasions.”  Abigail Adams burned forty to fifty cords a year “as we are obliged to keep six fires constantly & occasionally more.”

Now we are coming up to ice-cutting season, that time of year where those with the means to will head out to the frozen lakes, ponds, and rivers to cut blocks of ice to be used for the storage of meat during the warmer seasons of the year. In fact, I have a quote from the same old-timer mentioned earlier who lived in my own hometown of Eastpointe/Halfway, Michigan about this practice: "The farmers would haul the ice cut from Lake St. Clair for the summer for the butter or whatever they made. The ice hauling up and down 9 Mile Road (then called School Road) was quite a period."
Cutting blocks of ice from the river (Currier & Ives - "Winter in the Country: Getting Ice" 1864)
The previous year’s sawdust, old and pungent-smelling, was shoveled out and used for fertilizer and replaced with a new five-inch base in preparation for the coming year. The roads leading to and from the lakes, rivers, and streams saw teams of horses, oxen, and mules hauling blocks of ice, much like as the old-timer above told us.

One of the late winter traditions was maple sugaring time. No American season is more definite than sugaring time. The right time is usually between late February/early March through early April when the sap is flowing properly. The nights are still cold enough to freeze sharply and the days warm enough to thaw freely. The thermometer must not rise above forty degrees by day, nor sink below 24 degrees at night. It is this magic see-sawing between winter and spring that decides the sugaring season. But I won't go any deeper into this family and community affair here in this posting, for it is covered further in the "No Time For Boredom" springtime in the past post I wrote previously. But I thought it worth a mention due to the over-lapping between winter and spring activities.
Trekking to the house from the barn. Maybe they were maple sugaring...?  
(Historic Waterloo Farm in Waterloo, Michigan)

In late December 2017, I once again visited historic Greenfield Village while wearing my clothing from the 1770s. Besides two period shirts, a waistcoat, coat, breeches, stockings, mittens, scarf and hat (and shoes), I also wore my woolen cloak, which worked very well. The temperature on this night was in the single digits and the wind blew harshly, but my upper chest area was warm, thankfully, due to my cloak, though my lower half was quite cold. Entering the historic homes and warming myself at the hearth truly did give me an understanding of how our ancestors must have felt, for the warmth of the fire upon my person at that moment felt better than any other warming device could. My toes in the leather buckle shoes were biting - they ached like I never felt them ache before - and it took a while for the "thaw" to take place, but they, too, came back to life, though were still pain-filled.
I could feel the warmth of the fire engulf me as I stood in front of the hearth 
inside the colonial-era Daggett saltbox house - not too close, mind you! - and I 
appreciated it on this extreme bitter night like I never had done before.
Being out in the single digit temps and harsh winds for over four hours in period clothing certainly gave me more of an understanding, appreciation, and a deeper respect for our ancestors and the way they survived.

So! This winter, when the wind howls at your door and you keep your thermostat to an oh-so-cool 66 degrees, when you feel boredom creep up on you, and your bed sheets feel cold against your body, and even when you must venture out to the local store a couple blocks away, fighting the slippery ice and snow covered streets the entire way, remember how your 18th or 19th century self would have dealt with the months of January and February. That should warm you up a bit!
Giddings House at Greenfield Village
The information for this article came from numerous sources:
"Cormany Diaries: A Northern Family in the Civil War"
History Magazine - December/January 2000

All photos were taken by me except those that I am in (obviously!), though they were still taken with my camera. However, the picture of Firestone Farm entitled Winter time in the country was taken by Jesse Hughes, an employee at Greenfield Village. Oh - and the foot warmer picture I found on Google on THIS site.
And then there is that beautiful photograph near the top of this posting of Colonial Williamsburg. Lisa Martin Lee is a professional photographer and has a web site that you
really should check out, especially if you are in the Williamsburg area.
Please visit her website HERE.

I would like to thank my wife and daughter for willingly taking the time to get dressed in their period clothing just to pose for some of these images.

For more on colonial lighting, click HERE

For more on historic lighting in general, click HERE

~   ~   ~


Betsy said...

One winter we lost power for three days due to an ice storm. Thankfully our gas range still worked (it was an older model that had a pilot light, no electric ignition needed) so we lived in the kitchen for those 3 days with our only heat source being the open oven door. I later learned that is very dangerous to do and it's a wonder we didn't die of carbon monoxide poisoning, but here we are. I remember enjoying that time, huddled around the table, reading by candle light, but was very thankful for the power (and the heat) to be restored! Our ancestors were definitely made of sterner stuff than we are, although to be fair, at least they had the right tools for survival. Modern homes that have no wood burning fireplaces or wood burning stoves put us at a disadvantage.

Historical Ken said...

The fact that our ancestors were prepared for their way of life (via wood burning fireplaces) should have been noted in my post (maybe I'll add it!).
Thanks for your comment Betsy!

troutbirder said...

Fascinating.... and well written. We had a Franklin stove in our basement with a swinging grate and it served us well when our electicity failed all our modern conveniences during a blizzard....:)

Vicki Stevens said...

Excellent post. I fear our younger generations would grow bored rather quickly without the use of all their electronic gadgets. I really believe we should all know how to survive without working electricity and plumbing, which is one of the great things about reenacting - you learn how to survive without 21st century conveniences. I rarely use modern lighting in the evenings. I much prefer using candles and oil lamps. However, must admit that it is rather difficult to read by candlelight. (and NO, I DO NOT use an e-reader of any sort and never will. I have a rather strong opinion on that subject which I shall refrain from posting here, but I'm sure you can gather what it might be). Thank you for a wonderful post and lovely photos.

Jennifer Litwiller said...

I remember the big snow storm in the 70's when we had no power for a week! I was young but we stayed in our living room where we did have a fire place and we also had a wood burning stove in our family room! We used candles (we were a re-enacting family so no problem) and cooked over the fire and on the wood burning stove! My dad told stories at night and we would play games! It is still one of the best memories I have from childhood! I remember being disappointed when the power came back on! Popcorn over the fire is sooo good!!!

Jennifer Litwiller said...

One of my best memories from my childhood was the big blizzard in Michigan in the 70's (I think it wsa 78 or 79). We had no power for 1 week~ it was so much fun! We had a fireplace in our living room and a woodburning stove in our family room (and plenty of fire wood)! Meals were made over the fire or on the woodburning stove~ I played outside and warmed up by the fireplace later with hot chocolate! Evenings we lite laterns and candles (my family has been re-enacting for 3 generations) so we didn't mind the candle lite! We would make popcorn over the fire and my dad would tell us stories in the evening and as a family we would play board games! I had more attention from my older sisters then ever before! To be honest I remember being so disappointed when the power came back on! We would have family night around our fireplace on occasion but it was never as great as that week in the 70's when that was our only option! It is one of my best childhood memories!!

Historical Ken said...

HI Ken,
I just read your blog on winter. It brought back fond memories of staying with my grandparents when I was a young boy.
They did have an electric range but the furnace was coal fired and had a single large register in the dining room that the heat was supposed to come up through and heat the whole house. There was no blower so it was gravity heat. The main floor was warm but the upstairs was always curtained off from November through March and yes the sheets felt like sliding into a Popsicle wrapper.
The indoor privy was only to be used at night. They still had an outhouse that was used year around.
There were always chores that took us outside. Fetching milk from the barn before the milk truck picked up the cans and gathering eggs.
Apples and pears were stored in a back room in the basement. It was nice to go down there and stand next to the furnace for a few minutes before getting the fruit. My brother and I were usually reminded to stoke the furnace while we were down there.
One of my earliest memories was riding next to my grandfather while he drove the horses with a load of apple boxes on the "slip" on the way to the barn.
Thanks for jogging the memory,
Mike Carr

the bee guy said...

Another great post.
Thanks for the links to the reference books. Looks like I'll have a few more books to read this winter.

Civil Folks said...

Great post Ken. I am always informed when you write!

Rose Connolly said...

frolicking in the snow is natural. Just watch our puppies. Victorians were active.

Jesse said...

The Firestone Farm house photo was taken by me, back when I worked there. Here it is on my Facebook page
Lee probably would have composed the shot better than I did.

Historical Ken said...

Jesse, consider it corrected. And I apologize for the mistake.
I certainly hope you don't mind me using your photo.

Tinman said...

Our house is entirely wood heated for primary heat. It makes for a chilly house in the mornings, let me tell ya. It's not a big stove either, just a 1930's Kenmore cook stove and it's in a room by itself. We have a lousy floor plan for heat circulation. It gets very cold on and near the floor and I can see my breath most days. But, I have a ton of historical wool and very sensible traditional garments that make things rather nice, actually.

May Devone said...

I GREW UP in a cold flat in NC huddling around our one source of heat in the LR. Oh! I miss those days!

Non de Plume said...

I grew up in a boarding school here in the UK. It was a Georgian stately home and we frequently lost power. The central heating never worked and in winter there was usually a coating of ice on the inside of the windows. I remember doing homework by a log fire, by the light of an oil lamp. I think it's one of the reasons that I'm fascinated by the past. These days I live in a townhouse built in 1756 but am always better prepared than my neighbours. We have candles, a stack of firewood, tinned food etc...People are so reliant on utilities that it has made them lazy and a little stupid!

Kathy Divella said...

And don't forget that people would take their dogs to church. The pews had enough space between them to accommodate a persons dog. These animals would lie on their master's feet to help keep them warm. What a fiasco that must have been at times!

Susan @ 1885 Victorian said...

Enjoyed this post- made me appreciate the 66 degrees I do have in my 1885 Victorian home, instead of lamenting the 75 degrees I wish it could be!

Suzanne said...


How I enjoyed every word of this post and the pictures! I am so happy to have stumbled upon your blog via a friend's recommendation. Our home is a post and beam cape built in 1799. We are blessed with a center chimney, open hearth and beehive oven for cooking and many other charms pertinent to the era. During a terrible ice storm here in MA we did pretty good as we heated by hearth and a wood stove and I was able to cook on the hearth and make pizza in the oven quite a bit;-) The well was a problem as it is run with electric, but we just melted snow.I run a FB group for Tasha Tudor admirers, if you know who she is, called Take Peace. A lot of like minded folks there if you care to join us. I would love to share your post there if that is okay with you? You might also like Sarah Chrismans site and FB page called This Victorian Life. They live in their home as a couple in 1890 do, no modern conveniences. She has written two interesting books about living this way and a book on corsets that some of your female readers would love:-)



Historical Ken said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Suzanne.
You live in my dream house!! How wonderful for you!
I just joined your Take Peace page - yes, you are certainly welcome to share any of my blog postings - thank you very much!

mom said...

Absolutely love your blog. Keep up the great work.

Steve said...

We live in a brick house built in 1838. On one separate occasion we lost power to our farm for 3 days in 20-25 degree weather. I was able to keep most of the house at around 50 degrees using 4 of the 6 fireplaces - which I needed to do to avoid modern pipes freezing - but this required getting up every hour or so throughout the nights to tend those fires, as my wife and kids weren't home. One thing that I believe helped our ancestors manage was the degree of community that was their family. All able bodied members played a role, and such teamwork and distribution of effort was no doubt key to their success. Having tried it alone, I can attest to the value of family effort!