Friday, April 12, 2013

Heating Stoves and Wall Pockets: Items That Made A House A Home

Accurate period clothing is of utmost importance at a reenactment, this we know to be true.
But we can't forget the other side of this *hobby* - knowledge of the period is every bit as important. Which is why this posting has the title that it does - to get you thinking about your life in the 1860's.
As one from the 21st century, how much do you know about things you have on your home? I'll venture to say quite a bit: the TV, computer, DVD/Blu-Ray player, microwave, ipod, cell phone...
But have you thought about your wall know, that funny looking thing in the wall you plug your electrical appliances into? Or your thermostat? Heck, how about your dirty clothes hamper??
You probably never give any of these a second thought, yet each one plays a significant role in your home life, I'm sure.
Now, if you were from 1860, how much would you know about your own home? Not just the big and well-known items (sofa, oil lamps, tables, etc.), but some of the seemingly insignificant things. Do you know what is in each room of your 1860 house? Do you know what the items are used for - what their function is? How important are they to you and your home?
These are the things we need to be thinking of and learning about (and teaching to spectators) every bit as much as our clothing: our everyday mid-19th century lives. For instance...

As I type this, it is mid-April, and the temperature outside is only in the 40's and it's been raining. Yep - it's damp and chilly and the furnace kicks on every-so-often to keep the temperature inside my home at a cozy 68 degrees without nary a thought from me.
It was quite a bit different to one living in the 1860's, for their heating stove was of constant concern; the chopping of the wood and the consistent replenishing of the firebox was as much a priority as any other chore that had to be done.
Heating stoves were rare in most American homes prior to the 1830's. It was in the late 1820's and into the '30's that manufacturing techniques made stoves stronger, lighter, and less expensive. People bought and used the stoves to warm their parlor, bed chambers, dining rooms, and, if they could afford it, any other room in the house. They reached their peak of popularity by mid-century.
They were more efficient than open fireplaces and used a lot less fuel. Their cast iron surfaces radiated warmth more evenly and effectively - the heat stayed in the room rather than going up the chimney.
 And style mattered greatly - people wanted their stoves to not only be useful but eye-catching as well, for Victorian taste demanded that functional objects also be decorative. And, as you will see in the photos below, some were obviously designed specifically for use in the parlor, while others, called box stoves, could be used in any room of the home, including the parlor (as income allowed). Not only were box stoves popular in many homes, but they were also utilized in schools and the work place.
It wasn't until the 1870's that central heating began to be widely accepted and radiators replaced heating stoves, and by the turn of the 20th century, the heating stove became a rarity in most homes.
Here are some of the more interesting stoves from the 19th century that were, at one time, standing proudly in a parlor or bed chamber:

1854 Parlor Stove

1844 Parlor Stove

Mid-1850's Parlor Stove

1845 Parlor Stove - note the engravings on the front

Mid-1850's Parlor Stove

1847 Parlor Stove - Note the engravings

1848 Box Stove

Firestone Farm: Box Stove in the main upstairs bedroom

Firestone Farm: Box Stove in Grandmother's Room

Buzzell House Parlor Stove

Box Stove in the Apothecary

As you can see, some of the parlor stoves are downright beautiful! I would love to have one just for show in my own parlor. have money to spend on such things.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Do you know what a 'wall pocket' is?
Well, until around a decade ago, I sure didn't! Yet most homes from the mid-19th century through the turn of the 20th century had one in their parlor. As the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue said: "Almost every housekeeper knows what a convenient receptacle a wall pocket is."
Not in the 21st century they don't!
Wall pockets, which came in a variety of styles, sizes, and quality, held letters, newspapers, magazines, and cards, and were usually hung in an easily accessible location on the wall - maybe nearest to where the man of the house would sit to relax in the evening and catch up on the latest news. I have seen them in the historic homes at Greenfield Village and have also seen them in sketches of period parlors as well. Generally, those that I have seen in historic homes were made of wood, though I have seen many made of pottery for sale on line (used now mainly as a planter).
Then there are the smaller wall pockets that were stitched together and held accessories such as sewing items. These were many times located in the ladies room or the bed chamber.
It's unfortunate that, except for the few lines written above, I simply cannot find any other information on wall pockets...anywhere. I've dug through my books and searched the internet...nada.
Thank the good Lord for my friends at Greenfield Village who were able to at least give me the little bit of the history you read here.
Here are some photos of 19th century wall pockets:

This is the wall pocket that I own. I was very lucky to find it - this is the exact style I was looking for!

On the left is the wall pocket at Firestone Farm
Here's a front view of the Firestone Farm wall pocket

On the right is Sarah Jordan's wall pocket

And here is that same wall pocket head on

This wall pocket, also in the Sarah Jordan Boarding House, is much smaller than the others. It seems to have been made to hold mail or pamphlets

The ca 1876 wall pocket at the birthplace of Henry Ford

A smaller stitched wall pocket in the lady's bed chamber. Yes, the black one hanging there - that's it! I'm sure the lady of the house kept her sewing supplies inside.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

On a similar note:
Recently I was at my son's apartment for a visit. What do you think I saw hanging on his wall? No, not a wall pocket, but the Old Farmer's Almanac! You see, my son desperately would love to be a farmer - a traditional farmer. During last year's growing season he turned half of my very suburban back yard and a quarter of his in-laws back yard into his vegetable garden. He also raises chickens, and is looking into the possibility of keeping bees as well. And, though we are into the second decade of the 21st century, he still reads the almanac for information. It is far better than the information the Monsanto-owned government would like one to use (he has his own blog HERE called "The Sustainable Patriot").
Anyhow, back during the time of heating stoves and wall pockets, The Farmer's Almanac was of utmost importance to nearly everyone - 2nd only to the Bible, from what I've heard.
And here my 21st century son is reading it just as he would have if he lived 150 years earlier.

  - - - - - - - - -

Well, hopefully I gave you a little bit of food for thought while you pursue your living history endeavors; hopefully I enticed you to look beyond the obvious and dig a little deeper to get a more realistic and less Hollywood feel for history.
Until next time...



Vicki Stevens said...

Great food for thought, Ken. And thank you for the info on wall pockets. I, too, had heard about them but had never actually seen one. You are very fortunate to own one - very pretty. And I must say, I truly admire your son for his tenacity and his endeavor to truly savor the past. Unfortunately today it is almost impossible to make a living from being a farmer - sad but true. I would love to live on a farm in the country and live off the land as much as is possible. Ah, we can dream, can't we :) Great blog post. Vicki

A Country Victorian said...

Loved your post! I wonder why more museums don't have interesting exhibits like that? To me, the everyday life of the average (historical) person is more interesting than all the dates and names of important people.

Also, where did you get your wall pocket? It looks so handy! :)


Historical Ken said...

Thank you Vicki -
Though my oldest may not be the historian I am, he does take traditional values to heart and I couldn't be more proud!

Veronica -
Thank you!
I agree with your statement completely!
I got my wall pocket at an antique store in Holly called Battle Alley Arcade Antiques. A really fine place to go.
Take care,

GinaBVictorian said...

Wonderful post Ken! I am proud to say that Yes, I know what a wall pocket is and I have a walnut one in my living room, although I do not have it hanging as low as it is suppose to be. Yours is very nice and I like the one at Firestone Farm too. Those heating stoves are spectacular, the detail work on them is beautiful. At first I was thinking that they were all in your home and I thought Wow! and then I realized they were not. I thank you for such a great post! Gina

diane cassidy said...

I was "treasure hunting" in my buddy's pole barn and came across an old stove. It said Sullivan stove Co. Zanesville Ohio 1821. It looks to be parlor size. It has sliding pocket doors and a fancy swirley design pattern. I have Google's myself silly. Any advice. Thanks Diane

Historical Ken said...

Wow! What a find!
To find out more about the stove maybe take a photo of it and e-mail the pic to places such as Greenfield Village (their Benson Ford research library department) and/or Old Sturbridge Village.
Good luck!

diane cassidy said...

Thank You for your response. I will take your advice and let you know what I find out. Diane.