Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Our Towne Bethlehem January 2019: Keeping Warm

It has been my privilege to publish with Our Towne Bethlehem for a long time now.  In order to make the current crop of articles more accessible I am going to publish them here on the blog the month after they appear in Our Towne.  Of course I have a back log - so here is January's!

Keeping Warm

As 2019 arrives, I am switching up the focus of my then and now articles for Our Towne Bethlehem.  Since my first article appeared in February 2013, I have been inspired by old photographs of Bethlehem people, buildings and scenes. My curiosity led me to find out more and share it with you. In fact, I have gathered up the past 3 years’ worth of articles into a new book. Bethlehem People and Places (published by Troy Book Makers) is due out in mid-February.

For 2019, I am going to seek my inspiration in objects.  I’ve been inspired by Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects and the Albany Institute of History and Art’s exhibit “The Capital Region in 50 Objects.”  Which objects will open a window into local Bethlehem history?  The Bethlehem Historical Association has a wide-ranging collection of objects and artifacts, and I am looking forward to partnering with them to see what we can discover.  If you have ideas about historical objects, please be sure to pass them along.

Parlor Stoves

As winter is upon us, my mind turns to keeping warm. If you have ever gathered around a wood burning fireplace, you know that half the heat goes up the chimney leaving the rest of the house cold.  As you warm your hands, your front side is roasting while your backside is freezing.  People were always trying to find a better way to keep warm.

Cast iron box stoves, with their more efficient radiating heat, were coming into use in Albany in the 1740s. These 6 plated stoves were a basic rectangle with a door on one end to add fuel and a smoke pipe on the back that connected a chimney. General Philip Schuyler, in 1776 while furnishing the army at Saratoga for the winter, ordered fifty such stoves each to be 30 inches long and 20 inches high.   In 1742, Ben Franklin invented his Pennsylvania Fireplace, which was originally intended to be inserted into an existing fireplace.  Others improved upon the idea creating the freestanding Franklin Stove you can still purchase today.  One defining characteristic of a Franklin-type stove are the wide doors that open to give the look of fire place.

Through the creative minds of engineers and foundrymen, the simple box stove grew and changed and improved. Column styles and baseburners led to greater efficiency. The medium of cast iron led to amazing design elements. In the mid to late 1800s you could find stoves embellished with columns, swags and urns. A favorite is “Morning Call” manufactured by Stow & White of Troy that features a large, crowing rooster on the front.  Base burning parlors stoves with their cylindrical shape often had isinglass panes (thin, transparent sheets of mica) that emitted a golden light.
At the same time that parlor stoves were taking off, their larger counterparts in the basement were also coming online.  Hot air, stream and hot water central heating systems were all happening in the 1800s. The familiar hot water radiator we still see today was first developed in 1863.

Think about how all this heat changed the way people live.  Just in domestic architecture, the lofty Victorian style home would just not be comfortable if we only had fireplaces for heat.  John I. Mesick says it best in his forward to the book Cast With Style.
Stoves made possible the development of a distinctly American domestic architecture…houses became large rambling affairs, with wings and bays spreading outward to provide rooms with exposures on three sides.  Windows took on increasingly ample size to further open the dwelling to its setting.  Internally, the tightly compartmented houses of earlier times were dissolved into a free flow of spaces…as high-ceilinged rooms were opened wide onto one another and central stairhalls were extended upward through several stories.”

Here in upstate New York, as winter surrounds us, take a moment to appreciate the central heating we enjoy in modern time.

Want to learn more and see some of these great old stoves in person?  Visit the exhibit “Heavy Metal: Cast Iron Stoves of the Capital Region” at the Albany Institute of History and Art now through August 18, 2019.  Read more in the original exhibit catalog from 1981: “Cast With Style Nineteenth Century Cast-iron Stoves from the Albany Area” introduction and catalog by Tammis Kane Groft. 

This “Handsome Acme Comfort Parlor Heater” was advertised in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog. It burned either hard or soft coal and came in three sizes.  The largest was 38 ½ inches tall and cost $7.44.  They also offered a smaller version that could easily be adapted to burn natural gas.  

Katie Ladd was a stenographer at the Callanan Road Improvement Company for six years, leaving the company in May 1916.  She is pictured here in her South Bethlehem office, seated at the typewriter typing up her shorthand notes. On the left of the picture one can see the distinctive curve of a parlor stove. 

Part of the inspiration for this article is this pot belly stove found in the tollgate building at the Cedar Hill Schoolhouse Museum, home of the Bethlehem Historical Association. Pot belly stove were a more utilitarian stove especially compared to the fancy parlor stove.  They first appeared in the mid-1800s and were often found in train stations and one-room schools. This one could burn wood or coal and had a flat cooking area on the top.

The Town Historian’s office has few historic photos that show the interiors of old homes.  This one, with a heating radiator front and center, is from the early 20th century. The home is located on South Street in South Bethlehem.  Radiators such as this one came into use as early as the 1860s and 70s. A furnace in the basement heated the hot water that circulated in the system.

Cast iron kitchen ranges developed hand in hand with the heating parlor stove. In the photo here, a member of the Degenaar family poses with her kitchen range, circa 1920.  It is found in an album of Degenaar family photos and might be Augusta Degenaar.  Augusta and her husband John were living on South Pearl Street in Albany for the 1925 N.Y. census but had moved to Clapper Road in Bethlehem by the time of the 1930 U.S. Census. Augusta was “keeping house” and John was a chauffeur. 

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