Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier

The next few days I'll be posting excerpts from various sources on the use of the Fireplace in the family home, specifically as it pertained to those on the frontiers.

The first excerpt comes from a frontier home in Michigan. This is taken from Pioneer Collections, Volume 5 ©1904. This particular section comes from the memory of A. D. P. Van Buren

The log house of the pioneer with its plain furnishing and its old-fashioned fireplace was a comfortable and cheerful abode. I am sorry that the old fireplace has gone out of use. It contributed much to the health and happiness of the old settler's home, much more than the modern stove does to our modern homes. The settler, after a hard day's work, seated with his family around his glowing ingle, with an abundance of wood in the corner, enjoyed the luxury of his magnificent fires. There is an art in building a good fire; it was cultivated to a great degree of perfection in the olden time. It appears to be one of the lost arts now, as the dull and cheerless stove has banished it from the household. It belonged to the old fireside, where it was kept in constant practice in laying down aright the backlog and fore-stick, and building thereon, with small wood, in so secure and artful a manner, that with a little kindling the fire could be started and give out the most heat and light to the household. As we are writing, distance still lends enchantment to the memory of those by-gone scenes around the old pioneer's fireside.

For lights in the evening, if the fire was too dull, some fat was put in a saucer, a piece of pork was sometimes fried for that purpose, a rag was twisted for a wick and then coiled about in the grease, one end being left out on the edge of the saucer. This was lighted. Sometimes a button was tied up in a rag, the top part of which was twisted into a wick, and was put into the grease in the saucer and the end lighted. This was our evening taper. But beef and pork were often scarce, and tallow or grease of any kind could not be had. There were no pine trees in this region, hence pine knots could not be found. But in their stead we gathered the bark from the shagbark walnut tree, and when we needed light, pieces of this bark were thrown on the fire. This created a bright blaze that was nearly equal, and full as lasting, as that from the pine knots.

The old iron crane, tricked off with its various sized pot-hooks and links of chain, swung from the jams at the will of the housewife, who hung on it the kettles containing the meal to be cooked for the family, and pushed it back over the fire where the kettles hung till the meal was prepared for the table. Pigs, chickens, and spare-ribs were roasted splendidly by suspending them by a wire before the fire. The baking was mostly done in the old brick oven that was built in one side of the chimney, with a door opening into the room. The old iron covered bake kettle sat in the corner under the cupboard, and was used for the various baking purposes. Many will remember the much used "tin reflector" that was placed before the fire to bake bread and cakes, and how finely it baked the Pink-eye and Meshanic potatoes.

Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier Part 2
Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier Part 3

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