With the weather here in the single digits the last few nights, I thought it would be appropriate to dig this post out of the archives. It will make you appreciate being able to turn up the thermostat and it may even make you happy to pay your next heating bill.
What’s nicer than a cool, crisp Fall or Winter evening, with the winds howling outside, a roaring fireplace, a glass of hot cider, popcorn, and congenial friends about?
That’s something most all of us enjoy; but try to picture yourself on a long, cold night with the fireplace the only heat in your entire house! Changes the picture somewhat, doesn’t it, to imagine the fire dying down and not being able to turn up the thermostat or shovel more coal on the furnace?
Consider the plight of the early Cape Cod settler:
Before the days of radiant heating and roaring furnaces, the best way to keep warm was to sit before an open fireplace fire, but anyone who did this complained that he was roasted on one side and frozen on the other. This led to the use in nearly every family of a long seat made of boards and called a settle. It had a high back to keep off the wind from behind and when it was placed before the fire, it was usually occupied by the older members of the family.
At night if any fire remained, it was carefully covered with ashes to keep for the next day. This was called “raking” the fire. If, in the morning, it was found that the fire hadn’t “kept over,” someone would run with a fire pan to a neighbor and borrow some fire coals. If the neighbors were too far away, the homemaker resorted to the tinder box or homemade matches, sticks which had been dipped in melted brim-stone. Sometimes the fire was kindled by flashing powder in a pan of flint lock musket. Friction matches, the kind we use today, did not come into use until about 1832.
Much firewood was a necessity. In the days when the open fireplace was the only source of heat in most Cape Cod homes, it would take 12 to 15 cords of wood to keep a family from freezing during an average Winter. To have 15 cords of wood ready for Fall/Winter, it would take much of the Spring/Summer to get all these logs felled, cut and split. All of this was done by hand. There were no chain saws or hydraulic log splitters in those days.
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