Early American Architecture

Dutch Farmhouses,
page 5 of 7

Across the chimney was a back-bar, sometimes of green wood, preferably of iron; on it hung pot-hooks and trammels, which under the various titles of pot-hangers, pot-claws, pot-clips, pot-brakes, and crooks, appear in every home-inventory. On those pot-hooks of various lengths, pots and kettles could be hung at varying heights above the fire. Often a large plate of iron, called the fire-plate, or fire-back, was set at the back-base of the kitchen chimney, where raged so constant and so fierce a fire that brick and mortar crumbled before it. These fire-backs were often cast in a handsome design, sometimes a Scriptural subject. These chimneys were vast it size; Kalm said you could drive a horse and cart through them. Irving says they were “of patriarchal magnitude, where the whole family enjoyed a community of privileges and had each a right to a corner.” Often they were built without jambs. Madam Knights wrote in 1704 of New York townhouses: —

“The fireplaces have no jambs (as ours have), but the backs run flush with the walls, and the hearth is of tiles and is as far out into the room at the ends as before the fire, which is generally five foot in the lower rooms, and the piece over where the mantle-tree should be is made as ours with joiners’work and as I suppose is fastened to iron rods inside.”

The kitchen fireplace was high as well as wide, and disclosed a vast smoky throat. When the week’s cooking was ended and the Sabbath was approaching, this great fireplace was dressed up, put on its best clothes for Sunday, as did all the rest of the family; across the top was hung a short petticoat, or valance, or little curtain gathered full on a string. This was called a schouwe-kleedt, a schoorsteen valletje, or sometimes a dobbelsteetiens valletje, this latter in allusion to the stuff of which the valance was usually made, — a strong close homespun linen checked off with blue or red. This clean, sweet linen frill was placed, freshly washed and ironed, every Saturday afternoon on the faithful, work-worn chimney while it took its Sunday rest. In some houses there hung throughout the week a schoorsteen valletje; in others it was only Sunday gear. This was a fashion from early colonial days for both town and country.


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