Interesting features of older houses
My partner and I are moving in to a house that was built in 1874 and was completely re-done in the 1920s. We looked at several older homes and saw some interesting features that would be obsolete or ridiculous now. A couple:
In one house, the kitchen had a pass-through door about one foot tall at the countertop that went outside the back door. We asked the realtor about it, and she said it was where the milkman would put the milk through onto your counter. She mentioned that it was sort of odd to see, as most people closed those up decades ago.
In another, there was a small hole near the middle of the dining room floor, about the size of a nickel. The realtor indicated that in home of that age (it was early 20th century), when the family was at the dinner table, there was a small button in the floor near the head of the table where the husband could "ring" for the help in the basement. Sure enough, in the basement near the laundry area, there was an old buzzer on one of the beams with a wire coming out of it.
What kinds of interesting or unique house features have you found when house shopping or renovating? It's interesting to see what kinds of things homeowners found convenient or attractive in the past.
|by Anonymous||reply 137||03/01/2014|
Maybe this feature is still around, but I have seen many laundry chutes in older homes.%0D %0D The old house I grew up in was a stop on the underground railroad. It had a secret room off the hallway closet. It also had a very old barn with a horse stable and an outhouse.%0D %0D Built-in telephone tables.%0D %0D
|by Anonymous||reply 1||02/20/2011|
God, I hope R3 is joking - I don't think that's a feature that's been gone for THAT long - only since the creation of wireless phones in the early 80's. My old apt in NYC had a working dumbwaiter. I never used it, but I could see how it would be helpful.
|by Anonymous||reply 5||02/20/2011|
I love those old features and hope they are not all renovated out.
|by Anonymous||reply 7||02/20/2011|
Our 1860 town house in Brooklyn, NY has a large, weird contraption built into the cellar. Never knew what it was until a visitor identified it as a wine press. It was an Italian neighborhood, and there are grape vines in the back yard, so it makes sense.
|by Anonymous||reply 8||02/20/2011|
Damn, R5! I'm not joking and I swear I've never seen that feature before. Granted, the oldest house I recall living in was only built in the late 80s, but I really was surprised about the phone nooks.
|by Anonymous||reply 9||02/20/2011|
Our Tudor/Craftsman style house in NJ was built in 1926 and we found a health certificate dating from 1928 in which a standard question was if chickens were raised on the property. Also, if anyone had died of diptheria in the house.%0D %0D
|by Anonymous||reply 10||02/20/2011|
When did closets become a regular feature in houses and apartments....the 1920s? I can't imagine why it didn't occur to everyone that less space could be taken up with a closet than a big old heavy armoire.
|by Anonymous||reply 11||02/20/2011|
A big difference in earlier houses are doors on kitchens so that your guests or even family didn't have to be subjected to the noises and smells of cooking.%0D %0D Nowadays, of course, opening up the kitchen to the dining room is the fad.
|by Anonymous||reply 12||02/20/2011|
The house I grew up in was built in 1917, and the radiators all had tanks built on top of them that you filled with water to keep the house humidified during the winter. The radiator in the kitchen had shelves to warm the dinner plates.
|by Anonymous||reply 14||02/20/2011|
We lived in a house that had a stairway from the kitchen up to a small bedroom that was the maid's quarters. You could also get to the other upstairs areas but we always called them the "maids stairs." We never had a maid and used it for a guest room. LOTS of old homes, at least the bigger ones, had stairs that went from the kitchen upstairs. I guess it was just convenient to go straight to the kitchen when one arose in the morning.
|by Anonymous||reply 15||02/20/2011|
The house I live in is 1911. Has a sistern room where people drew water from outside. It's now a pantry with cabinets, though I was digging last summer and dug into a big hole which must have been a well. The upstairs is originally listed as having 3 bedroom, but I guess one is now the bathroom (they must have had an outhouse). Also has a black metal "door" in basement which must have been the coal shute. And my bedroom has an old gas "valve" coming out of the wall.
|by Anonymous||reply 16||02/20/2011|
[quote]When did closets become a regular feature in houses and apartments....the 1920s? I can't imagine why it didn't occur to everyone that less space could be taken up with a closet than a big old heavy armoire.
Where I live, houses used to be taxed by some arcane algorithm involving the square footage of the front of the house and the number of closets inside. So most of the older houses have minimal street facing with the second floor set back ("camelback" houses) and a minimum of closets.
|by Anonymous||reply 17||02/20/2011|
[quote] I guess it was just convenient to go straight to the kitchen when one arose in the morning. It didn't have as much to do with convenience as it did with not having the help traipse through your house to get to the kitchen. The same way there were normally doors reserved as servants entrances, lest they forget their station and ever think they were equal with the residents of the home.
|by Anonymous||reply 18||02/20/2011|
Our home is an 1880 farm house in NH. It was originally built as a "gentleman's farm" and was owned by one family before us, passed down through the generations.%0D %0D It's a large house, about 2400 sq ft, and at the turn of the century the family had operated a pharmacy out of the house. We have found SO many interesting things in the house, the attic and basement, and the out buildings. There is a root cellar adjacent to the property and two barns.%0D %0D One of the weirdest things was finding an urn full of someone's ashes in one of the attics. We don't know who they belong to. We have found multiple old--over 100 years old--prescriptions (originals) for things like Laudanum (not sure of spelling) and also liquid cocaine! %0D %0D The doorknobs are all either scrolled iron or crystal/glass. The windows are old and wavy in places. There are servant's quarters from the kitchen down to the basement, which has earth and rock walls. It's neat; I have never lived in such an old house and we are still charmed by it all the time.
|by Anonymous||reply 19||02/20/2011|
[quote]Where I live, houses used to be taxed by some arcane algorithm involving the square footage of the front of the house and the number of closets inside. So most of the older houses have minimal street facing with the second floor set back ("camelback" houses) and a minimum of closets.
Our county just changed that policy in the last few years. Until then you were taxed based on the number of floors visible from the street, so we had a lot of camelbacks too.
My Grandparents used to talk about the days when the county assessor would actually visit your house to put a value on your furniture and personal property and then add that to your tax bill.
Back in the 1950's and early 60's our town also required a separate electric meter for the central air unit because that was considered a luxury and billed at a higher rate. You still see the old 2nd meters on the sides of houses from time to time. That's probably something that's going to come back before too long.
|by Anonymous||reply 20||02/20/2011|
We have a little slot in the medicine cabinet for old razor blades. Apparently they just dropped them into the wall.
|by Anonymous||reply 21||02/20/2011|
R19 here -- the reply about closets reminded me of ours. They are horrible. While there are many of them, they are all incredibly small. About 12-15" deep at most and not wide.%0D Basically, broom closets.%0D %0D Ladies of that time had such huge dresses and petticoats; where the hell did they keep them? Armoirs?
|by Anonymous||reply 22||02/20/2011|
"Ladies of that time had such huge dresses and petticoats; where the hell did they keep them? Armoirs?"%0D %0D I think 19th century gowns were too heavy to hang on hangers, so they were folded and put into chests. I suppose they had to be ironed every time they were put on, maybe their ladies' maids did that.
|by Anonymous||reply 24||02/20/2011|
My grandmother had a dumbwaiter in her house. (I'd like one in the house I own, although the fact that it's one-story might mitigate its usefulness a tad.)
|by Anonymous||reply 25||02/20/2011|
Laundry chutes...We had a three story brick house in Detroit. It had a door in the hall of each floor that opened into a chute into which dirty clothes were thrown to a pile right in front of the washing machine in the basement. Sometimes it would get clogged and we would have to drop something heavy on it to get it to down. We also had a milk door to the outside for the Twin Pines Milkman. The milk got warm in the summer and froze in the winter.
|by Anonymous||reply 26||02/20/2011|
[quote]I can't imagine anyone cooking so many pies at once that they'd need a whole cabinet.
If you had a wood-fired oven you'd want to do a week's worth of baking in one day and get it over with especially in warmer weather. It used to be common to assign a day to accomplish a week's worth of one particular chore, "Monday is Wash Day," etc.
My grandmother's house had a vent in the ceiling over the cook-stove that opened in the floor of the upstairs bathroom. It was the only heat source for the upper floor.
|by Anonymous||reply 27||02/20/2011|
r27, totally true. My great grandmother cooked all day on Sundays for the entire week. That is, as much as she COULD cook and then store safely for the week. Pies, cakes, some casseroles. She would often make a roast and then it would be refigerated. She had no pie safe but the counters would be covered with pies. Some of them went to various relatives and neighbors. Yes, people really DID live that way.%0D %0D Her house was filled with the most delicious smells of my childhood.
|by Anonymous||reply 28||02/20/2011|
[quote] Back in the 1950's and early 60's our town also required a separate electric meter for the central air unit because that was considered a luxury and billed at a higher rate. You still see the old 2nd meters on the sides of houses from time to time. That's probably something that's going to come back before too long.
Which will be very easy to do with the new smart meters being installed in many places.
|by Anonymous||reply 29||02/20/2011|
Well, Mr. Shatner's new pie safe is not original/complete as it had no punched tin.
|by Anonymous||reply 30||02/20/2011|
My sister had a small 1920s bungalow with not so much a laundry chute as a door in the bathroom floor. You'd lift the door and drop your dirty clothes into a laundry basket situated in the basement.
The modern washer and dryer were right next to the basket, but there were still washing tubs bolted into tables nearby. They had valves near the bottom to empty the dirty water into buckets, I imagine.
How her toddlers avoided stuffing themselves through the chute door, I'll never know.
|by Anonymous||reply 31||02/20/2011|
I remember older houses often had a cabinet in the kitchen that contained a drop-down ironing board. Over the years they were often converted to spice racks.
|by Anonymous||reply 32||02/20/2011|
My house (built before A/C) still has glass transoms over the doors to spread sunlight and circulate the air.
|by Anonymous||reply 33||02/20/2011|
My apartment has what looks like a pullout wooden board (like a cutting board you'd have in the kitchen) in the hallway. I guess it's for holding/folding linens or something, but I'd never seen that sort of thing before.
|by Anonymous||reply 34||02/20/2011|
We also had what we called a milk chute at the back of our house. It proved useful for those days when we found ourselves locked out after school because mom wasn't home. The bigger siblings would lock hands and give the smallest sib a boost. He would crawl through onto the kitchen counter and unlock the door for the rest of us.%0D %0D It wasn't really a chute so I'm not sure why we referred to it that way. It was even with the kitchen counter as we also had Twin Pines milk delivered.%0D %0D We had no basement so everything was stored in the attic. The stairs to the attic dropped down from the ceiling in the utility room off the kitchen.
|by Anonymous||reply 35||02/20/2011|
[quote] I remember older houses often had a cabinet in the kitchen that contained a drop-down ironing board. Over the years they were often converted to spice racks.
There's one of these in the house that I grew up in, but in the service porch and pantry where the washer, dryer and laundry sink are.
|by Anonymous||reply 36||02/20/2011|
[quote]We have a little slot in the medicine cabinet for old razor blades. Apparently they just dropped them into the wall.
I had an apartment with one of those once. I always wanted to have an excuse to open the wall and see just what a 75 year accumulation of old razor blades looked like.
I live in a 1950's ranch-style house now, and up in my attic is this amazing old television antenna. The son of a bitch must be 30 feet across at the full extent of the two main arms. It takes up the entire attic with little side arms and smaller antennas sticking out in every direction, and it even has a motor to adjust it with a little control box screwed to the rafter.
It looks like a space satellite hidden up there.
|by Anonymous||reply 37||02/20/2011|
I'm curious about the basements some posters referred to as servants quarters. Were these basements "finished" in any way or just left with cement or concrete floors and walls?%0D %0D So many basements are prone to flooding during heavy rains, I'm surprised that even servants would be expected to live in them if they weren't made more hospitable.
|by Anonymous||reply 38||02/20/2011|
We had a farm in the family for generations. The farm dated back to the eighteenth century. There was a cistern near the kitchen, as well as other wells on the property. The kitchen also had a large stove/oven, where on one side it was wood burning. The bedrooms in the oldest part of the house had no closets. There were many outbuildings, including an ice house. They used to burn the garbage there way into the 1970s.
OP, the push button on the dining room floor was for the lady of the house, not the gentleman!
One feature of some houses built before 1930 that you don't see anymore are transoms.
|by Anonymous||reply 39||02/20/2011|
My grandparents' house had four bedrooms on the second floor, and just one bathroom in the hallway. That would be unacceptable to modern home buyers.
|by Anonymous||reply 40||02/20/2011|
How well I remember Lucy Ricardo pressing the foot button under her dining table to call in her charming old couple, Ethel Mae and Mertz.
|by Anonymous||reply 41||02/20/2011|
[quote] How her toddlers avoided stuffing themselves through the chute door, I'll never know.
Our neighbors who had a large family had one, in a house built in the early 70s, so it was a fairly new house when we were stuffing the smaller kids down the laundry "chute." Great fun.
They also had a secret passageway from one of the kids' rooms on one end of the daylight basement to the TV room on the other side of the house. I'm pretty sure the dad finished the basement himself, and he remains a pretty neat guy, so it was probably his idea. I wished my dad was such a neat guy, but I had to wait until later when he put in a fully equipped darkroom for evidence of that.
|by Anonymous||reply 42||02/20/2011|
Did any of you grow up with a bomb shelter? I know they were common in the 50's but I don't know anyone what actually had one.
|by Anonymous||reply 43||02/20/2011|
I have had two houses with bomb shelters.%0D %0D The first was a 1905 house that was advertised as having a wine cellar. When the agent told us it was really a bomb shelter, we thought it was the coolest thing. It was built outside the basement and a door was cut into the basement wall for access. It was just a damp and dank room with concrete walls and the remnants of a chemical toilet. And a kick-ass heavy metal door%0D %0D We moved to another state and rented a 1950's era house that had a bomb shelter hidden in the basement. The access was through a door hidden by paneling (the concealment was actually pretty good). Once you popped the door open you had to go down a narrow hallway to get to the room. It had lots of graffiti from the previous owner's kids (presumably) it was pretty creepy and I could easily imagine it as a location for black masses.
|by Anonymous||reply 44||02/20/2011|
[quote]When did closets become a regular feature in houses and apartments....the 1920s? I can't imagine why it didn't occur to everyone that less space could be taken up with a closet than a big old heavy armoire.%0D %0D In the rare odd case, closets in one form or another have been around for centuries but somewhat experimentally. They became popular in middle-class houses from the last quarter of the 19thC. %0D %0D Two key things about early middle-class closets: 1.) Even in the late 19thC and early 20thC, clothing was costly relative other expenses and the middle- and lower-classes had very few clothes; 2.) the habit for those clothes that they had was not to hang but to fold them. Clothes presses, armoires, chests of drawers were the customary places to store clothes, not closets; the poor might have a peg rail along a wall that would more than accommodate their few larger articles of clothing.%0D %0D The closet tax claim is an old and widespread urban myth (one of many promulgated by mischievous or misinnformed tour guides.)
|by Anonymous||reply 45||02/20/2011|
A cooking crane in my kitchen fireplace:
|by Anonymous||reply 46||02/20/2011|
We have a room in our basement with large chains and hooks hanging from the ceiling and deep scratch marks on the inside door.
|by Anonymous||reply 47||02/20/2011|
My crazy boss just build a bomb shelter. He's preparing for 12/12/12.
|by Anonymous||reply 48||02/20/2011|
My first house was an old victorian, built into the side of a hill. There was a big porch hanging off the front of the house. The space underneath the porch could be accessed through a door in the basement. That dirt-floored space was originally a root cellar, and tucked into the corner was a complete outhouse.%0D %0D My current home (Built 1870) has a big door in the side wall, through which the ice man could slide blocks of ice directly into the ice box. Underneath that is the smaller door, through which milk and eggs could also be put into the ice box by the delivery man.%0D %0D Boy, I wish that original ice box was still here!
|by Anonymous||reply 49||02/20/2011|
[quote]He's preparing for 12/12/12 Well won't he be surprised when he survives the 12th, and then the 21st comes along!
|by Anonymous||reply 50||02/20/2011|
My house had two old crones in it. But then I kicked my sister and her lovah out.
|by Anonymous||reply 51||02/20/2011|
A few little things:%0D %0D a very old pencil sharpener in the basement, attached to the stair bannister.%0D %0D an old fashion bottlecap opener, located just inside the stairwell to the basement, next to the kitchen.%0D %0D I have remnants of the swinging door to the kitchen that separates it from the dining room.%0D %0D I think my furnace is the original. My house is a 1930 something twin colonial.
|by Anonymous||reply 52||02/20/2011|
R44's living in two houses with bomb shelters is trippy. What are the odds?
R38, we have a 1904 two-family flat (upstairs and downstairs units) converted to a single. Owners and tenants until the 1930s both had live-in servants who lived in the basement. The rooms obviously were not finished - cement floor, painted limestone foundation walls, wood walls marking off "rooms." There would have been one toilet and they would have had to use the laundry tubs for washing themselves, unless the families would have okayed their using the single bathrooms in the units upstairs.
I grew up two blocks away in a three-story single family, though, and the servants quarters on that block were all in finished rooms on the third floor, which was also where the children's rooms, clothing storage were and winter laundry drying was done - room for clothes lines. Nowadays the silly newcomers brag about having "ballrooms" on their less-finished third floors. If only they could see the bloomers hanging there and get the accurate picture.
|by Anonymous||reply 53||02/20/2011|
I love imagining the family that lived in our 1920s house when it was first built. Women in cloche hats and low-waisted dresses doing the Charleston to the gramophone. The men in straw boaters and striped blazers....oh, you kid!
|by Anonymous||reply 54||02/20/2011|
R53, are the houses in England?
|by Anonymous||reply 55||02/20/2011|
No R55, One was in Virginia and one was in Illinois.
|by Anonymous||reply 56||02/20/2011|
And everybody drinking bootleg hootch, R54.
My parents owned an old house that had an ornate fake mantel in what had obviously been the fancy parlor. It looked just like a built-in fireplace except it was not connected to a chimney and could served no purpose other than a decorative one.
|by Anonymous||reply 57||02/21/2011|
The bathrooms in my grandmother's house had mirrors over the sinks, which is not that unusual, but if you pulled on a mirror it would swing open to reveal a secret compartment behind it. She hid things like pills and cotton swabs and band-aids behind the mirrors.
|by Anonymous||reply 58||02/21/2011|
My grandmother had a smoke house, a chicken coop, and a piece of furniture called a chifferobe (something like that.) I think you put clothes in it - maybe it's just another word for a wardrobe - or maybe it was something else. I was so little I can't remember the details too well.
She had a free-standing cabinet thing that had one cabinet that held an upside down bag of flour and there was a crank on the side and the flour fell down on a porcelain surface where you worked it into dough. I forgot what she called that thing.
|by Anonymous||reply 59||02/21/2011|
As a kid, I lived out in the country in a house with no plumbing. The outhouse was in the backyard. It was terrifying going out at night to use the toilet.
|by Anonymous||reply 60||02/21/2011|
Me too! My grandma had a two-seater and always went with me (I was under age 5) I remember when she finally got running water (she had a cistern kind of well with one of those cranking things you lower into the well) and I remember when she finally got a telephone in 1961 (when I was 6)
|by Anonymous||reply 61||02/21/2011|
My house in Texas has a fully functional pass through milk door as well. It kind of freaks me out because a small child could very easily break into the house through that access point and the locks aren't that great. I'll probably close it up at some point, but it has been handy in the past. We keep our dog treats in it so you can access them inside or outside.
Other weird things. Wall heaters in the bathroom, a bathtub style water spigot in the box shower which was embedded in the wall only about a foot off the drain floor. I guess it was for cleaning just the feet?
There's also one hideously wood paneled room where they decided to close in a breezeway to make an office. The rest of the house is drywalled.
|by Anonymous||reply 62||02/21/2011|
My apartment has a closet specifically built for a murphy bed but was later converted into a closet by the owners. I also have a niche in the wall where a built in ironing board use to be, but is now a display niche with shelves.
Can you imagine the selling points? "Oh Mabel look! A bed that comes out of the wall, and you can do your own ironing here instead of the work house"
|by Anonymous||reply 63||02/21/2011|
R65, that was probably use to call the help. I love the little telephone tables built in the 20s houses around here.
|by Anonymous||reply 66||06/23/2011|
My old apartment (RIP) had a milk door as did all the units in the building. My neighbor used hers as a cat door
|by Anonymous||reply 67||06/24/2011|
1920 house in Hollywood. Upstairs there is a lever to release the door at the bottom of the stairs. Also, a butler door separating the kitchen and dining area. There's also a random antique pencil sharpener in a vanity off the front room.
|by Anonymous||reply 68||06/24/2011|
When I was a small boy, my neighbor lady had a milk door into her kitchen, and when she locked herself out of her home (which was often--she had Alzheimer's), she had me crawl through the milk door to open the door for her from the inside.
|by Anonymous||reply 69||06/24/2011|
We're redoing one of the bedrooms in our house (c. 1870). We found pipes in the closet from what used to be a bathroom sink. Also, there used to be a bathtub in the kitchen.
I remember my grandmother had a milk door and a laundry chute, both of which I found fascinating as a child.
|by Anonymous||reply 70||06/24/2011|
My parents old house (c. 1920's, I think) had a small mangler built into the wall of the butler's pantry. (A mangler being a steam press for ironing things -- in this case table linens.) I've never seen such an ammenity before or since. They also had an "ice box" with a door to the outside for the iceman to load his ice, and a coal chute into the basement, but those aren't all that unusual in a house of that era.
|by Anonymous||reply 71||06/24/2011|
My present house was built in 1848 (I live in Virginia). The original kitchen was in a different building about 40 feet away (kitchens were prone to fires, and the house would be spared if that happened). There is also something that we use as a shed now that we are told were the original slave quarters about 100 yards from the main house. This was tobacco country, and there was originally 300 acres with the property.
I grew up in an 1760s Georgian farmhouse in New England (central hallway, 4 large rooms on each floor with a fireplace in every room). In the 1910s a local law was passed taxing residents on the # of fireplaces in a house. The cheap bastards removed every fireplace and buried all the hearths, stones, and brick in the back yard and then boarded/plastered over the fireplaces. You could tell where the hearths were -- the floor boards were of a different width and look.
|by Anonymous||reply 72||06/24/2011|
Actually armoires take up less room than closets. Closets have thicker walls than the thin sides and backs of armoires.
Also, closets usually leave empty space within the walls.
As houses got bigger there was more room for built-in closets.
|by Anonymous||reply 73||06/24/2011|
r58, the "secret compartments" behind the mirrors in your grandmother's bathrooms are called "medicine cabinets."
|by Anonymous||reply 74||06/24/2011|
Or actually, not "houses got bigger" but "as private rooms within houses got bigger."
The smaller bedrooms of older homes had no room for closets.
|by Anonymous||reply 75||06/24/2011|
OP, a house that I owned had a pass through for milk, but it was an insulated compartment with a door on the back porch for the milkman and the other door in the pantry.
|by Anonymous||reply 76||06/24/2011|
The Halfway House Restaurant on Jefferson Davis Highway in Chester still has its kitchen in a separate building. The restaurant was built in the 1800s as a stop over for coaches going from Petersburg to Richmond.
The restaurant added indoor toilets in the 60s in preparation for a visit from Jackie Kennedy.
R72, I'm from Virginia though I live in West Virginia now. A friend here recently asked me what slave quarters looked like. I realized I had never seen one. When I lived in Richmond I took tons of out of town visitors to all the local plantation houses, but I don't recall seeing any slave buildings.
Would you post a picture of yours? How big is it and is it at all insulated?
As for the more modern things - my mom's house has one of those little ironing board things in the kitchen. She had me fully dismantle it and restore it for her when she bought her house (built in 1915).
My current house was built in the 40s or 50s and has cabinets with the razor blade slots. I had to take one cabinet apart to wire a new transformer into the lights and found all the razor blades. Before that I had had no idea what the little slots were for. I like the goofy looking floresent type lights from when the bathrooms were remodeled in the 60s. I used toothpaste and a dremel tool to repolish the pitted chrome.
|by Anonymous||reply 78||06/24/2011|
There was a razor blade slot in the bathroom of our first house: as a kid it really freaked me out to think they were all just piling up behind the bathroom wall. I was relieved when my dad switched to an electric razor.
|by Anonymous||reply 79||06/24/2011|
Really old plantation homes usually have an outdoor kitchen. That way if the kitchen caught fire it didn't destroy the whole house.
A more recent thing, is it seems that attic fans (aka whole house fans) are not standard anymore.
|by Anonymous||reply 80||06/24/2011|
R78: My house (also in Virginia) has two slave quarters remaining, both for house slaves. One is the second story above a storage building, a simple rectangular room of about 12' x 14' accessible via a steep exterior stair, with just a door at the front and a small window at the rear. The other is a one-story "duplex" of two identical units, each about 12' x 14' (a fairly typical size), each with a front door and front window, and one back window. Both are frame buildings, one finished inside with flush mounted boards (a continuation of the random plank floors up the walls and across the ceiling); the duplex has plaster finished walls but no ceiling -- just open to the roof. Both have some crude insulation, mostly by way of corn cobs, though these may have been added somewhat later. The house dates to the 1830s when there was a lot of experimentation in heating so neither of the slave buildings has a hearth/fireplace, though there is evidence of early tin-flued cast-iron stoves in one building (and none in the other.) For my house, there were a half-dozen or so house slaves, and a couple of dozen more as field hands who lived down the road a bit, isolated from the main house. %0D %0D Throughout the 18th and much of the 19thC, large parties of guests would sometimes fill all of the finished rooms and there are diary accounts of overflow guests bedding down dormitory style on the floor in unheated attics, where they and overflow relatives might stay for short or extended periods. No heat at all, and no insulation. Even the fireplaces in the best bedrooms were not kept burning all day or even all night, but only rarely as a rule.%0D %0D Do a Google Image search for "slave quarters" or "Slave cabins" and you can see some of the variety. The image here is of Oakley Plantation, Louisiana, which is representative of the more common form. Sometimes they were quite mean and pokey and randomly arranged, other times they had a small flourish of architectural finesse and were set in orderly "ranges" of "slave rows" or "slave streets." The basic unit is one room, though sometimes two (and rarely more) units were arranged under a single room -- too much economizing ran the greater risk of fire taking out multiple units. A few rare examples are brick, and fewer style exhibit various social experimentation and niceties of finish -- often intended to increase sanitation and thereby prevent costly disease. Most though were small, crowded, very cheaply finished, and ill-tended by masters and overseers.%0D %0D As small and mean as a one-room shack looks today, the basic form was similar to that of non-elite rural whites of the period, the non-plantation owners of little property and means often had no more than the equivalent of a duplex slave cabin (in 18thC Maryland, the one-room house was the standard for about 98% of rural white households); the imposing "big house" was never typical or commonplace.%0D %0D Few slave houses survive. Fire, abandonment, loss due to poor construction and poorer maintenance over time, and sometimes the desire to clear the landscape of reminders of the past role of slaves took a big toll.
|by Anonymous||reply 81||06/24/2011|
[quote]the "secret compartments" behind the mirrors in your grandmother's bathrooms are called "medicine cabinets."%0D %0D Surely r58 was joking. Modern homes still have mirrored medicine cabinets in the bathroom.
|by Anonymous||reply 82||06/24/2011|
Thanks, R81. I can't imagine how cold it must have been in those one room cabins in January. R82, I've noticed that there are fewer and fewer flush mounted medicine cabinets. Maybe R58 is really young and has only lived in the suburbs?
|by Anonymous||reply 83||06/25/2011|
In some of the finer ante bellum homes down South a punkah could be found above the dining room table.
Finding labor to operate said punkah was not a problem till '65.
|by Anonymous||reply 84||06/25/2011|
I also lived in a house dating from the civil war. Many of the features described in the comments had very practical uses in their day. Small rooms with high ceilings allowing heat to rise, were cooler in summer and easier to heat in winter. All those doors were used to close off portions of the house not heated in winter. Which is why many homes had more than one parlor. The winter parlor was smaller and more centrally located. Other than milk delivery portals, there were ice delivery portals and wood and coal chutes.
|by Anonymous||reply 85||06/25/2011|
When I was a kid I had a friend who lived in a huge old plantation(this was in Virginia) that had a graveyeard on the grounds. I thought houses with graveyards were creepy(supposedly the house was haunted by a girl who died in the 1919 influenz epidemic, she was buried in the graveyard behind the house)
|by Anonymous||reply 86||06/25/2011|
I'm not sure what year my grandparent's house was built, but it had some features I haven't seen in other houses (though I am sure they were probably common at the time). The house didn't have a dining room, but the kitchen was so big it accommodated a large dining table in the middle of it. The living room was quite small and had a grate that looked similar to a subway grate imbedded in it. This was the only source of heat in the house. There were no closets anywhere in the house. The stairs leading to the bedrooms on the second floor were as wide as the house itself, all four doors were accessible from the top stair. Two of the four bedrooms, the ones on the outer sides, had little back rooms with a slanted wall like you would see in an attic.
Does anyone else recall seeing a house built similarly to this one?
|by Anonymous||reply 87||06/25/2011|
[r87] the grate in the floor was called a floor furnace.
The houses in my neighborhood have them all built in the mid 40s. My place was remodeled and the grate was removed. The floor furnace is still in my crawl space.
I can't imagine it heating the whole place.
|by Anonymous||reply 88||06/25/2011|
I've been trying to figure out what this small door is in my 1927 home in San Francisco is, and google has been quite unhelpful! I know this thread is old but it's worth a shot. We also have a cabinet built over an air duct of some sort for cooling pies. We never use it but its pretty interesting. Next to this cabinet, there is a small metal door (above the counter top) about the size of a piece of computer paper. It has a short shelf in it. It opens up to our backyard. No clue what it could be!!
|by Anonymous||reply 89||04/24/2013|
Sounds like it some kind of exhaust. Any ideas what the room was originally used for?
|by Anonymous||reply 90||04/24/2013|
I grew-up in a 1920s house in Ohio that had not been altered, except to add a bedroom. It had plenty of closets. I owned a coop apartment in DC that dated from 1907--unaltered floor plans and huge walk-in closet. I owned a 1920s house in Atlanta--all the closets were retrofitted. Obviously lots of variation. DC apartment buildings (the big ones) often had public restaurants or dining rooms for the residents, which may be why older (pre-WWII) DC apartments have surprisingly tiny kitchens. I had a studio in Chicago from the 20s with a kitchen big enough to include a dining nook. You never see that in DC.
Milk chutes were standard equipment into the early 1960s, when home delivery gradually went away. They shouldn't be difficult to find. Egg deliveries also were common and some people had baked goods delivered. Companies like Jewel Tea (the business that spawned Chicago's Jewel super markets) also did home delivery of groceries and household goods like mops.
|by Anonymous||reply 91||04/24/2013|
My inlaws, from Texas, were talking about small doors in their grandparents homes. I'm estimating that the houses were built around 1900's. one house had a door from the kitchen to the back of the bedroom closet. The other was from the back of the master closet into another bedroom. Both doors were approximately 2.5' tall. Anyone with any ideas??
|by Anonymous||reply 92||06/18/2013|
Beginning the early 1900s NYC apartment buildings higher than five stories had dumbwaiters in kitchens to lower garbage to the basement. Because of vermin and used by burglars they were outlawed.
|by Anonymous||reply 93||06/18/2013|
Alot of these old "features" still exist, but not in middle class homes. Large homes today (10,000sq ft and bigger) still have buttons to summon maids, back staircases for maids, kitchens that are not meant to be seen by guests but used for chefs to cook in, maids quarters hidden away and so on. It's just that times have changed.
|by Anonymous||reply 94||06/18/2013|
In Cleveland, houses built in Ohio City around 1900 have bay windows in the parlour that recess down into the wall so you could have the undertaker return your loved ones and their casket for home viewing.
|by Anonymous||reply 95||06/18/2013|
[quote]Her house was filled with the most delicious smells of my childhood.
This awkward phrasing made me laugh...
|by Anonymous||reply 96||06/18/2013|
Most our our servants quarters are vestigial; we only have one person on the domestic staff who lives with us.
In the kitchen of our house, we have a root cellar.
In our apartment, we have a loft over the butler's pantry in which the butler was expected to sleep. The butler's pantry itself is vestigial, I guess, although it has been repurposed. It now serves as a laundry room. The loft over it is still there; we use it for storage.
Actually, all of the fireplaces are now decorative conceits. They work, but we don't use them, and certainly not for heat or light.
|by Anonymous||reply 97||06/18/2013|
My house is a single-story bungalow, built in 1922 for the town doctor. It has a small tin-lined cabinet in the side parlor wall to store medicines that needed to be kept out of heat and light, and the bottom shelves of the built-in bookcases lift out. People who knew the doctor told me he used that space to store his legal 'medicinal' supplies of whiskey during Prohibition (I use it to hide silver and other valuables.) I also have tiny closets, working standalone sinks in the bedrooms, glass transoms out into the hallway and a coal bin and root cellar in the basement. The old coal-burning furnace's brass on/off lever remains in the hall baseboard, where it's easy to move with a foot; I reused the patched cutout from the original floor vent for a modern HVAC air return.
When they redid the bathrooms in the 1950s they added medicine cabinets with the razor blade slots. The interior wall below one is a mass of rusty nasty old metal; we looked down into a gap then left it there because we didn't need to open it up (and for fear of "lockjaw" as the oldtimers would say.) Sorry I don't have a picture, as it's pretty horrifying.
|by Anonymous||reply 98||06/18/2013|
Maybe I missed it but has anyone mentioned bread boxes? The house I grew up in on Long Island had one, but I've never seen another one and I've moved more than most. Obviously, I don't mean the kind you put on your kitchen counter, but the one the looks like a regular under-counter drawer - only when you open it, it's tin lined and keeps bread fresh without refrigeration. Do any new houses have them?
|by Anonymous||reply 99||06/19/2013|
My parents use a deep drawer in their kitchen to store bread - inside a plastic bin to keep away mice. But I think it's an ordinary drawer.
|by Anonymous||reply 100||06/19/2013|
R99, the house in which I grew up had one of those bread drawers. My mother always said it was a good way to keep baked goods fresh but it also kept out mice and other vermin.
|by Anonymous||reply 101||06/19/2013|
R92, I'm intrigued by those little doors. Could they be used as a means of escape in case of fire, tornados or unwanted guests?
|by Anonymous||reply 102||06/19/2013|
Notsomuch a feature of the house, but the stove we had growing up had a big cast iron griddle built in. Open concept at the time was no range hood/fan.
|by Anonymous||reply 103||06/19/2013|
Yes, r102, I think they were escape doors for children.
I have seen small fire escape doors in the childrens' bedrooms of a house I toured once. The house was built around 1900.
It was a big old three-story home with many porches and all bedrooms upstairs. This was in the south.
When it was built, it was out in the country, some miles from the nearest fire department. A fire in those days usually reduced a home to ashes because no professional fire fighting help was coming and no way to reach them except by horse or car even if you could.
|by Anonymous||reply 104||06/19/2013|
We have an attic door that leads to an old lady.
|by Anonymous||reply 105||06/19/2013|
r99, we also had one of those bread storage drawers, in our St. Charles Kitchen. This kitchen, from the 1950s, had so many little neat features. One was a "lift" for a Kitchenaid Mixer. Here's an old ad with that feature shown. The kitchen came in a variety of colors; ours was "Sunny Yellow"
|by Anonymous||reply 106||06/19/2013|
Here are the amazing colors you could choose for your St. Charles kitchen back in the day:
|by Anonymous||reply 107||06/19/2013|
This is brought on by having to dust an unused room this morning My Grandparents bought this house in the early ‘60s in a railroad town in South Georgia. I inherited the house about 8 years ago. Sometime before they bought it one of the previous owners closed in the porch that led to the kitchen and made it into the kitchen for the main house and converted the original kitchen, a room that I can’t figure out what was used for and built a bedroom onto the back of the house making an apartment that was largely unused until my grandmother became too old for the stairs. Bathrooms were also added. This appears to have been done sometime in the 1930’s The house was allegedly built sometime in the late 1880s to early 1890s What was the WTF room used for originally? Why so many rooms downstairs? The room where my grandfather put a pool table in the 70s seems otherwise useless and the second living room or “lounge” is identical to the other. What was the point? The “square” rooms are approximately 20x20. And no matter how much furniture you put in the halls it still looks empty. I keep both big rooms on the right side of the house closed off with the Vents covered because the power bill goes sky high. Ditto for three of the upstairs bedrooms unless I know I have company coming. The “Apartment” area never got central heat and was using window units when my grandmother was occupying them. When I inherited this house I had to take out a $60,000 loan to replace the windows with reproductions, update electrical wires and have spray foam insulation put in the outside walls. I've always loved this house and I always thought I’d love living in this house, but over the years I just hate trying to clean or pay someone to clean the spaces that I don’t use.
|by Anonymous||reply 108||08/18/2013|
R108, are you allergic to paragraphs?
|by Anonymous||reply 109||08/18/2013|
No, I'm allergic to editing a document that I'm pasting from word, when the site removes all my returns and someone is turning the doorbell at the same time. I just hit Save post and make for the door.
|by Anonymous||reply 110||08/18/2013|
R72, you have possibly given me the reason that my grandparent's 1743 Connecticut saltbox was completely devoid of fireplaces. It should have a central chimney, but it doesn't. My grandfather significantly expanded the house in the 30's but there were none there at the point. It was originally a small hall and parlor plan, but still should have at least 1 enormous fireplace on the first floor.
In college I lived in a large apartment building that was originally a home for retired school teachers. It was built in the 1920's. The apartments were small shotgun plans with doors from each room that opened to the hallway. A unit consisted of a 6' x 12' kitchen, a 12'x 12' living room and a 12' x 12' bedroom with attached bath. Each door had a transom and every room had a door to the hall. Why this was I have no idea.
My favorite house was an Italianate brownstone that had double porches. Beyond the 12 foot ceilings with super intricate plaster moldings and fireplace, were the french windows that nearly extended floor to ceiling on either side of the fireplace. On warm summer evenings, I'd slide the windows into their pockets in the ceiling and hang out on the second story porch, watching the neighborhood go by.
|by Anonymous||reply 111||08/18/2013|
r108, were those back end rooms for the live-in help, perhaps?
|by Anonymous||reply 113||08/21/2013|
R108 Some houses of that period had separate parlors or drawing rooms for gentlemen and ladies.
|by Anonymous||reply 114||08/21/2013|
So r108, originally did the downstairs hall run all the way to the back of the house, ie no library? And the same upstairs, ie no bathrooms? so that you had cross-ventilation?
|by Anonymous||reply 115||08/21/2013|
R115 The Library seems to be original, but several houses of the same age were being torn down in the 30s and 40s when the upstairs bathrooms were installed. But the fireplace looks like the others in the house.
My mother's understanding was that the bathrooms that were installed above the room were too heavy from the concrete and tiles that were installed. At that point the ten square columns were built along the walls of the rooms with the beams that crisscross the ceiling to support the weight of that work. the fact that under the house that rooms has concrete piers supporting the floor where the rest of the house has older brick pillars seems to support that story. Though I'm not sure what the room would have been used for previously. In any event the owners before my grandparents built cabinets and shelves around the room that enclosed the columns and while it was the playroom for my mother and her sisters I started using it as a library/study because I could think of nothing else to do with a room with shelves and shallow cabinets on all the walls. When I put a desk and a couple decent old chairs from a junks store in the room, it became the room I live in. most of the time.
Cross-ventilation would make a lot of sense considering I've never understood the purpose of the little porch at the back of the upstairs.
|by Anonymous||reply 116||08/21/2013|
Can I not type a sentence that makes sense anymore? Rooms = Room in a couple of places.
|by Anonymous||reply 117||08/21/2013|
The house I live in--which was my parent's--was built in 1947. I have a laundry chute & a milk door. That's about it for unusual features.
The house my BF grew up in--and his mother still lives in--was built in the 1850's. It has a funeral door in the side of the house. It's a double wide door that opens from the parlor and it's name is what it implies. The casket and pallbearers went out through that door.
Another friend of mine grew up in the country on a small farm and--like a couple people on here--had a family cemetery on their property.
|by Anonymous||reply 118||08/21/2013|
Other interesting features found in what would be at the time affordable,middle class housing...older homes also pay attention to correct proportion and balance in terms of roof lines,height to width ratios, window placement, chimney design and general exterior components, recessed wood windows that add dimension to the facade that have actual mullions as opposed to vinyl ones sitting flat to the wall which use plastic strips to simulate the look of true divided light, architectural details such as barrel and coffered ceilings,inglenooks, laundry chutes,high quality stucco hand-troweled over custom built architectural details rather than stucco aggregate sprayed over pre-formed Styrofoam elements,wood millwork instead of MDF etc.
|by Anonymous||reply 120||10/01/2013|
R-116, I have seen similar houses, always in the south. I think you are correct in thinking that the halls ran front to back of the house. There would be a front and back parlor which would tend to be used for entertaining. The dining room is on the other side of the hall, and in front of the dining room would have probably been called the drawing room, which would have been the 19th century version of the family room, and typically would have been the room the family spent most of it's time in. The WTF room would have probably been housing for the housemaids. In the north, in houses of the era, typically the help was housed in the attic. Georgia would be unbearably hot in any rooms tucked under the eaves, so the help would have been housed in the separate outbuilding with the kitchen. As someone mentioned upthread, the kitchen was prone to fire and was separate... and Georgia's climate would have required no additional heat be added to the interior of the house. The second floor porch would have been a sleeping porch for hot nights.
Is there any evidence of a once there skylight in the second floor hall?... often times the skylight in such a home would have operating venting which would have provided very effective ventilation and created an updraft.
Room of the day in the south were high ceilinged and large and open. Rooms tended to be more cozy and rectangular in the colder north Google pictures from turn of the century Greenbrier to get an idea how large open rooms would have been furnished... yes it was a resort, but it is an example of how the wealthy would have furnished their dwellings as well.
|by Anonymous||reply 121||10/01/2013|
Seperate, narrow "servant stairways" also for children to use.
|by Anonymous||reply 122||10/01/2013|
I live in an old house built around 1900. The basement walls are round with a ledge going to the perimeter of the basement on three sides. Does anyone else have a basement like this or does anyone know why it was built this way?
|by Anonymous||reply 123||03/01/2014|
Any haunted house tales to share?
|by Anonymous||reply 124||03/01/2014|
r123, we have a similar basement. Here's what I was told:
Our house was built in 1874. The basement was originally just a crawlspace (the area from the ledge up, just a couple feet). Some time in the early 20th century, as there was more need to hook up to city utilities and make room for a furnace and water heater (things not a part of the house 25 years earlier), the basement was hand dug into a "full" basement. All the dirt was carried out in buckets. This must have been a HUGE undertaking. Once the basement was dug out, they built a new poured concrete foundation that sat in from the original out wall (kind of a "flying buttress" effect). This is why the ledge is there, it's the "newer" part of the basement.
|by Anonymous||reply 125||03/01/2014|
Our place had a laundry chute to let you drop clothes from the upstairs and an ironing board in the wall.
|by Anonymous||reply 126||03/01/2014|
My grandparents' house had a secret room in the basement where my grandfather made wine during the depression.
|by Anonymous||reply 127||03/01/2014|
When I was looking at houses a few years ago my agent, who seemed to have gotten it into his head that I wanted a really old house in a neighborhood where they're all a foot away from each other with no yards to speak of, took me to one with a central staircase that was so narrow there was no room for a banister; you basically hoisted yourself upwards on a knotted ROPE that hung down the center so that you wouldn't fall on the tiny stairs.
When I asked him how the movers would get furniture upstairs, he said, as if it were obvious, "They take out the windows and bring them in from outside on a ladder." Unlikely, since the windows were tiny, either to save heat or even in case of Indian attacks. The house was painted a dark brown color and faced sideways; I mean, a side of the house was on the street and the front door faced the neighbors' house across a few feet.
|by Anonymous||reply 128||03/01/2014|
Colonel Mustard spent far too much time in my grandmother's ornate turn of the century library with a candlestick.
|by Anonymous||reply 130||03/01/2014|
I grew up in a 1920s Dutch Colonial. Each of the three bedrooms had narrow and deep closets built under the eaves. On the second floor we also had one large storage closet (also built under the eaves) which my father wryly referred to as "the East Wing." The bathroom medicine chest also had a razor blade slot.
My mother had a portable 'Mangle' which we called The Ironrite instead. It was so much fun to operate when I was a little kid. You wheeled it out of its space in the pantry and when opened up and operational it took up a lot of kitchen space.
When I was about two there was a guy who came through our suburban neighborhood once weekly; he sold excellent fruits and vegetables from his horse drawn wagon. Sadly he disappeared. There were two different bakery delivery trucks and two or three local dairy trucks which came to the neighborhood each week. A local butcher/grocery delivered our weekly order.
My parents' best friends had a bomb shelter. The couple's marriage almost ended over that thing; he wanted it but she was vehemently opposed to it.
|by Anonymous||reply 131||03/01/2014|
I have a Mangle in my basement. It came with the house. You're welcome to come over and get it. I have no idea how to use it, and the fucking thing is so heavy the two of us can barely drag it across the concrete floor, much less get it up a flight of steps.
|by Anonymous||reply 132||03/01/2014|
Have you checked its antique value r132?
|by Anonymous||reply 133||03/01/2014|
My grandmother and my great grandmother both had houses with two front doors. One door went to the "living room" and one to the parlor. When family members would die their caskets would stay in the parlor overnight and chairs would be setup for 5 or 6 women to sit up with the body all night.
|by Anonymous||reply 134||03/01/2014|
My town is from German stock, so the wood floors in the old houses are oak in the living room, dining room, and parlor, then it instantly shifts to pine in the rooms only the family uses.
The other thing that's very common is to pull up the carpet and find that only the outside edge, maybe 3 feet all around the room, has stain and varnish on it. They never bothered to finish the center of the room because the knew a rug would go there.
|by Anonymous||reply 135||03/01/2014|
Anyone have a haunted house?
|by Anonymous||reply 136||03/01/2014|
Our house, which was built in '39, has a built in phone stand in the corner of the dining room that used to double as the pass through milk door. It's a solid cabinet with a small drawer over the milk door and a larger drawer beneath it.
The basement has a kitchen. Or at least used to. The sink and cabinetry are there, but the old-fashioned Wedgewood stove is long gone.
|by Anonymous||reply 137||03/01/2014|