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good fires for good living
No longer needed to ward off the biting cold
of winter, a fireplace still evokes the warmth of home
Written by BRUCE IRVING
Ah, the new world. for the first settlers, it had more of just about everything
(except for religious persecution and overcrowded cities). Colonists loved to write
home of bird flocks so dense that they
blotted out the sun, fish so abundant they
could be walked across “dry-shod,” and enough land, well,
to start a new country. But who knew they’d be so taken
by the logs?
The Rev. Francis Higginson, writing from Salem,
Massachusetts, in 1629 and recorded in New England’s
Plantations: A Short and True Description of the Commodities and Discommodities of that Country (London, 1630),
noted that “in the winter season for two months space the
earth is commonly covered with snow, which is accompa-
nied with sharp biting frosts, something more sharp than
is in old England, and therefore we are forced to make
great fires.” Fortunately, he reported, there was plenty of
firewood: “Nay, all Europe is not able to afford to make so
great fires as New England.” He sums up by saying, “Here
is good living for those that love good fires.”
Every New England house started with a fireplace.
Even the earliest dwellings — dugouts cut into embankments or domed wigwams of bent poles modeled on English field shelters — were constructed around a solidly
built heat source.
To build them, the materials at hand had to suffice:
field stones and sticks held together with a mortar made of
clay and grass. As time went on, the houses became more
substantial and sophisticated, and so did the fireplaces.
Salem had the region’s first recorded brick kiln in 1629,
and demand for its product must have been as huge as the
early fireplaces were
as large as 10 feet wide, 6
feet high, and 6 feet deep.
The main fireplace served
all the family’s cooking
needs, in addition to
warming up the central
area of the home.