In the Deep of January: Staying Busy in the Cold

Hello! As January ushers in a new year with new beginnings, so too has Locust Grove been trying something new this January. Our doors are closed to visitors, but behind them, staff and volunteers continue to bustle around cleaning, taking inventory, tackling projects that have been piling up, and preparing for the Historical Ball on February 7 and the Spring Used Book Sale in March!

Here’s an inside look at some of our housekeeping!

The carpet has been reinstalled in the best guest room after the ceiling leak this fall! This room will be back on tour in February.

The carpet has been reinstalled in the best guest room after the ceiling leak this fall! This room will be back on tour in February.

 

Lots of cleaning inside the house means ladders for the high, hard-to-reach places like fixtures.

Lots of cleaning inside the house means ladders for the high, hard-to-reach places like fixtures. This is some exciting stuff, everyone.

Mary Beth, our Curator of Collections and Education, is working on preparing a list of items for appraisal.

Mary Beth, our Curator of Collections and Education, is working on preparing a list of items for appraisal.

 

The museum store has a new, computerized register!

The museum store has a new, computerized register! I will not miss you, old register.

I found a bunny during inventory in the hearth kitchen! Make your best guess for what this might be!

I found a bunny during inventory in the hearth kitchen! Make your best guess for what this might be!

 

All of these January projects are keeping us warm, but what would the Croghan family have been doing in January? How would they have kept warm? Inside the house, the thermostat reads a cool 55-60 degrees, as we now have the benefit of central heating,  but when the Croghans were in residence, it likely would have been much cooler as you moved throughout the rooms. Heating  was a challenge, but the house was built to help with the process. Each of the inner doors has a mechanism that causes the doors to close automatically if not propped open. All of the first and second floor rooms have a fireplace, so as the house remembered to close the doors for the occupants, the heat from the fire would remain. William Croghan built Locust Grove  to be a very smart house! Despite these features, it would still be relatively chilly inside. The main hallways would probably have been very  dark, and cold because they would not benefit from the light and heat of the fireplaces behind closed doors. The individual rooms would be slightly warmer, as chimneys  allowed cold air to enter the room as they drew smoke out, occupants would have resorted to other ways of staying warm by using bed and foot warmers. A foot warmer was a box of wood, brass, or tin that could hold hot coals and would serve as a toasty foot rest.  At night, a bed warmer made of brass and filled with hot coals would be placed under the blankets to keep you cozy at night. During the day, the Croghans would have worn layers of wool clothing.  So really, besides the presence central heating, we of the 21st century with our sweaters and space heaters have a very similar winter experience to the Croghans!

Despite the cold, winter was still a busy time of year. Wood would still need to be chopped to keep all of the fires going, and the ladies of the house would have  wool and flax to card and spin for weaving and sewing clothes for the family. The family would have eaten fruits dried after they were harvested, root vegetables stored in the cellar and the smoked meats prepared in the fall. Travel might have been difficult and dangerous due to snow, ice, or winter floods, so the Croghans likely would have spent a lot of their time at home, playing games, tending to repairs around the house and farm, making clothing and preparing for the spring, much like today’s Locust Grove’s staff.  You can learn more about winter practices here, as well as in this wonderful article from one of my favorite historic sites, Colonial Williamsburg. One day, I hope my blog posts can be this thorough!

However, one year was remembered as colder than all the rest–and not just in the winter! 1816 is often recorded as “The Year without a Summer”. In September of 1816, in a letter to his mother, Abigail, John Quincy Adams wrote from England of “chilling frigidity, of a cold, ungenial, unprolific and churlish summer […] We have had lately a few barely comfortable days, but not one evening and scarcely a day in 1816, when a fire would have been superflous.” The Farmer’s Almanac recorded a high of 46 degrees in Savannah, Georgia on July 4th, and the record, year-round low temperatures hurt crop production around the United States. The 1815 eruption of the Indonesian volcano, Mt. Tambora, was blamed for this freakishly cold year, as the cloud of ash from the volcano shielded the Northern Hemisphere from the sun’s light for an unusually long period of time. While New England was one of the hardest-hit areas in the United States by this development, Kentucky experienced freezing temperatures in June, July, and into August, usually some of the hottest months! This fascinating phenomenon is discussed at length by Sean Munger here, and in the book The Year Without A Summer by William and Nicholas Klingaman, if you’d like to learn more. I’m hoping, however, that we have an unseasonably warm winter this year in Kentucky!

Despite all of the activities keeping us busy this month,  we miss our visitors! Be sure to come and see us when we reopen for 2015 on February 1! But until then, what would you like to know from your friendly blogger? Use the contact form below to stay in touch! I hope to hear from you soon.

Your esteemed friend,

Hannah

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