Why no Fireplace?

Some of you maybe wondering in a house this old why there is no fireplace. This to has eluded me for a long time. Because as I have looked around the house I have found almost no sign of radiators (except possibly in the library), no sign of a fireplace that may have been removed, and the vents to the existing furnace appear to come from a later time period (1920?-1930?). So I had to wonder how did they heat this place in the early days. In 1893 Johnsburg was a small town that stood far away from the hustle and bustle of McHenry and Woodstock. There were no gas lines to speak of. In reality I think I have found two answers.

The first answer came to me on a quiet day at work and while I was listening to one my Architecture Podcasts and they said something about what the settlers brought back from their own countries to their new homes in America.

I stopped dead in my tracks. The Mertes’ and much of Johnsburg were Catholic German Immigrants and most likely there are certain building traditions they brought with them to this new world. I then remembered something my Swiss/German great grandmother Emilie said to my Grandmother. It was very common to have a central wood burning stove in the house and that the chimney heat would radiate through the space. We have a chimney on the living room west wall. Roughly in the center of the house… As soon as I got home I began my search.

Coal burning stoves.

Sure enough I found circular filler holes in the plaster where wood burning stoves had obviously connected to the central chimney in the living room and what is now the dressing room on the second floor.

You can sort of see the circular patch where the stove flue went into the chimney

Then I saw it. There was another circular patch on the west dinning room wall that is shared with the kitchen wing. That got me thinking. Originally there would have been a chimney for the kitchen stove but, I know that there was major renovations in the 1950s, 1970s and 2000s in the kitchen. Could there have been another chimney for the house? I’m thinking yes. While part of me yearns to put back the woodstoves, I now see that it is completely impractical in all locations…. Oh well.

A rather large kitchen stove that would fit right into 1893.
Another type of stove that could have been in the original kitchen.

The second way they heated the house came from talking to some of the Schaefer kids who lived in the house from the 1940s till 1999. They remembered coal being delivered through a basement window and a grate of some sort being outside the bathroom that could be opened with a crank and chains. This meant they had a coal burning furnace in the basement that would circulate hot air through the house via a grate in the dinning room floor and a vent in the dinning room ceiling that goes to the Lavender bedroom. The vent in the dinning room ceiling is still in place and leads to some very funny moments of our cats looking down at Sara and I.

The Patch in the floor where the grate used to be.
Percy is looking down at me wondering what I am doing.

Well that is one discovery to our house that has many secrets yet to be revealed.

4 thoughts on “Why no Fireplace?

  1. Thé lavender bedroom was mine at one time and the floor/ceiling vent was a great way to spy on my older sisters when they had boyfriends over, or overhear adult conversations. The floor vent that is no longer there was the spot we stood on if we were cold and it made a great drying place for soggy winter boots and mittens!
    So interesting, never saw those circular spots on the walls under all the layers of wall paper


  2. Sara and I use it tell each other things when one of us is upstairs or when dinner is ready. The funny thing is that I have a feeling my future kids are going to be trouble makers and drop things like pencils through it to see what they can hit.


  3. Love hearing what you and Sara are doing and discovering about the house. Keep up the good work, and thanks for letting us all know what you find out about the history of it.


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