It's hard to admit, but the time has come to keep our sweaters close at hand and to bring in wood for those of us with wood burning stoves and furnaces. Yes, some people still use them rather than gas or electric heat.
There's nothing as welcoming as a toasty warm and cozy fire when there's a chill in the air and to gather around it for the cheer and comfort it offers. Primarily functional or of simple design today, in by-gone days such stoves were often a centerpiece of a room and therefore quite ornate. One of these beautiful stoves can be seen at the Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum and is part of the virtual tour in this column's series about the artifacts and history found in the lighthouse keeper's home, the first of which was built in 1826, but replaced with a Victorian Gothic structure in 1875.
The dining room features several period pieces, including a 'Ruby Crown 145' stove manufactured by Crown Stove Works of Chicago. The ornate details on this nickel plated and cast iron stove make it a work of beauty. The glass used at the time was 'isinglass,' a form of mica that came in transparent sheets and was used for windows on furnaces and oven doors because it could withstand high temperatures. More than just a source of heat, the stoves of various designs were also pleasant to look at and is most likely why they were called 'parlor stoves;' the place where family and friends visited especially when it was cold outside.
The Dunkirk Lighthouse has an old-time ornate Ruby Crown nickel plated and cast iron stove in the lighthouse keeper’s home. Tours are still available through the month of October.
Those wishing to warm their homes with these stoves today may find reproductions and restored originals dating from the later 1800s and early 1900s. Prices range up to over $5,000.
Heating with wood comes with a price as far as the labor involved. The process today is much the same as long ago and those with personal experience can attest to how much work is involved. The wood of course has to be cut and split. That alone is sure to build muscle. Even if it's delivered, many cords of wood make a mountainous pile to stack. Moving them to the designated location can seem like an endless task with only one log handled at a time. One trick to have neat rows that will not collapse is to make proper end-caps. This involves stacking logs on the two ends in a crisscross design using logs that are rounded on one side and cut flat across on the other. If done this way, a row of wood can be quite high. Again, from personal experience, an unsuspecting novice will be chastised if he or she attempts to get wood from one of these end-caps which could cause an avalanche of logs where you don't want them.
Next is making the fire. If properly banked at night, the cinders can start another fire, but it is not so pleasant to jump out of bed when the house has become chilled, especially bare feet on a cold floor. It's also not fun for the person who comes home first to a cold house after errands or work and has to start a fire from scratch; only after shoveling out the ashes of course. A starter log might be used, but split kindling works better, which is another part of the labor. It is a welcome sight to see hungry flames licking the logs, and near the stove is where all people hang out until the heat has a chance to permeate through the house. Logs are added at just the right time, and a fire without smoke is a skill that is developed over time.
Today most people probably take a heated home for granted, but in the old days it was a labor intensive process. Even in later times, coal was delivered into people's basements through a window with a shoot for their furnaces, but it then had to be shoveled from the coal bin and was certainly dusty. 'Burns Coal Burns' was one old-time family business in Dunkirk, that in addition to a being a lumber yard also delivered coal. Located on the west side of Park Avenue between Second and Third streets, it is now gone and only a distant memory like so many other businesses that once flourished in our area.
Make it a good week and enjoy your toasty warm house as the weather turns cold. Consider touring the Dunkirk Historic Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum while it is still open through the month of October.
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