Monroe Keeps Warm in the Winter

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

Brr! It’s cold! I am so fortunate to be able to adapt to a new environment. I am going to retreat to my nook in the basement kitchen and curl up under that strange looking thing called a radiator.

Of course it was certainly cozier to take an afternoon nap in the corner of the fireplace, but times change. In Colonial homes, the fireplace was a center of activity from the modest one-room cabin to the grand Stroud Mansion. I certainly miss the crackle of burning wood and especially the scent of freshly baked bread.

In the Stroud Mansion, fireplaces in every room provided the heat for the comfort of the Strouds and their servants throughout the winter months. It is hard to believe that most of Pennsylvania was once heavily forested. Farmers had to work arduously to clear the land before they could till the soil to plant their crops. Much of the cleared wood found its way into home fireplaces. Wood was the major source of fuel until 1885 when coal surpassed it as heating fuel.

My mouse relatives in Philadelphia were always ready to expound on the genius of Benjamin Franklin when it came to home heating. Of course, cousin Amos takes most of the credit for Mr. Franklin’s ideas, but then the family knew that Amos had a big ego.

Always aware of the dangers of an open fire, Franklin invented in 1742 the Pennsylvania fireplace, more familiarly known today as the Franklin stove. This stove was shaped like a fireplace and made of cast-iron. The metal baffles in the stove increased its heating efficiency dramatically.

Franklin’s 1744 pamphlet, “An Account of the New-invented Pennsylvania Fireplace” was penned to increase demand for the new invention. Franklin shared the plans for his stove with his friend, Robert Grace. Grace had an iron-furnace and profited from casting the plates for the Franklin stove.

Franklin, interestingly, never patented any of his inventions. In his autobiography he wrote, “As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any inventions of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

As with most good ideas, the stove improved over time. The 10-plate three-leg stove (as seen in the Stroud Mansion kitchen) is a fine example of fine sand casting. The decorative plates (leaf and grain design) made a practical object an attractive addition to the home. The 10-plate stove has two compartments; wood went into the lower compartment and the upper compartment was an oven. The original owners of the Mansion stove were Samuel Rees (1816-1891) and Christianna Wallace Rees (1821-1910). Rees was a register and recorder of Monroe County, justice of the peace, and tax collector.

The combination of marketing and improved transportation increased the demand for cast-iron stoves. The advent of the railroad allowed stove manufacturers to ship their stoves great distances. Their market expanded, and by 1900, few homes used the fireplace for heating and cooking. It had been replaced by the stove.

Well, this radiator thing does make a cozy place to nap! I can always dream of Ben and his stove.

Teachers: Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin, by Robert Lawson, will delight children and engage them in our history | Lesson plans