How Warm My Bed
Year One, Week Two
How Warm My Bed
Today is January 8, 2018. The first week of the New Year has ended, and the second has begun with a small icing that has closed schools throughout East Tennessee and caused several wrecks. The New Year began with a week of bone chilling cold felt throughout most of the United States, particularly in the East and South.
I began my New Year with some reading. One thing I found was a reference to the location of beds in homes. This caused me to do some pondering and reminiscing.
In the early days of our country’s history, especially in log cabins, the entire living area consisted of one room. Some of the more advanced log cabins had lofts, where children’s beds were reached by climbing wall-embedded pegs. These cabins had only fireplaces for heating, regrettably allowing much of the heat to escape “up the flue”. In the wilderness cold everyone wished to be as close to sources of warmth as possible; therefore, it was not only customary, but desirable, for beds to be located as close to fireplaces as practicable without fear of bedding catching fire.
In later years, log cabins (partly through necessity, partly through fashion) were replaced by frame or weatherboard houses. At their debut, clapboard houses were a sign of wealth. Nails were often costly and hard to come by, and many log cabins were constructed entirely without nails. The advancement of industry made nails more readily available and construction of larger homes easier. To be fashionable, some cabin dwellers covered their beautiful exterior logs with weatherboards. Log cabins with exposed exterior walls, once necessary, then frowned upon, later nostalgic, are again fashionable. Ironically, it is now a sign of luxury and wealth for a family to own a log cabin!
Early frame houses, though larger, often were no warmer in the cold winters than their log cabin predecessors. I was privileged to live from ages six through almost nineteen in the two story frame house that was the Burl Warwick family farmhouse. The Warwick farm included what is now Green Acres subdivision and several acres on both sides of what is now Luttrell Road. Mrs. Burl (Mary) Warwick’s maiden name was Waddington, and that family’s estate connected to the Warwick holdings, extending through a portion of the Walker Ford Valley closest to the City of Maynardville.
The front porch step of the Warwick house was a quarried rock slab. The foundation was comprised of huge rocks that also appeared to have been quarried. Huge beams were laid on top of these foundation stones, and flooring and framing was nailed to these beams.
The partially finished room over the living room revealed framing constructed of actual 2 X 4 sawmill lumber, the unpainted inner side of the weatherboarding, the roof support, and the chimney.
The strength of the interior pine tongue-and-groove boards nailed to actual 2 X 4s provided increased strength, allowing the span of exterior framing to be greater than the customary 16-inch centers of current construction. The inside walls continued after decades of seeping sap on the hottest days.
The outside weatherboarding was unpainted until my family began living there in 1971, at which time it was painted white. The house did not have gutters, so when the roof received a coat of metallic silver paint that quickly washed off, the rocks along the foundation to prevent mud and splashing received the benefit. While the downstairs rooms endured several coats of paint over the years, the unpainted stairwell and upstairs exhibited dimly penciled names and dates of farmhands.
The house did not have trussed roof supports, only rafters attached to a ridge board at top, additionally supported by collar beams. The roof had one leak at the front gable over the window in the unfinished upstairs room. My father had a huge barrel there, and frequently he would open the window and empty the barrel.
The kitchen had one chimney that extended through the roof for a cook stove. The main chimney was located in the middle of the front part of the house. It was constructed of field stone to approximately half the height of upstairs, finished with brick that protruded just above the ridge of the roof. There was no provision for heating upstairs, but two fireplaces on the ground floor shared the chimney—one in the living room and one in the bedroom. As in log cabins, most of the heat escaped through the “flue”. Jack Warwick once told us that his mother would set her milk and eggs next to the living room fireplace, and they would still freeze on the coldest nights. The contents of chamber pots also froze during such weather.
At the time my family lived there, the fireplaces were covered with tin and the house was heated by a coal or wood stove located in the living room. The soot that accumulated at the bottom of the fireplace once caught fire, proving a fire hazard. Thereafter, occasionally the tin would be pulled back so the soot could be removed.
My father insisted in having his bed in the room with the heating stove. This was inconvenient, as Dad went to bed early and insisted that everyone else in the house be in bed no later than 9:00 p.m. I never got used to Dad’s bed being in the living room. I can remember two previous houses where we lived, both located in the City of Maynardville. Though they were also heated by coal or wood stoves located in the living room, Dad had his bed in the bedroom closest to the living room. Both of those houses had sheetrock walls, and perhaps Dad thought they were warmer.
The Jack Warwick house was technically located in the Maynardville city limits, but not “downtown”. Also, the walls were plank, and daylight could be seen through the walls on the sunniest and clearest of days, and that probably made Dad feel colder. One thing all those houses had in common—none ever saw one day of insulation. It was warm close to the stove, even hot, but the extremities were slightly warmer than the outside temperature.
Sometimes, my own bed was in the living room. From roughly Christmas break to mid-March every year, Dad insisted that I sleep on a “rollaway” cot at the foot of his bed in front of the stove. I put myself to sleep many nights watching the flames cast shadows on the ceiling as they shone through the damper in the stove’s door. (Dad would be surprised if he knew how many nights I now choose to sleep on the loveseat in the living room!)
While it seemed nothing could be done about the cracks in the walls, Dad would duct tape and fill each crack in every door and window leading from the living room and kitchen with rolled newspaper to “keep the cold out”. Doors so “weatherized” were only opened for infrequent visitors, to store or bring in the cot, to go to school, church or the store, or to get more coal or wood.
The house had electricity when my family lived there. The living room and kitchen each had two double outlets, the downstairs bedroom one. The kitchen had two double outlets and one plug for an electric stove. Each of the two rooms upstairs had one electric light with a pull chain—no light switch. There was neither light nor electricity in the stairwell, though the closet under the stairwell accessed from the living room had a light on an extension cord. (I never knew where or how that cord was connected.) The front and back porch had ceiling lights. An extension cord ran from the back porch light to the outhouse. Observant neighbors might know that if the back porch light was on after dark that some form of elimination might be occurring!
But electricity has little effect on heating a house without insulation. I once tried to heat the bedroom after Dad’s death with a portable 110V electric space heater, but all I did was manage to melt an extension cord and almost burn the house down. Needless to say, I love propane fireplaces and heat pumps!
I do not know when the Warwick farmhouse was constructed, though I assume in the late 1800s or early 1900s. After we moved, the house received some upgrades, including an indoor bathroom and a dryer connection. The building endured years of wonders, weather, and woodpeckers. Sadly, the house burned on August 21, 1997, resulting in the deaths of four children. I loved living there, but all I have left are memories, a few pictures, and one piece of the weatherboarding and the front porch step I retrieved after the fatal fire.
Next week I hope to share another winter tale.
(A special thank you to Connie Buckner for providing me with older pictures of the house and owners and to Doug Osborne of Cooke-Campbell Mortuary for providing the date of the fire.)