25 cord of wood to heat
I remember Grampa Roy, with Uncle Milo and cousins Ervin and Berle, going off into the forest with the work horses this time of year to fell trees for next year's firewood. The farm, built in 1848 by my great-grandfather, Samuel Tucker, had originally been 500 acres – 100 cleared for pastures and growing, 400 in deep forest.
The forest in back of the farm house stretched over thousands of acres of forest straight back to Mt. Katahdin, which we could see from the upper fields.
Back 150 years ago – Maine’s forest dwindled to about 80 percent deforested. Lumber was the major industry. I still remember – not back the whole 150 years, so no smart remarks -- the rivers jammed with logs and the lumberjacks with their Peaveys hopping, surefooted, across them to prevent or break up a log jam. Dangerous stuff. But they made it look as easy as a ballerina on stage.
Grampa and the other men would saw the new-felled trees into 4-foot logs and stack them in cord-size piles: 4 x 4 x 8 feet. These would be brought back to the farm or left to dry until late summer or fall to drag out when the ground was solid.
The farmhouse was, as were the majority in that day, a standard two-storey with a cook-room (kitchen) ell with attached woodshed, granary, “two-holer” buildings leading down toward the barn.
The houses back then were not insulated. The average farmhouse, like ours, would take up to 25 cord of wood a year to heat. Larger homes could take more than twice that.
Originally, Samuel had a sawmill on the farm. He built the farmhouse and out-buildings, (barn, hen house, garage, grist mill, workshop, blacksmith shop, smokehouse) from his own wood. The floors in the house were birdseye maple. The siding was clapboard. The roofs were hand-split cedar shingles.
The design of the house was the common design of the day: the main part of the house started with the front door (which, of course, in Maine, no one ever used) opening into the front hall, which held a trunk and a gun rack with Grampa Roy’s guns. The master bedroom opened off the left, and off the right was the sittin’ room, (living room.)
The cellar door opened off the sittin’ room, next to the cook-room. The stairs to the second floor rooms opened off the cook-room, going up over the cellar stairs. At the top of the stairs was an open area, (with a big RCA Victrola), off of which were three bedrooms, snuggled down under the pitched ceilings.
The first bedroom, at the top of the stairs, had belonged to Great-Aunt Harriet, who died the year I was born. She had lived there all her life but for a few years when she worked a job off The Ridge. She died, a spinster, in her feather bed. That feather bed was still there when I was growing up there, but I didn’t like going in the room. It didn’t take much to spook me when I was a kid.
On the left, at the top of the stairs, was a cubby-hole door that went into the cook-room chamber – the attic space over the cook-room. Having the cook-room set off the main part of the house cut down a bit on the heat of the stove in summer.
The cook-room chamber, warmed by the rising heat and the stovepipe from the old Clarion, kept the chamber warm and friendly for a hideaway play area for us kids.
It was the cook-room door, which opened onto the porch – which, back then was referred to either as the "veranda" or the "piazza" – that everyone used.
The woodshed and granary extended from the house, going toward the barn, with the two-holer, and its big Sears & Roebuck catalog (no fluffy white rolls back then) at the end of the granary. (There are several old farmhouses around the county here that were built on that same pattern.)
Summer would find Grampa Roy, with his bucksaw and sawhorse, his ax and cutting block, busy getting the firewood sawn and chopped into stove lengths for the three stoves: the cook stove – the “Modern Clarion” with a warming oven and copper-lined water well -- the parlor stove and the bedroom stove. The stove pipes would provide a modicum of heat for the second floor rooms.
Cord by cord by cord, the split wood would then find its way into the cook-room wood box throughout the winter. (Grampa Roy was still performing this monumental task well into his 70s. In his 80s, he lived his last few years down in Wiscasset with family – and a furnace. He thoroughly enjoyed cold winter mornings there when, as he said, he could “wake up without my toenails chattering.”)
Not only was the farmhouse not insulated, the storm windows back then were the wooden framed ones that you took off/put on each season. They weren’t very tight, as to holding out the cold. Jack Frost often painted his icy scenes on the inside of the window panes.
Each fall, Grampa and us kids would go out and gather pine boughs to put around the foundation. Over these, Grampa would put the ‘banking boards’ which held the boughs in place and created an insulating layer that helped keep heat in.
I wish the houses had been insulated then, which would have meant he’d have only had to cut a third or less of the wood each year.
And I wish I had that old Clarion cook-stove today – with its warming oven, its copper-lined water well, its wet mittens drying rack - and its toe rail.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.