Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Place by the Fire

by Ian Mumpton

It’s getting colder here in Albany; time to stoke up the fire! In the 18th century, the Schuyler family used a variety of methods to keep warm throughout the long winter months. Brussels carpeting, foot warmers, woolen clothing, bed warmers, fire-screens, and many other objects would have been used to control the temperature of the home, but the primary source of heat came from wood-burning fireplaces in every chamber of the house.

The library fireplace with andirons, shovel, and tongs.
Today, the fireplaces of the restored home are furnished with andirons, fire shovels, and tongs. Most of these are period pieces, and some of the andirons are believed to be 19th century family pieces, descended from the children of Philip and Catharine Schuyler. One particularly fine example of a period shovel and tong set is on display in the library in the south west corner of the house. Made of iron with ball-headed brass handles, these tools were both decorative and practical. While it is unclear if they are original to the household, they date to approximately 1790, and are appropriate to the style Schuyler would have purchased.

Brass-handled shovel and tongs, circa 1790, maker unknown.
Family records specifically mention tools of this sort on several occasions. For example, in 1803, Philip Schuyler paid a total of fourteen shillings to a Peter Furlong for repairing a fire shovel , tongs, and a pair of andirons. In the same year, Furlong also altered iron curtain rods and hooks for the family. 
An image of an 18th century tavern fireplace with shovel and tongs.
Detail from "Tavern Interior", 1762, by John S.C. Schaak.

While curtains were reserved for decoration in the best rooms of the house, each chamber featured double-hung shutters on the windows. These shutters could be folded back into the walls to let in the maximum amount of daylight, but in colder months could be fully or partially closed as needed to keep in warmth. Furlong is also listed as having repaired a coffee mill for the family. Fire, curtains, and coffee? It sounds like Peter Furlong was the guy to have around during a long New York winter.

The regular tour season may be over at Schuyler Mansion, but our staff will be posting regular articles on a variety of topics over the coming months. Restoration efforts have redoubled as well, so check back often for images and articles on that topic, as well our other series. Lastly, while our regularly scheduled tours may be over until Spring, the site is offering tours by pre-registration on Thursdays and Saturdays over the Winter. Visit the Friends of Schuyler Mansion website or check us out on Facebook for details about tour times and other exciting events. 

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