My great grandmother’s wood cook stove

Posted on April 29, 2012 by

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It’s cool and drizzling here in the upper Shenandoah this morning. Perfect conditions for starting a fire in the wood stove. But, that having been cleaned-out for house showings, I’m afraid it will remain a cool stove while modern heating systems takes over.

In the absence of the charm of a fire in the wood stove, my mind seems to wander back a bit to the memory of another wood stove… specifically, the one I remember in my great grandmother’s kitchen.

I don’t recall exact dates, but, seems to me I remember the wood cook stove (ca. early-mid 1900s) being in her kitchen as late as 1970. I wish I had a photo, and I struggle to find a photo on the internet of one similar to that which I remember. But I distinctly recall the removable iron plates and the burning wood inside, and how incredibly hot it was. I know it caught my attention in my youth, but besides passing note of the differences to other stoves that I had seen around the same time, I probably thought nothing more of it. Of course, one has to think… maybe because of the lingering memory, I actually thought more of it then, than I recall now.

With my attention centered on a simple wood cook stove, I also realize how fortunate I was to be able to stand, if only for a little while, on a bridge between generations… and not just that between my parents and myself, or my grandparents and me. My great grandmother was born in 1879, and that I even had a chance to know her seems incredible to me.

When I was born, I had five living great grandparents, all born between the mid 1870s and the late 1890s. Sadly, between the time I was born and the time the memory of my youth seems to kick-in, I lost three of them (two of them, interestingly enough, sons of Confederate soldiers). In fact, my great grandmother Hilliard (nee Good/Offenbacker) was only three years a widow by the time of my earliest memories of her.

Ahhh… her house. I remember how hot it could be in there. So much that I could hardly stand it. And the smell… I didn’t know exactly what it was, but my mom seems to think it was of a lye soap. It was a simple two-story house, and in it were raised five children. I remember once, going to the upper story and noting that bread boxes… crates that had held bread from the Southern Biscuit Company, I think (I have a fully intact crate in my collection of things)… had been dismantled and used as repair pieces. Though I don’t recall them personally, I also know of family pictures that were once in the house, and how the eyes of the folks in those old photos seemed to follow one, no matter where they went in a room.

No longer in the hands of family members, the house is slowly being reclaimed by nature. The photo is convenient in that it actually focuses on the one side of the house that I mention, along the walk from the front back to the kitchen. The plum tree, gone years ago, was along this walkway. Note also the lightening rods atop the house. The porcelain balls that once fitted along these, were stolen several years ago. Photo courtesy of a family member.

Funny, though, how I have forgotten other features. For some reason, I can’t recollect if there was running water in the house. I do still recall the cistern, just outside the kitchen (which was still in use)… the smokehouse, the barn (it seemed larger than life to me, and I got to see it before it finally collapsed after years and years of use)… and yes, an outhouse. I don’t think such things are even conceivable to the current generation of youth. No microwaves, no inside running water, and a wood cook stove? How miserable it must seem to some today!

Oh, yes, and the orchard. What an amazing place. I remember the apple trees, when the fruit was just turning red, and getting with my cousin to scale the trees to get an early taste… usually resulting in a stomach ache. Probably a reason why I was drawn to planting apple trees of my own… ummm, not for the stomach aches, but rather the more pleasant memories of the orchard.

Then too, there was the plum tree on the side of the house, near the cellar underneath the house. I can still smell those plums, some squashed on the path leading from the front of the house to the kitchen, with a particularly strong scent for having sat under a hot summer sun.

In the front, there were some high-back, wooden Adirondack chairs, shaded by two great walnut trees; and along the fence that bordered the road, antique roses. I can still recall sitting in those Adirondacks and hearing the screech of the screen door in the front of the house. Once I found a wooden Adirondack rocker a few years ago, it’s probably the memory of those old chairs that persisted such that I had to have one for my front porch.

But these were things… made possible by the people… and my great grandmother was the last link to all that had been done there since the late 1890s, early 1900s. So, what of the person?

Image of what is believed to be my great-grandmother (known in years past as “the Belle of Honeyville), with my grandfather, ca. 1908.

She was a quiet lady, pleasant, and religiously firm. What she must have seen in her lifetime I do not know completely, but only have snippets. As can be expected, she had at least one memory that she shared with me that had to do with the Civil War. Not of real experienced memory (considering she was born 14 years after the end of the war), but of a memory passed along to her. She would speak of an uncle who was killed at the Battle of Manassas. About how that young man, too young to fight, was stirred by a band playing down near the river, and how, at the age of 16 (as remembered in the family tale), he enlisted. I paraphrase, because it’s only a memory, but remember it said that “They tried to talk him out of it, but he was moved by the band playing down by the river.” In time, I was able to verify the details through research of my own. “Uncle Philip” (Henry Philip Good) did enlist in December 1861, but was not killed at Second Manassas, but rather, at Chancellorsville… somewhere in the vicinity of Hazel Grove, I suspect… on May 3, 1863. Records also show that his body was “received” three months later (recovered from a battlefield grave, perhaps?).

Though my great-grandmother was also the daughter of a Confederate veteran (who even attended the 1903 Gettysburg reunion), preferring no relations with him for her own reasons, she shared no memories of that part of her past.

My great-grandmother in the mid 1960s. She lived to see more than a century, passing away in 1982, just over two months short of her 103rd birthday.

There are a few other stories I can remember, of her and the house and land, but, that’s enough for today. Even though my wood stove remains cool in my house now, my, my, what an amazing amount of warmth from a memory of my great grandmother’s old wood cook stove.

Update: I’m very pleased to learn that a cousin of mine actually has the wood cook stove about which I wrote. As can be seen on the plate near the bottom front, the piece was one of those sold by the Hartman Furniture and Carpet Company, Chicago, Illinois. I don’t know that I dated this so well. Seems, perhaps, a stove from the 1940s or later, perhaps? See the image below.

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