Kitchens are more than just a place to cook our food.  They are usually one of the main family living areas where we gather, commune, play, break bread with family and friends, and sometimes even work with laptop and files plopped on the table so we are sure to stay abreast of all the family’s happenings.

But they weren’t always this way.  In fact, in the late 1700’s and throughout the 1800’s – kitchens were more or less viewed as necessary evils to be tolerated and tucked away as unseen, unfelt, unheard, and unknown as possible.

In the very earliest Colonial America houses, this was accomplished by building kitchens in the basement of homes to keep the hardworking class that worked in the kitchen, as well as all of a kitchen’s rubbish, odors, soot, and smoke as far from the dining and living areas as possible.

Somewhere in the beginning of the 1700’s, kitchens began to be removed from the home and housed in small buildings located a short distance from the main house – something we usually refer to as a “summer kitchen”.  We’ve heard these kitchens were built to save the main house from the extra heat of a kitchen during the hot summer months.

This was, no doubt, a consideration, and probably the primary one for most households.  But as it turns out, it’s not the only one, and probably not the primary one for more well-off households.  This new kitchen architecture in wealthier households seems to have had more to do with race, gender, and social space than it did with the practical considerations of meal preparations for those in the middle to upper classes, as it reflected the growing custom of separating guests and family from slaves and cooks.

While energy efficiency was a dominant concern for one demographic in early America, and a strong sense of social order and place for another demographic, both demographics had one major reason for keeping kitchen spaces tucked away by the late 1700’s.  In the 19th Century, the “Miasmatic Theory” was the dominant disease theory and promoted the belief that offensive odors of decaying materials transmitted diseases, and by the mid-1800’s experts were campaigning to eliminate the causes of foul smells from housing in order to improve public health.

But keeping a house cooler in the summer, keeping the help away from the family and guests, and keeping sickness at bay by not exposing the house to offensive odors weren’t the only things that helped shape the history of our kitchen architecture.   The changing roles of women too.

Women played the role of providers of preventative medicine in their role as housewives, and the new focus on public health and disease prevention propelled women into a new role: domestic scientist.  Early feminist leaders advocated the use of a scientific approach to home management, cookery, and kitchen maintenance – especially as it related to maintaining good health.  The kitchen became viewed as a workshop to be designed and maintained for optimal work quality instead of the utilitarian “evil necessity” they had been as the housewife found that she had a higher calling in the battle against disease.

This new “professional housewife” had a new role, and needed a new kitchen environment to match.  Kitchens were pulled back into the home and placed squarely into the center of family function, as housewives tackled kitchen tasks in this new professional and scientific manner.

And so the modern kitchen was born, as by the turn of the 20th Century the loss of domestic help and advances in time management and public sanitation techniques shaped a new kitchen architecture for America.

Soapstone is a traditional material that’s been in use for thousands of years and is often found in early Colonial American homes.  The soft, metamorphic stone material, favored for its ability to withstand and retain heat, was used for fireplaces, hearths, cooking slabs, and water basins.

It still is today, thanks to Bucks County Soapstone.

With a beginning in the cabinetmaking trade, Bucks County Soapstone now focuses solely on crafting custom soapstone sinks for kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, and a few other specialty products.

Soapstone can be found all over the world, including here in the United States. Bucks County Soapstone sources their material from Brazil where the families of some current soapstone harvesters have been quarrying soapstone for hundreds of years, as well as Virginia here in the U.S.

One distinct advantage Bucks County Soapstone can claim is the use of a highly accurate digital templating device called the Faro Arm.  This instrument uses a handheld imager to trace the backsplash a sink will be fit against to get a truly snug fit, even against stone, tile, and other uneven surfaces.  This digital template, along with other measurements, are then inputted into a computer system that guides the saws that cut the soapstone slabs to shape.  Once cut, the soapstone pieces are then finished by hand by Bucks County Soapstone’s artisan craftsmen.

httpvh://youtu.be/CdbGFhND1Co

Along with the truly custom pieces they can make, one of Bucks County Soapstone’s particular specialties is their ability to replace modern sinks with apron-front traditional soapstone sinks common in historic homes without any major cabinet work.  While the sink may have been a common occurrence, this particular specialty is not.

For more information about Bucks County Soapstone, the products and services they offer, and general information about soapstone sourcing and product care, visit their website at bcsoapstone.com.

 

Exciting news just in….from Preservation Pennsylvania:

Historic Tax Credit Established in Pennsylvania
On Saturday, June 30, Pennsylvania became the 30th state in the country to have a state historic tax credit when Governor Tom Corbett signed the FY 2013 Commonwealth Budget and established the Historic Preservation Incentive Act. (Click on the link to read an overview of the act.) This tax credit will be a companion to the very successful federal tax credit program.
Preservation Pennsylvania thanks the General Assembly for the establishment of this program that will offer a 25% state tax credit for the rehabilitation of qualified income-producing buildings that are also using the federal tax credit. By leveraging the existing 20% federal tax credit with an additional 25% state credit, the program will help lure investment into Pennsylvania. Data show that states with state credits tend to have an advantage over states that do not have tax credits in attracting investment in historic rehabilitation.
“We are thrilled with the passage of this legislation,” said Mindy Crawford, Executive Director of Preservation Pennsylvania. “This program is not just about historic preservation – it is about local jobs, economic development, neighborhood revitalization and vibrant strong communities. Pennsylvania has historically been one of the strongest users of the federal tax credit and the creation of a state tax credit will result in more projects that return abandoned buildings to useful life and place them back on the tax rolls.”
Credit for moving this effort forward goes to Senator Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, who introduced the legislation and continued championing for it throughout budget negotiations. Representative Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, who advocated for this legislation in the House and helped move it to the finish line. In the end, this program was established as part of the Commonwealth Budget in the Tax Reform Code.
Efforts to establish this credit in Pennsylvania began in 1996 under the leadership of former State Representative Tom Tangretti, D-Westmoreland, who worked for the passage of this program until his retirement in 2008. Many groups and individuals worked to advocate for the passage of this program during the last 16 years. We thank each and every one of you for your efforts.
What’s Next? The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Department of Economic and Community Development will develop the program guidelines. The credit goes into effect July 1, 2012 but the first tax credits will not be issued until after July 1, 2013. Just like the federal program, this credit is issued after the project is completed. To start, the program is limited to $3 million annually with an individual project cap of $500,000. Please check the Preservation Pennsylvania website for the latest information.
In the summer of 2011, the tower at Independence Hall was bared to the bones for the first time since it was added in 1828.  In a restoration project for the National Park Service (NPS), contractors bared the face level of the tower down to the structural framing.  The NPS has a detailed write-up of the project, along with pictures, videos, and step-by-step pictorial guides of the process.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT ALL OUT AND TAKE A LITERAL LOOK INTO HISTORY

Architecture of Democracy 

by Allan Greenberg

Wrapping up our discussion on the founding of our country, we thought we recommend this book on the founding architecture of our country.  You can read more information about author Allan Greenberg at his website, a detailed article on Allan Greenberg and this book that ran in a 2007 issue on Traditional Building, and the book can be purchased at multiple places online but we suggest ordering from our favorite locally owned and operated brick-and-mortar bookstore, Aaron’s Books.

The Hancock House

Historic Restorations recently built the ‘tavern’ door for the 1734 Hancock House for the New Jersey State Park Service. The Hancock House is one of just a few houses left in Southern New Jersey with the date in a decorative pattern on the gable end. Besides the architectural importance the house was the site of the March 20, 1778 massacre by the British troops to punish the local militia (stationed within the Hancock House) for not supporting the British Army when they came for supplies. Everyone within the house was bayoneted – Judge William Hancock died several days after the attack.