The Rooms We Lost

   The earliest homes that were built in America consisted of one room. A large fireplace anchored the one end, and the family’s daily life revolved around it. Everything was done in that one room: cooking, sleeping, spinning, and so forth. Eventually, a second room might be added, usually on the opposite side of the fireplace. The fireplace would then be constructed so that there would actually be two fireplace openings, one projecting into each room. Rooms might also be added as a second storey to the original house. And so the house would evolve and grow along with the family and its changing needs.

   The second phase of the evolution of the house consisted of each essential activity being performed in a room by itself. Bedrooms provided space for sleeping. A kitchen provided a particular room in which to prepare food. By the mid-1800s, the average house had come to contain not only rooms for the essentially activities, but also rooms for specialized activities, such as a dining room in which to eat meals; a laundry, for the washing of clothes; and a smoke room for smoking meats, etc. And of course there was the outside privy, which would, with the advancement of indoor plumbing, evolve into the bathroom. In a matter of just over one hundred years (from the Colonial to the Victorian Periods), the house had grown from a one room structure to buildings consisting of ten or fifteen rooms.

   The house was not destined to just keep growing, though. As new conveniences, such as electricity, were invented, and as older things, such as the fireplace, were refined and improved, and as the activities of the American family evolved and changed, certain of the rooms that once were part of homes have also either evolved and changed, or have simply disappeared. Such rooms would include the spring room, the smoke room, the pantry, the garret and various others. Although the functions of these rooms may have disappeared, the rooms themselves might have simply evolved by taking on new functions (such as becoming closets). And in some few cases, perhaps it was only the name for the room that changed. This essay will explore some of those ‘lost’ rooms.

   If we start at the top and work our way downward, we need to go clear up onto the roof.

  The ax icons below contain links to additional pages in which you'll find information about rooms which our ancestors had in their homes, but which are no longer used.

   The Widow's Walk
   The Garret
   The Cockloft
   The Smoke Room
   The Root Cellar
   The Pantry
   The Summer Kitchen
   The Invalid Room
   The Powdering Room
   The Borning Room