The Fireplace in American Culture

The fireplace has long been a staple of the American lifestyle. Even before 1776, when the colonies declared their independence from Britain, fireplaces were the spot that families gathered to stay warm, dine, and bond. Although the appearance of a standard fireplace has changed over the centuries, the traditions that come with them have lived on.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, standard fireplaces were massive. You could walk into them if you wanted to, but they were not very ornate. It wasn’t until the 1800s that mantles became a common sight. Before that they were mostly reserved for federal buildings.

Depending on the colony you were in, you’d find the fireplace in a different area. In Northern and Mid-Atlantic locations they were located in the center of the home, with multiple rooms having smaller fireplaces that connected to the primary chimney. These centrally located fireplaces did a better job of keeping homes warm during the winter, as they retained heat even after the fire was extinguished. Southern fireplaces were located on the sides of the homes, as decentralizing the heat keeps homes cooler over the summer.

Walk-In Fireplace in Colonial Williamsburg

Huge fireplaces were popular well into the 1800s, but at the end of the 1700s Benjamin Thomas changed the design dramatically. He created the tall, narrow fireplace we know today. The design was favored due to its ability to push more heat into the room and prevent backdrafts.

Cast iron fireplaces rose to popularity during the industrial revolution, when coal took over as the primary heating source. These often featured arches decorated with ornate designs. These impressive fireplaces slipped out of style during the early 1900s, when colonial houses were fashionable again.

Cast Iron Fireplace

Nowadays all types of fireplaces are in style depending on the home. Whether they’re closer to the simplistic look of early fireplaces, or ornate like the cast iron fireplaces found in the 1800s, the fireplace still is the spot family’s gather around in the winter.

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