Dec 26th Friday Mr Scott has been here to day and
painted the back entry chamber & stairs leading to my
room & Janes bedroom, I have been knitting the border
to Susans hood and sewed it together ready for the
lining It is a bitter cold day Augustus called this
evening to get the direction for things to get me
tomorrow Came down stairs after I went to bed and
made a fire in the air tight so that my plants should not
With the wind out of the north “[i]t was a cold day all day,” noted Old Oliver. So “bitter cold” was it that after bedtime, Evelina slipped downstairs in her nightgown to check on the indoor plants. Determined that they “should not freeze,” she lit a fire in the “airtight” to keep them warm.
The airtight was another word for stove, in this case a coal stove. People often used the words stove and furnace interchangeably, so the air tight that Evelina speaks of may be the same furnace that is often lit by one of the servants. As was customary in many New England homes, it would have been allowed to burn down every night and started fresh each morning. Yet this evening was too cold to risk Evelina’s herbs and other plants being killed off, so the stove was kept going over night.
The presence of this and perhaps other stoves in the house tells us that the Ameses no longer burned wood fires in the original fireplaces, a transition in heating technology that had happened since the 1830s over most of industrialized New England. The change had provided a better, more even heating system, but at a cost. Many lamented the loss, for “the hearth had been the warm, bright center of the household, the provider of cooked food, heat and light and a symbol of the family’s shared life.”* Others, however, of whom Evelina was likely one, cheered for the added warmth and convenience of the furnace.
* Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everytday Life, New York, 1988, p. 141