Date: Sat, 24 Feb 2007
From: "Janet Hartman"
Subject: Rumford fireplace
Found several pages on the web...you seem to be involved with most of them. I'm interested in older Rumford fireplaces. I'm told that ours is a Rumford, but the house is built in 1770. Three of our fireplaces are open and two are still hidden behind the walls. We had to restore the kitchen fireplace and brick oven...but it wasn't altered other than to return the floor which had been removed.
I was tryng to find info about the early fireplaces such as mine, but the "Count" evidentally didn't deal with this design until much later. He would have been 7 at the time my house was built. So how can my fireplace be a Rumford? BTW...my back wall slants forward as it goes up to the throat, rather than being flat. I'll enclose a pic in case you have any info you could share with me. If not, and you could direct me to another source, I would be grateful.
Janet Hartman in Rhode Island
Thanks for the pictures of your fireplaces. I'm always interested in old ones.
You are correct in your assumption that your fireplaces could not have been originally built as "Rumfords" since Rumford didn't make his recommendations about fireplace design until 1796.
My guess, however, is that your fireplaces (if they were used extensively) have been repaired and rebuilt many times in the last 237 years. Even if there was no epiphany: "let's rebuild it as a Rumford!", you might expect slight modifications or "improvements" that mirrored the style of the day. Your fireplaces may have originally been deep and square, made more shallow and Rumford-like in the early 1800s and fitted with a modern damper with the sloped fireback 100 years later. You say you "had to restore the kitchen fireplace and brick oven...but it wasn't altered." I'll bet the current fireplace shape, however, was rebuilt or substantially repaired around 1950 - give or take 20 years. Do you have ownership and remodeling records for your house or maybe old pictures?
This would have been especially true of the smaller fireplace used for heating. Even that might have gone through some changes but not all mason completely understood Rumford and there are variations such as sloping firebacks and neglecting to round the breast.
The kitchen fireplace may never have been "Rumfordized" if it was primarily used for cooking rather than heating. In the old days these cooking fireplaces were in the servants quarters or a summer kitchen - not in the main house. And they were used year around so heat was not the primary function. In fact most has big open throats and chimneys with no dampers. In modern times when most of the cooking was done in a modern kitchen and the big cooking fireplace had been enclosed in the main house - or at least wasn't fired daily - it was probably desirable to install a damper and the fireback may have been brought forward so that the available dampers, which were only about 10" deep, would fit.
These are guesses, of course. I would really like to learn more about your house. I would love some more pictures and details of the cooking tools and oven. And, as I mentioned, it would probably help to know the history of the house - things like there was a fire in 1828 at which time the kitchen was rebuilt or new owners modernized the house in 1942, etc.
You might also glean some historic information about how fireplaces were built and used from some of the books on our book list at http://www.rumford.com/store/books.html and also by visiting local contemporary historic properties. I've learned a lot by visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Jefferson's Monticello - not exactly the right dates nor are they in Rhode Island but there is a lot of research and information about these places.
I look forward to hearing more from you.
Buckley Rumford Fireplaces
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