Where oh Where Have the Fireplaces Gone?

old_home_loverSeptember 15, 2012

We are buying an 1875 Classic Farmhouse (I am told) style in Western PA. Though the house has three chimneys, and is a massive 3600 square feet, there is but one small fireplace in the living room.

Home has a total of 13 rooms and there are Victorian cast iron radiators throughout, but I find it hard to believe a house built in 1875 has only this one fireplace. I want to go looking for more in the walls and restore them, but am I on a fool's errand? Could this really be all there is?

Here is a link that might be useful: Pics

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It's a tough call OHL, being that age, the parlor would have the best fireplace, but it is late enough that steam heat was the latest technology, and having a fireplace would probably be seen to take away from the latest trends. It depends also on where the chimneys go through the house--one or more could have just been used to vent a monster furnace.

My house built in 1908 has two chimneys, but only one fireplace--the second chimney vented the kitchen stove and some gas heaters in the rooms above. My parlor chimney serves the single fireplace and the old furnace--and also a heater which was in the main bedroom. My house had a gas heater in every room, and for lighting as well judging by the piping coming through the floor and walls.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 3:07PM
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Look for where there may have been stove pipes entering a chimney in a room close to the where the "unused" chimney's are on the roof. My 1910 home had three chimneys but only one fireplace. I did a little sleuthing and I found openings where there were stove pipes entering the chimney in the wall. The chimneys service free standing wood stoves in each of the upstairs rooms as well as a few rooms downstairs. The stoves were all long gone and the stove pipe openings were all sealed up and plastered over.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 5:16PM
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Perhaps in the kitchen behind the paneling?

We bought a 1910 cottage and the chimney had 3 outlets. There was a stone fireplace in the living room and the other outlet was for the boiler. DH suspected we may find another behind paneling, and we did in the master bedroom.

Best of luck restoring that home, it will be gorgeous when it is done. Not many folks would be brave enough to tackle that.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 8:35PM
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Thanks all. Then I will not get my hopes up to find fireplaces but will keep my eyes peeled just the same.

Yes, Polly this is going to be a monster but the price was too good to pass up and once it is habitable it will get my family 19 hours closer to my mom, lol! I have always wanted to do a restoration, I have experience fixing up houses but nothing like this. The place just called to me and I heeded! The structure itself is very solid and level but it needs just about everything else. Luckily many of the old touches are still present like the brass operators on the transoms and shockingly, a house that's been empty most of fifty years has just a single broken pane.

Nonetheless, I expect y'all will see a lot of me on here in the coming years... Thanks in advance for all the wonderful advice!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 9:22AM
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I look forward to your pics.

My husband and I took on a huge renovation when we bought our cottage home. It is not quite as majestic as yours, but it is quaint and charming and what I always wanted in a home.

Nice to "meet" you.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 10:11AM
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Before you go busting out plaster, do careful measured drawings (as-builts, they are called) which may be more helpful in revealing large chimney masses in the walls than a sledgehammer, and less messy. The as-builts are going to have an enduring value as you upgrade the mechanicals and plan kitchen and bath reno's, too.

ps your house has great potential.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 10:47AM
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Oh, I should have read further down to this post. I see you intend to restore the house. What a show place it must have been, and could be again!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 10:58AM
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Sombreuil - I don't plan on taking out the plaster at all. I am hoping that we can trace the chimneys and maybe detect non-original walling, but my priority is keeping the plaster as a shocking lot of it is in good condition. Except the ceilings. The POs ripped out all plaster and lathe ceilings on the first floor and I swear I almost fainted but I have since recovered with the promise of pressed tin to replace them ;)

I do like the idea of as-builts, thank you! I think the blueprints are in the attic and it will be interesting to compare!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 11:23AM
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Casey, I never heard the term 'as built' before but it's wonderful advice. I did the measured drawings as a common sense approach & it's amazing how obvious it was to see the additions, fake walls, & hidden spaces on paper rather than just looking around.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 11:12PM
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By 1875 there would likely have been solid fuel (probably coal rather than wood) burning stoves rather than the, by then, old-fashioned fire places. This would be particularly true in western PA where coal was plentiful and where access to cast iron stoves would have been cheap and easy through canals or the Great Lakes.

My northern NY house built before the Civil War never had a single fireplace, only stoves for both heating and cooking. The earliest stoves were wood-burning; then there was a coal phase, but by time we bought it in the 1980s all the heating and cooking had gone back to wood burners.

With stoves you need only chimney stacks not the massive masonry that a fireplace needs, so you may not find large voids where hearths were. Keep an eye out for circular marks on walls about the size of gallon paint can lid. These are evidence of stove pipe thimbles as they passed through walls.

If you can get up on the roof, you may be able to detect places where chimneys have been removed to below the roof surface. Look in the attic for circular holes in the attic flooring.

It was quite common to have long (by modern safety standards) runs of nearly horizontal stove pipe from one room to another to get the chimney.

It was also common to remove the stoves seasonally, and only keep in the house during cold weather.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 3:39AM
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