adventure, history lesson, homesteading, lessons learned, winter

Staying warm

I flew back home to Ohio on Saturday night, and after staying up far too late talking with my parents, we discovered that the house had its own welcome-home present to offer: a broken furnace. Plus, Northeast Ohio was going through a cold snap…which meant the temperature could get down to a bracing 3 degrees F at night.


My dad quickly took charge, being the engineer and all-around handyman of the family. He soon learned that we couldn’t get the part needed to fix the furnace until Monday morning, so we would have to wait out Sunday in an increasingly cold house. He and I trekked out to Sears to purchase three oil-filled space heaters, which took all of five minutes to set up and plug in. We couldn’t light a fire in the fireplace because the heat would actually suck warmth out of other parts of the house. (If we had a wood stove, that would be a different story.) So we all bundled up in sweaters, vests, and blankets, and turned on the faucets to keep the pipes from freezing. But we had a bracing day. As my mom pointed out, while trying to warm up her hands after scrubbing pans in very cold water, “I think this is how you get chilblains!”

The repairman just left, so our furnace is up and running again. And all in all, we weren’t that uncomfortable. But this adventure made me wonder how people warmed themselves in the past. So I did some research, and here’s what I found:

  • A roaring fire in the fireplace was the best way to stay warm in colonial America.
  • When it was time for bed, you could take the warmth of the fireplace with you by filling a warming pan with hot coals and snuggling it under the covers.
  • If there were cracks in your cabin, you could dab on some clay to keep the wind (or snow!) from whistling in.
  • In the 17th, 18th, and even 19th centuries, folks took foot stoves with them on frigid carriage rides or to church on Sundays. They were basically boxes filled with hot coals. You could also take a hot stone with you if you were poor.
  • Layer! Long underwear, woolen petticoats, thick stockings, and quilts all kept the chill out.

Personally, I’d kind of like to have a warming pan to take to bed on chilly nights. What about you? How do you keep warm in the winter?


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