Category Folk Culture History

Book Review: Sean Patrick Adams, How Americans Kept Warm in the 19th Century (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

In the 18th century, Americans burned a lot of wood to keep their homes warm.  But everything from a log cabin to a brick house had an open fire place with a chimney made of brick or stone. These open fires were quite inefficient. As Adams notes, houses in the Northern states would burn ten […]

Historic Inscriptions in the Shenandoah Valley

In the thousands of names and dates inscribed on the walls of Virginia’s Grand Caverns I see a giant puzzle, a sort of tapestry of American culture, two hundred years in the making. Some names, dating as early as 1808, were engraved in the form of type-set letters, the red walls carefully scarred to reveal […]

A doorway to the past

When  I bought my house a year ago, I inherited a barn full of old materials. Some of these I suspect came from a house that stood on the neighboring property from between circa 1840 and 1920. The house is a bit of a mystery because there is almost no sign of its existence. The […]

Tracking down the descendants

Why do family photographs end up discarded? Why do we find them for sale at antique stores? In many cases, antique store photographs come from the shoebox files of distant relatives or long-ago friends of the photographed. When the owner of the photographs passes away, and a son or daughter rifles through the shoebox, they […]