Nina Daniels



Wednesday, February 25, 1948

The old frame houses around here had no bathrooms, so if you buy one, you will need to install one. I doubt the pioneers felt the need of bathrooms as we know them. In their strenuous and meager lives, luxury and even conveniences were unknown and unthought of.

It may even be possible that regular bathing as this generation knows it, was rarely indulged in. I refer now to the very early days when the immense forests were being cut down and the fight for existence itself was continually waged.

These great timber lands were not uninhabited by any means. Many kinds of wild animals lived here where our village is to-day. Especially numerous were wolves, wild-cats, bears and great herds of deer. Small fur-bearing creatures had their homes in the forests and streams, including otters, beavers, mink, foxes and raccoons. In some sections of St. Lawrence County, notably Stockholm, to venture far at night a hundred years ago would be decidedly unsafe without a gun with which to protect oneself from wolves.

So, what with clearing the land, building a home, watching out for beasts of prey, there was little time for personal care and very few "appurtenances thereof" with which to perform one's toilet. When a bath became necessary they used tin or wooden wash-tubs after such objects became a part of the household equipment. Incidentally, many of our great-grandmother pioneers washed at a brook or river and had few utensils with which to work. But there were many children, and no doubt they had the same faculty of getting dirt on their bodies and clothing that children of every generation have.

So they used their biggest tubs in place of a bathtub as most folks know them now. They were hardy and could endure much terrific labor without bathrooms just the same. They were spared the plumbing and cleaning troubles which follow in the wake of all kinds of modern gadgets. Bathrooms made their appearance, however, in simple forms in some old frame houses 50 years ago. The old shanties and log houses, of course, never had them.

We can visualize the old house now completely: the big kitchen-dining room, the sacred parlor, the entrance, the "settin' room," the "spare room," the "but'ry," the wood-shed and the furnishing. We can see the big wood stoves, the flames roaring up the chimney. We can imagine the hair-cloth in the parlor, cold and slippery but beloved by the housewife and desired by the antique searcher of to-day. The sun streams in the windows which are without benefit of Venetian blinds. Quaint are the Currier and Ives prints on the walls, precious the cross-stitch samplers, too. We hear the hum of spinning and flax wheel, we try the old melodeon. Enticing are the smells of mince-meat on the stove, of johnny-cake in the oven.

While the old house you may buy for your own may be somewhat shabby and run-down, there will be something about it strangely appealing and comforting. It seems to say "Come here and live with me." Many have known the shelter of my walls. My ancient roof has kept out the storms for over a century. Life and death have been enacted in my old rooms. Let me be sanctuary for you, I shall not fail you or yours." And so you will feel if you love and understand your priceless possession. For all the joys, the sorrows, successes, the frustrations, the agonies, the delights which your predecessors experienced have been absorbed by the old house, and you will feel its kinship with you and its never failing understanding. There will always be an atmosphere of fellowship there, not to be found in a brand new house.

It probably will be painted white on the outside with green shutters. Standing broadside to the road and not too high, it is not elegant, but homey. Lilacs and old rose-bushes surround it, maples tower above it. Day lilies and "pineys" bloom in their season, valley lilies nestle near the old wall. Robins and blue-birds love it, too, and build their nests in the tall trees. You can safely shelter your loved ones and your treasures within it, and may you reciprocate its friendly safety and care for it as it should be cared for after its long years of service to human beings.



North Country