Old house virtues we might be happy to leave behind

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House History

There are some things about old houses that would be great to bring back, things that would make our modern homes even more convenient or add impeccable charm to older places. But there are also things that we can be glad have faded into history.

Serious improvements in the old house kitchen

For instance, imagine an old refrigerator -- and I don't mean that old Hotpoint that your grandmother relegated to the back porch but still used from time to time. No, I mean things like the White Frost Refrigerator, an icebox that required hauling in a large block of ice on a regular basis. Up to 110 pounds of ice, which was then used to keep perishables cold. Though there were advantages over modern appliances, such as the fact that the icebox was on wheels and could be moved around, it's safe to say that plugging a modern refrigerator into the wall is much easier than refilling that old ice bin!

Speaking of old things that we might be happy to part with, consider the salt box. Salt boxes were a must in homes in colonial America. Salt itself was precious, as it was integral in preserving food. They were often hung near the fire or stove, not just for ease of use, but to keep out the dampness that could turn the precious salt into a lump that was difficult to use. Today salt boxes have become quaint collector's items, and no old house kitchen is truly complete without one -- but using other methods of preserving is surely a modern improvement that none of us really want to give up.

What about that old bathroom?

In some houses, the question might have been: What bathroom? Unless you were wealthy enough to install indoor plumbing, most individuals used their bedroom as their bathroom. This necessitated certain items that are now considered collectibles, such as a chamber pot, washstand with a bowl and pitcher, something to carry additional water in, a few towels (usually kept on a wooden towel rail) and perhaps a washbasin large enough to allow for either soaking or a simple sponge bath.

Showers were also a luxury that didn't come along for the wealthy until the early 1900s, and took several more decades to become affordable for the everyday family. But some of these showers were very interesting, and modern homes might take some pointers. For instance, there was the needle shower, which shot jets of water all around the torso, rather than a deluge from up above. Rain baths were just what they sounded like -- water that fell like rain, straight down from a faucet. Canopy showers were the first "combination baths" that led to the most common one-piece shower and bath that homes feature today.

Other things we can definitely do without

There are many other things that today's modern homeowner can be happy were left behind. Imagine lighting a kerosene lamp or candle anytime you needed light for anything. What about washing your clothes with a tub and washboard, or putting some serious muscle into working a wringer washer? Even stoking the fire to heat the home, using bed warmers to keep yourself warm during winter, and using a dough box to create many loaves of bread. Though these things definitely have a place in today's old house as quaint memories of yesteryear -- and can be used in the event that they are ever needed -- it can be nice to know that there are some things about old houses that are collectables, not necessities!

To learn even more about cool things for old houses, check out Old and Interesting and Home Things Past.