“Archaeology is like a jigsaw puzzle, except that you can’t cheat and look at the box, and not all the pieces are there.” ~ Stephen Dean
If you’ve been following my blog, or if you’ve happened across it somehow . . .
I love old houses. I have owned old houses. I currently own an old house and am working to restore it (be it ever so slowly) back to it’s original condition. My house was vacant for 10 years prior to my purchasing it and while it is in pretty good shape, there is some work to be done.
How old is this house? Built in 1923, it is a certified Sears & Roebuck catalog home as evidenced by the packing slip on the underneath side of the stairs. 99 years old and holding steady. It has the original hardwood floors (although the kitchen was covered with linoleum at one point), the original solid wood doors, wavy glass windows, french doors, bannisters, door knobs, plaster walls and ceilings, 501 pine siding outside — all beautiful old features.
It had two fireplaces, one on the first floor, one on the second floor. While the second floor fireplace was deconstructed and walled over, you can still see the footprint of the hearth in the floor. The first floor fireplace was converted to hold a gas log insert which will be updated to a newer, more efficient gas log heater with a blower in the future. There is one feature that cannot be removed as it is built in to the fireplace and that is the . . . ash dump. Some ash dump doors are located in the basement space, ours is located outside. Rather than cleaning the ashes out between fires, they were pushed to the back of the fireplace and went down a small chute to an area below the fireplace at which point they could be easily cleaned out when cooled.
Because the bushes and hedges were grown up around the fireplace, I didn’t initially realize the ash dump was located there. Let me be honest, I didn’t realize the ash dump existed. At all. It wasn’t until I started listening to the True Tales from Old Houses podcast – the very first episode even, that I found out about ash dumps. Do me a huge favor? Run over and take a listen, especially if you like old houses. If you like haunted houses, the October podcasts are phenomenal. But I digress…
Dr. Donn Grenda was the guest on Episode #1 and Stacy interviewed him on the subject of “Ash Dump Archaeology.” Basically, cleaning out the ash dump of a historic house that had been overlooked or ignored for years and detailing the archaeological finds that had found their way into the ash dump. When I recently had my hedgerow and bushes cleaned up and trimmed, I was absolutely gobsmacked to find my own little Ash Dump Door. I planned my adventure carefully with just the right timing to share it with a friend of mine who also likes old houses.
Stay tuned for the next post in Part 2. What did we find? Did we finish? Will we secretly be scouting out vacant houses with fireplaces to scoop out their ash dumps?