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When would steam heat have typically been installed in rural New England?

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Dave_61
Dave_61 Member Posts: 309
Four years ago, we purchased a very old farmhouse in W Mass. The house was built by a Revolutionary War lieutenant for his son in 1792. I have found the history of the house and the family very interesting. The same family owned it from 1792 to 1947. It was a working farm until probably the 1940's.
The steam system is oil with mostly large columnar radiators, though in some rooms we have tubular and and also some boxy Castrays.
From some old letters we received when purchasing the house, the original steam heat was first only installed on the first floor. The writer tells about how her breath would freeze on the blankets when visiting her grandmother. At a later date, heat was installed upstairs. I assume wood was used for the boiler as I see no evidence of a coal chute but don't know how feasible it would have been to use wood.
When renovating, we found knob and tube wiring and the porcelain insulators were printed with the date 1920. So that obviously leads me to believe that there was no electricity until the 20's at least.
I know that urban areas such as NYC had steam appear in the 1800's. When would you think this would have appeared in rural New England? And how did this typically occur? From what I've read, these old Yankee farmers tended to be very set in their ways. In another part of the letter, the writer, long since deceased, said her grandmother used to walk around the house with a candle because she didn't trust the new fangled oil lamps.
I've read "We Got Steam Heat" and really enjoyed it, and this kind of stem from that as well as my interest in the history of the house.
Cheers
Dave

Comments

  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    It's fantastic you have those documents. I will share a piece of information that may change your mind about the coal chute.

    My house was built in 1913 and there is a coal bin indicated in the original blueprints which I am lucky to possess. But today there is no sign of a coal chute. There are just standard basement windows and a bulkhead door. I don't know if they shoveled it through a window or brought it down the short length of stairs in a cart or something.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • AdmiralYoda
    AdmiralYoda Member Posts: 629
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    I'm curious as well. My house was built in 1899 in central Mass, north of Worcester. We have no fireplaces and only a boiler connected to a chimney. I assume the steam heat, probably coal fired was the main source of heat when it was built.

    I do have some odd circular patched over spots under the wallpaper upstairs on an outside wall in one room and next to the chimney in another. I wonder if there was some kerosene stoves or something up there at some point.

    Hard to believe my house was built without electricity or plumbing!
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,704
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    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Dave_61
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,861
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    1920 Farmhouse Eastern LI. Original lights were gas. Electric was installed in 1929. (Nob and tube, I still have the UL cert.) The coal chute was removed shortly after when the Thatcher gravity HW, coil fired was converted to oil.
    Dave_61
  • Dave_61
    Dave_61 Member Posts: 309
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    Not that it has anything to do with the heat, but an interesting tidbit too. The neighbors told us our house had a cistern until 1950 (when a well was dug) that took water from a spring and somehow got it to the second floor.
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 527
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    My guess is that the house was heated with coal/wood stoves until the first oil boiler was installed.  It is possible there was a hand-fired boiler for the steam system, but that would have been pretty uncommon in a farm house.  As for wood vs coal, it could have been either.  My dad said his grandparents would burn wood during the day and coal at night (since it would hold a fire all night).   

    My grandmother's 1880 house was built as a boarding house with 10 bedrooms.  She said when they bought the house in 1958 it had steam radiators on the first floor, and a small coal stove in each upstairs bedroom.  Since it was a boarding house, so they would only heat the bedrooms if they were occupied.  

    My 1910 farm house had a large coal stove in the basement with a floor grate, and a cook stove in the kitchen.  Sometime in the early 1950's a GE oil boiler and hot water convectors were installed.

  • Dave_61
    Dave_61 Member Posts: 309
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    Very interesting. Our fireplace in the master BR (previously called the sleeping parlor as only guests used it), is a Rumford.
    ethicalpaul
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,544
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    @AdmiralYoda & @Dave_61 what town are you in? I am in Chicopee near Spfld.

    I worked way back for an oil company that had an office in Springfield and one in Hartford bact to 1920.

    When I worked there in the 70s all the customers were 70-80 years old. Most had steam or hot air in the Springfield area. I only saw a couple of gravity water systems around here they were rare in Springfield from what I saw.

    Hartford had steam and hot air and quite a few gravity water systems. I did not work down their much but in the little bit I did I saw some GHW so it seemed they were more common down there

    But to shed some light on @Dave_61 s question back in the 20s circulators for hot water wern't available (at least not for residential) so it would have to have been gravity. A lot of houses especially rural were just getting electrical. Oil burners for residential were just starting to take off

    My guess would be in an old farm house with wood or coal that there were times they didn't heat the place and gravity HW could freeze.

    Steam all the water run back to the boiler when the heat is off (or is supposed to) so the could easily dump the boiler if they had too.

    GHW not so much

    I replaced a gravity HW boiler in a farmhouse in Bloomfield. CT once and I put in a Smith BB14 which held a bit of water. we kept it gravity......didn't want to screw up the old timers system. Worked fine.

    I see no gain in converting gravity to forced unless you use a mod con for condensing although today's small boilers may not be a good choice (cast iron for gravity) i think

    Dave_61
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,325
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    Cedric's home had oil fired steam heat installed in 1930 -- I still have my great-grandfather's original specifications and bills for the work. Before that, the north end of the house was heated by a coal or wood fired gravity hot air furnace (which is also still there, in disrepair) which was put in in 1893. The original farmhouse had two fireplaces -- wood heat -- and a couple of stoves upstairs, and the big kitchen coal or wood range (between 1780 and 1820 or so).

    Most of the older houses in this area are very similar -- central heat (almost always steam) in the '20s or '30s. More urban neighbourhoods at least in northwest Connecticut often had gravity hot water or steam, also coal fired, in the better houses and stoves at least until World War I in most houses.

    Uniform -- or nearly uniform -- central heating is in some ways a rather recent phenomenon, as older folks tended to think it was quite unnecessary! Oddly, colonial era houses were often more uniformly heated than houses built in the 1800s to early 1900s -- although perhaps less efficiently -- as they had the huge central chimneys and all the rooms in the main structure had either a fireplace or at least part of a wall next to the chimney. And once you managed to get one of those chimneys warm, it stayed that way!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Dave_61
    Dave_61 Member Posts: 309
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    Uniform -- or nearly uniform -- central heating is in some ways a rather recent phenomenon, as older folks tended to think it was quite unnecessary! Oddly, colonial era houses were often more uniformly heated than houses built in the 1800s to early 1900s -- although perhaps less efficiently -- as they had the huge central chimneys and all the rooms in the main structure had either a fireplace or at least part of a wall next to the chimney. And once you managed to get one of those chimneys warm, it stayed that way!

    Exactly right! We have a big central chimney with 3 fireplaces on first floor and one on second. I can't imagine what these people went through in the winters. We are so spoiled. I am in Shelburne (1/2 hour N of Northampton).

  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,844
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    Dave_61 said:

    Not that it has anything to do with the heat, but an interesting tidbit too. The neighbors told us our house had a cistern until 1950 (when a well was dug) that took water from a spring and somehow got it to the second floor.

    That might have worked with a hydraulic ram, as made by Rife and others. Rams would interrupt momentum of water in a pipe to then force it to a higher level.

    My house, built 1924 in Baltimore, still has the old coal window and bin. It never had a dedicated coal chute. I bet yours was the same.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    ethicalpaul
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,260
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    Sorry that I no longer have HB Smith history book. I think that it said that boilers & radiators came along in late XIX century. HHW is not that much younger. I've heard stories about how people agonized over choice between steam & HHW when upgrading an existing home.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,844
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    jumper said:

    Sorry that I no longer have HB Smith history book. I think that it said that boilers & radiators came along in late XIX century. HHW is not that much younger. I've heard stories about how people agonized over choice between steam & HHW when upgrading an existing home.

    1854, to be exact. That was the year Stephen Gold patented the first low-pressure steam-heating system in America. You can read about it in chapter 1 of "Lost Art".
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    ethicalpaul
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 917
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    If most of the radiators are column type, they were probably installed before the 1920s. That is when large tube radiators became available, followed by small tube “slenderized” radiators around the 1940s I believe.

    Bburd
  • Dave_61
    Dave_61 Member Posts: 309
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    bburd said:

    If most of the radiators are column type, they were probably installed before the 1920s. That is when large tube radiators became available, followed by small tube “slenderized” radiators around the 1940s I believe.

    Almost all radiators on first floor and second floor are the tall columnar ones. In the bathrooms and also master bedroom, we have these boxy cast iron radiators that are very square (Castray is one brand). When were those square cast iron ones produced?

  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 917
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    I believe the boxy castray or sunrad style of cast iron radiators became available  in the 1950s, but others here will know specifically. In older homes they are typically found where remodeling has been done.

    Bburd