Training Program for Masons
Fireplace Style

Late 18th century Rumford
In the eighteenth century most American fireplaces were simple and functional. Ordinary farm houses and the homes of merchants and trades people from Maine to Georgia and out to Pennsylvania and Ohio, typically had simple and cheap plaster surrounds and common brick hearth extensions. Fancy fireplaces of the upper classes might have featured cut stone surrounds but were otherwise much the same.

Before about 1880 the fireboxes were constructed with under fired common brick which was plastered and whitewashed. Since common brick was a poor refractory material these fireplaces, which heated the house, were repaired and re-plastered and re-whitewashed annually.

Victorians moved to the cities with the industrialization brought by canals and railroads and abandoned wood-burning as hard work and too much "down on the farm". They embraced modern improved patented coal-burning fireplaces (each model better than the others) and fancied up the surrounds and mantels.

Later, toward the end of the century when "clean-burning gas" became available, fireplaces switched to gas.

c. 1875 coal-burning - "Rumfordized"

About 1920 the romance of wood-burning was rekindled. Central heating was common and the grandchildren forgot how much work it used to be to heat with fireplaces and remembered only the good times - Santa Claus, roasted chestnuts, good family times in front of the fire.

But in seventy years the masons had mostly forgotten how to build fireplaces. A few of the wood-burning fireplaces of the 20's, 30's and 40's were good fireplaces but most smoked and many were too close to combustibles and downright unsafe.

After WWII when there was unprecedented building of houses for the mushrooming middle classes and the building codes were written or substantially revised, "the modern fireplace" was born. The modern fireplace was a product of its time, when central heating was universal, gas was cheap, and the ranch style house was popular. The fireplace didn't have to heat. It just had to draw and not burn the house down - and be low and horizontal to fit architecturally with the low horizontal ranch style houses with low ceilings.

Now, with great rooms and vaulted ceilings, Rumfords are coming back. Big and tall fireplaces fit these big and tall rooms. And the radiant heat from a Rumford warms people and not the air which is just lost up in those high ceilings.

You can see more examples by clicking here.

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