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    The Saltbox and the Chimney

    by Jack Larkin

    Probably the most classic and memorable of New England central-chimney houses had a two-story front and a long roofline sloping down to one story in the rear. It went by several names. Saltbox is the most familiar term, reflecting the look of a once-familiar container.

    New Englanders were more likely to call it a "breakback," as they would say in Connecticut, or a "lean-to," which folks in Massachusetts favored. The lean-to form took a four-room house plan two rooms below, two above and enlarged it to include a sizable kitchen.

    As an old man, Charles Hyde described the lean-to house where he grew up in the first decade of the 1800s. It was "built with its length along the line of the street ... In the front were two rooms, between which was the door opening onto a narrow passage. From the passage-way doors led to each front room, and a staircase turning twice at right angles with landings in the corners, led to the chambers above. The kitchen ... occupied most of the rear half. A small bedroom was cut off from the end. A side door, the pantry, and cellarway occupied the other end."

    The saltbox was not a poor man's house but a sign of moderate prosperity. (The less well-off lived in one-story houses or in "two over two" structures that didn't have the extended kitchen.) For much of the 1700s, lean-tos, with their two-story facades, were the characteristic houses of comfortable (although not wealthy) farm families. But like today, the old gradually yielded to larger houses.   >>>

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    This article is excerpted from Where We Lived by Jack Larkin, copyright 2006, with permission of the publisher, The Taunton Press. Joint imprint with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

     

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    The classic saltbox house, in its original form a center-chimney house like the Samuel Moore House, is one of the oldest types in New England.
    Photo: Library of Congress / Historic American Building Survey

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    Each of the main living spaces of the early New England house oriented around a large fireplace, which was typically part of an enormous central chimney structure.
    Photo: Library of Congress / Historic American Building Survey

     

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