Sunday, March 30, 2008

Screens - a quick history

As I wrote the first draft for this, the chickens were complaining about the snow. They don't like to step in it, and shake their toes. It covered the ground where they scratch. We are all ready for spring, and screens!

This post on screens is a follow-up to the post on shutters. They are related in that as screens become popular, the use of shutters declined.

The Park-McCullough House has half screens that are a later addition (or at least the fasteners do not date to 1864) to the windows. Trenor Park used the latest technology when he built his house in 1864. Did he specify screens? We haven't seen any references in our archives. The House has a extensive collection of photographs, but I know of no early pictures with screens on windows in the background.

So, when might the family have added screens? My usual first stops are Victorian Interior Decoration, Winkler and Moss, for general history, and then the pattern books, mill work catalogs, and the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. The pattern books may be promoting a new idea; when something is in the catalogs, it's an accepted part of the culture.

VID has a wonderful picture of horrible mosquitoes in an 1885 ad , as well as ads for mosquito netting over beds from the 1840's to the 1890's. The picture of the embroidered screen doors above comes from the 1893 catalog of the Mulliner Box & Planing Co., (republished by Dover in 1995). The 1895 Ward catalog shows similar screen doors and sells screening for do-it-yourself-ers.
I know from my own work (as an architect) that sun porches sprout on houses in great numbers in New England around 1900 - glassed-in new and existing porches, with screens stored close by for summer use. Screen porches are standard features by the 1920's. But they don't appear in the pattern books. Was the public ahead of the designers?

I think technology is a deciding factor. When could we manufacture screening? The research I have found says the English made 'wire gauze' as early as the 1830's. American companies who made screening for sieves, made screens too by the late 1850's. The US made screens were used mainly to cover food from flies - upside down sieves! (The weave was not fine enough to keep out mosquitoes.)

However, the Justin Smith Morril Homestead in Strafford Village, Vermont (built in the early 185o's, enlarged in 1859) has screens which may be original. The early screens were painted because the iron mesh would rust, and may have been used for privacy, rather than to keep out flying things. 'Wire cloth' needed to be finely woven to keep out mosquitoes, then it needed to be inexpensive. That seems to have happened in 1876 when a patent was issued for a power loom to weave screening - to Mr. Wickwire of Cortlandt, NY. (What a great name!) The quantity of screening produced in the US increased more than10 fold in the next 20 years.

The Park-McCullough House has screen panels in various states of repair in the basement. (The family saved everything.) Maybe they can be dated.

A great resource here was '100 Years of American Commerce, 1795-1895, edited by Chauncey M. Depew which I found reprinted on-line by Google Booksearch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Building to the weather:Part 7 of 7 - Whys and Wherefores of Shutters

OK, I know that they were for protection - you closed up the house when you went away, or against a coming storm. Or they kept out the cold - 'Indian shutters', which came about after the Revolution, were not to protect against Indians, but for warmth in winter, 'coolth' in the summer, and for visual privacy from the street. And I know that our ancestors closed in their houses because they considered 'night air' dangerous.

I also know that 1) most houses were designed with windows directly opposite each other to encourage air flow, 2) in climates warmer than the north east, the kitchen was completely open in the summer - hence the 'dutch' door, where the bottom part keep animals out and small children in.

But as soon as the circular saw allowed us to make fins, shutters became popular in a way that they hadn't been before - they become standard equipment. And then it's not until the 1920's that they become decorative, with little cut-outs on the upper panels.

Why? Are the reasons I've listed enough? I have read that the shutters protected fabric from fading, that a dark interior was fashionable. I am still skeptical, I think these are secondary benefits. The Park-McCullough House has movable interior shutters on all windows, even in the servants' wing. It also has, as original equipment, louvered doors as second doors from the bedrooms in the main house into the upstairs hall (which is a room about 14' wide and 50' long). The House also has a belvedere, (a tower in the center of the house for surveying the beautiful countryside) which even today in the summer easily cools the House. The scientific principal behind it is called a Venturi.

I was recently reminded that mosquitoes do not bite when there is a breeze. I also know that the technology to make windows screens that could protect against mosquitoes was not really available until the 1890's. ( It has to do with weaving fine wire mesh .)

Then I thought about how in the evening the heat of the day could escape out the top of the house, bringing the cool air in from below, and keep the mosquitoes moving. And provide privacy...

I think I've got it!

Victorian Interior Decoration, Winkler and Moss, Henry Holt, NY,1986
How Night Air Became Good Air,1776-1930, Baldwin,
Environmental History, Vol. 8, Issue 3
and conversations with John Crosby Freeman, "The Color Doctor"

Here is the whole series:

Part 1 -

Part 2 - How does the carriage house work with the sun to minimize wind chill?

Part 3 - Why bother with a cupola?

Part 4 - Eaves? they're important?

Part 5 - How a floor plan makes a difference:

Part 6 -  A look at how these concepts were used at the Big House:

Part 7 - Shutters: