The Wandering Chimney Pots

As the cold winter weather approaches it is a perfect time to take a closer look at what else, chimney pots.

If you have visited the Campbell House recently, you may recall three chimney pots as part of the Lucas Place exhibit. As we moved the chimney pots back into storage, we thought it might be interesting to recount their history. For supposedly stationary objects, these pots have moved around quite a bit, perhaps emphasizing the truthfulness of the old adage, “Not all who wander are lost.” This, then, is the tale of the wandering chimney pots.

The three chimney pots, from left, are A, B, and C for this article's purposes.

The three chimney pots, from left, are A, B, and C for this article’s purposes.

 

But what is a chimney pot? A chimney pot is made of terra cotta and is placed on top of the chimney to expand the length of the chimney inexpensively, and to improve the chimney’s draft. A chimney with more than one pot on it indicates that there is more than one fireplace on different floors sharing the chimney.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the chimney pots were never the subject of historical photographs at Campbell House. Luckily, however, there are just enough photos of the side and rear of the house that their presence can be discerned. In one of the 1885 photographs, for instance, the chimney pots can be seen sticking up above the carriage house. Upon closer examination, the octagonal pot (we’ll call it Pot B for now) sits on the rearmost chimney, servicing the kitchen and rear third floor. The round pot (henceforth Pot A) is on Mrs. Kyle’s Bedroom’s chimney. Interestingly, in another angle of the house, another round pot can be seen on the rear parlor chimney. Pot A could be either one of these.

Notably, there are no pots of the Pot C variety. To find them, we have to fast-forward to 1930, when suddenly there are eleven of them. For some reason, when those pots went up, the decision was made to save pots A and B, and place them together on the rearmost chimney on either side of Pot C. As grateful as we are for the decision to save them, we can’t help but wonder: why put the fanciest two pots on the least visible chimney?

It’s easy to overlook the chimneys in this photo, but looking closely reveals that two of the three pots on the rear chimney are different in size and shape. Pots A and B have moved again!

 

Whatever the reason, pots A and B remain on the back chimney in this photo from the 1960s. The C pots, however, have been rearranged, possibly by the museum. Now, two C pots rest on each of the parlor chimneys, providing better symmetry than was present in the 1930s.

Although hard to make out, Pot A is circled in red, and Pot B in blue.

Although hard to make out, Pot A is circled in red, and Pot B in blue.

 

The pots are rearranged yet again after the museum’s first restoration in 1968. Evidently looking for the best aesthetics, the museum plopped pot A on the rear parlor, and pot B on the front parlor. It may have been at this point that pot B was plugged by cement, although for what reason (and why only this pot) is unknown.Campbell House, early 1990s

 

Despite decades of exposure, the collection of chimney pots survived whatever Mother Nature threw at them, suffering little more than staining and discoloration. That all changed in 1998, when a strong gust of wind sent one pot, of the “C” type, hurtling towards the ground below. Luckily, no one was injured, although the pot lost much of its upper third. This pot now lives in the basement.

Its a hard life, being a chimney pot.

Its a hard life, being a chimney pot.

 

When The Restoration began in 1999, the pots were moved yet again. With scaffolding thrown up around the whole house, the decision was made to temporarily remove pots A and B for their safety. Naturally, the pots have never returned to the roof. For some reason, pot C was also moved off the roof.

This brings the saga of the chimney pots back to where we began, with the pots heading towards storage. Given their propensity to move around, though, maybe we’d better keep a close eye on them…

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