Category Archives: Decorative Arts

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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The Missing Pieces

St. Louis Star-Times article from 1941. Click to view larger version.

St. Louis Star-Times article from 1941. Click to view larger version.

Part of what makes the Campbell House Museum so special is its collection of thousands of original furnishings and personal items left behind by the Campbell family. CHM’s originally-furnished interiors are nearly unparalleled in the United States – it’s a special place. But it’s important to note that we don’t have everything. In fact, we’re missing quite a bit. Large pieces of furniture, beautiful works of art and countless papers, books and knick-knacks have left the halls of the Campbell House over the years. The big reason? An auction of the house’s contents that happened in 1941.

Hazlett Campbell died without an heir in 1938, leaving behind a sizable family fortune and an 11,000 square foot townhouse full of beautiful things. While the money was eventually split between distant family members, the house posed a larger issue. Cousins who had inherited the interior furnishings and fixtures of the building opted to auction them off through local auction house Selkirk’s. At this point, the story becomes familiar. A dedicated group from the community banded together, raised funds and purchased back hundreds of items as they passed across the auction block. Most of what you see on tours of the Campbell House today is only here due to the dedication and financial support of these fine folks. But they didn’t get everything. While many of the pieces that “got away” did so because of the group’s financial constraints, others were allowed to be purchased by others because they didn’t neccesarily fit with the foundation’s vision for the Campbell House Museum (still two years away from opening to the public). In the years since, few items have left the house and some have even returned. Here are some of the things that got away…

Click the gallery below to view the slideshow.

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Ongoing Restoration Projects – It Never Ends!

Painter Dave creates a wood grain design on the primed outer front doors. The magical mixture he uses for this is made from stale beer and Karo Syrup. The sugar content of both ingredients means the design is easy to manipulate and takes a long time to dry.

Painter Dave creates a wood grain design on the primed outer front doors. The magical mixture he uses for this is made from stale beer and Karo Syrup. The sugar content of both ingredients means the design is easy to manipulate and takes a long time to dry.

If you’ve been to the Campbell House more than once, you know that something is different on every visit. Some new bit of history has been discovered or a new artifact is on display or maybe new window dressings have been put up. Last week, painters completed the finishing touches on two very special projects here at the Museum, both involving doors. Giant. Doors. The first project was our outer front doors. The substantial, 9 foot outer front doors provided the Campbells and their ornate smaller inner front doors a barrier between the house and the city street. They’ve been hanging on their hinges for 164 years and counting and have experienced a wide array of temperatures, precipitation, soot, smog and pretty much anything else you can imagine in their lifetimes. Ten years ago, as the Museum’s restoration came to a close, these doors were restored with a faux-grained wood finish. A decade later, they were beginning to show their age and the time had come to restore the restoration (anyone who has lived in an old house for any length of time will understand this).

Carefully... carefully... those doors were heavy.

Carefully… carefully… those doors were heavy.

The other project was even more exciting. A generous grant allowed us to tackle a restoration project that’s been on the back burner for years, decades really. The Campbells’ elegant double parlor has a set of pocket doors leading into it, designed to smoothly slide open and closed for a “grand reveal” of the gilded room and its contents. The thing is, they haven’t opened and closed very smoothly for about 70 years. In fact, they were jammed solidly open. The grant allowed us to hire some woodworking professionals to come in, remove a portion of the door frame and pull the doors off of their tracks. What they found was unexpected, but not surprising. The wheel mechanism in the bottom of the door still worked perfectly – the problem was that a century and half of dust and coal soot had built up inside the wall and piled at the bottom of the door’s enclosure, creating a solid heap which the door was riding up and jamming itself on. After removing the clog, oiling up the mechanics and replacing the doors on their tracks, they’re back to working as well as they did when Robert and Virginia bought the house back in 1854. The painters that worked on restoring our outer front doors then restored the pocket doors’ faux wood grain finish – and they look GREAT! Click below to see the “GRAND REVEAL” through the Parlor pocket doors and click through the gallery below to see the two projects happen from start to finish.

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