Thursday, June 4, 2009

Smokehouses Today

By: Gwen Miner, Supervisor of Domestic Arts Smokehouses still exist today in the back, or more often side, yards of many older homes. The ones that still stand tend to have been constructed of common field stone. Some are still in good shape and living on to serve other purposes, while others are falling in. A couple of years back Anneke Nordmark, a student in the Cooperstown Graduate Program, came to me to ask about smokehouses because she had to write a paper on them for a vernacular architecture class. We looked at the Lippitt Farmstead smokehouse, but she wanted to look at others. Because I was also interested in tracking down a few others, I suggested a road trip. Growing up driving around the area surrounding Cooperstown, I knew where several of these smokehouses existed. Early one morning, Anneke and I got into my car and proceeded to track down many of the smokehouses that I had seen. I had two questions burning in my mind that I wanted to get answers to. First, what was the location of the smokehouse and its average distance away from the house? Second, what was the average size of a smokehouse, and what materials were used to make it? After driving around that morning, we came to several conclusions. Most smokehouses were located within 100 feet of the house on the rear side. Almost all were made of stone, some having very creative masonry. On average, the houses were about 8’ square and about 5’ high. Door openings tended to be framed from ground level, spanned almost as tall as the house itself and had about a 30” opening. Perhaps most interestingly, some still had residual ash in their fire pits and creosote residue on rafters and interior walls. Do you have an old smokehouse on your property? We want to know about it. Leave us a comment so we can add it to our list.

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