Wednesday, July 10, 2013

That Little Building on the Left

I've always wondered about the little building on the left in this photo.  At first I thought it might be a garage but considering that it's first floor is several feet about ground level, decided it probably wasn't.

The house in this photo belonged to my great-great-grandparents, Dixon and Rebecca Smith Bartley, who lived in Bruin, Pennsylvania, from the mid-1800s until the turn of the century.  I discovered the approximate location of the home on a map a few months ago and my brother and sister-in-law found the house and took photos.
It was while looking at their photos that I realized the little building was probably a summer kitchen.  (I haven't been in the house but I assume the door on the left leads to the main kitchen.)  Dixon and Rebecca had at least eight children and a summer kitchen would have been a blessing.  These extra kitchens were used during the summer months; at times when much cooking and baking was needed such as holidays or during canning season; and at other times as extra sleeping quarters for hired hands or temporary help.  The heat of summer cooking and canning would have been moved to this little building and the home itself would have remained cooler.  It's possible that this building was not a summer kitchen, but equally possible that it was.

On July 10, 1888, a golden wedding anniversary celebration was held for Dixon and Rebecca.  A newspaper article records that by early afternoon "250 people had dined sumptuously under an arched canopy alongside the farm house" and that it was a "feast ... in the fullest sense...."  Certainly a summer kitchen would have been very convenient at a time like that.  In our day, among my circle of friends, having 250 people attend a party or a picnic would be no small thing.   In the Bartley's day, the magnitude of it boggles my mind. 

It's likely that a committee of women planned, prepared, and served the food.  It's also possible that guests brought food to share as we sometimes do with potluck dinners.  I wish I knew what foods were prepared and eaten!  I'd also like to know if there were tables and chairs set up and whether there were tablecloths.  Did people take their own plates and eating utensils?  No paper plates and plastic forks in 1888!

I'm still hoping to arrange a tour of the Bartley Homestead and hope that I can see the inside of that little building on the left, the one I believe is the summer kitchen.

This post was written in honor of Dixon and Rebecca's 125th wedding anniversary.  Happy Anniversary, Gramma and Grampa!

For more about summer kitchens:  
 "Summer Kitchen Brought to Light" at Wolcott House in Maumee, Ohio
Traditional Buildings by Allen G. Noble, pp. 221-223
West Essex, Essex Fells, Fairfield, North Caldwell, and Roseland by Charles A. Poekel, p. 49
Kitchens in Colonial Williamsburg in "Kitchens:  Places Apart" by Michael Olmert



  1. Great find in the newspaper article. I am curious why it mentioned the fathers of Dixon and his wife but no mention of their mothers.

    1. Hi, Claudia. I think it was common in that time period to focus on the male line (and ignore the women). I think that's why we have such a hard time finding our female ancestors!

  2. Nancy,

    I hope you will be able to visit your ancestors' homestead some day. That would be so cool!

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thank you for including my post, Jana. I appreciate it.

  3. Nancy, I love the little gems of your ancestor's story. Did you think to write the current family and ask them? I bet they will fill in the blanks and maybe even take photos?

    1. Oh, Barbara, what a fabulous idea! I had thought about writing the owners to see if we could visit and tour the house but it never occurred to me to ask for more information about the buildings and farm. The owners actually don't live there but it looks like they are taking fairly good care of the house and side building and may be willing to answer questions. Thanks so much for suggesting it!


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