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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Smoke: Warming Churches

Churches and meeting houses were the commonest public buildings in the United States, and presented particular challenges to any congregation wishing to improve their comfort (area and ceiling height, and therefore volume, number of windows, need to heat from cold for one day a week, lack of chimneys).  Despite these problems, as well as issues of cost and also cultural or quasi-theological reservations (notably the common association between the uncomplaining acceptance of discomfort while at worship and evident seriousness of religious conviction), churches and meeting houses began to be heated in increasing numbers in the post-revolutionary years, and by the time this article was written stoves and furnaces were pouring into New England, the most laggard and/or resistant region in the northern states in this respect.  This 1822 article is the longest and most detailed that I have found, addressing most of the common arguments of the opponents of change.

(For more about this topic, see the preprint of my "Conquering Winter" article, pp. 12-14, and items cited therein, particularly Gretchen T. Buggeln, Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut's Churches, 1790-1840 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2003); also my online map of recorded dates of stove installations in American churches, and the underlying spreadsheet.)

"In Side of the Old Lutheran Church in 1800 in York, Pa.," Watercolor with pen and ink by Lewis Miller, c. 1800,
The Historical Society of York County, Pennsylvania,
from Religion and the Founding of the American Republic (online exhibition, Library of Congress),

E.F., "On Warming Houses of Worship," The Christian Spectator [New Haven, CT] 4:12 (Dec. 1822): 640-2,

p. 640 As the season of cold weather is approaching, you will permit me to make a few remarks on a subject which concerns the comfort of many. I belong to a congregation which has one of the finest houses of worship in the United States. No pains nor expense have been spared to fit it up in the best style, and to render it as convenient as possible for //p. 641 both the preacher and his hearers. One or two thousand dollars have been expended to delight the ear and elevate the devotions by the combined power of vocal and instrumental music. Now, all this is as it should be, and certainly redounds greatly to the credit of those through whose instrumentality so much has been accomplished. But you will be surprised, when I inform you that no provision is made for warming the house and rendering it comfortable during the cold inclement season of winter.

Stoves are regularly found in the churches in nearly all of our populous places, even in those much further South than we are. They are also very common in most of the country churches in all the Northern States. And I cannot myself, see any substantial reason, why they are not used in every house of worship in New-England. In cases where the congregation cannot afford to be at the expense of purchasing stoves; (sic) they can be hired for a trifle. The amount of the rent and the necessary fuel would, when merely nominal, and a contribution of a few cents from each individual would defray the whole expense.

Should it be said that stoves are unsafe and dangerous; the objection applies with equal force to our ever lighting a fire in our private dwellings: great care should be used in both cases, but no greater in the former, than in the latter.

Is it objected that possibly the pipes might not be perfectly tight and that thus the whiteness of the walls would be tarnished by the smoke? Why, I ask, is there more probability of a stove's smoking in a Meeting House, than in a Legislative Hall, a Court House, a School Room, or any other large building? But suppose a little smoke should now and then unavoidably escape and find its way to the walls, and that they should indeed become slightly soiled in the course of a winter; who that knows how to balance evils--who that regards substantial comfort more than mere outside appearances, would on this account hesitate to try the experiment, at least? But it is not however a fact that stoves in churches usually smoke; I have myself been present in many where it is not the case, and know of several* {footnote} where the stoves are so located and the pipes are so fixed, that it is scarcely possible for them to smoke.--But if the fear of smoke is the only objection, this can be entirely removed. Houses of worship are often warmed by means of heated air. This is the case in some of our large towns; and the expense is said not to be greater, if as great, as that attendant on the mode ordinarily pursued. The very possibility //p. 642 of inconvenience from smoke, is in this way wholly prevented.

p. 641 * {footnote} I was much pleased with the winter arrangement of one which I lately visited. The stoves were placed in the anteroom or entrance to the building. The pipes, after rising a few feet perpendicularly, pass horizontally through the wall into the main body of the church and then pursue a course parallel with the lower edge of the gallery at a suitable distance to be supported by rods projecting from it, until they reach the opposite side of the house, and by means of a chimney on the outside, communicate with the external air. The different sections of the pipes are so inserted into each other, and so fastened by correspondent elevations and depressions on their surface, that they cannot get out of place, nor can any smoke possibly escape from them. This plan of having the stoves in the ante-room is on several accounts preferable to having them within the body of the church, where it is often very difficult to find a suitable place for them. They can when thus located always be regularly supplied with fuel as often as occasion requires, without the least interruption to the services of the sanctuary. In this situation too, the stoves are more convenient for those who come from a distance and have need of warming themselves before church opens, and during intermission. Again, the ante-room if it be thus warmed, and if it be of a sufficient size, furnishes, when the outer doors are closed and the room is supplied with seats, a very convenient place for occasional meetings during the cold weather; especially for Conferences, and Sunday Schools which can then without inconvenience be kept the whole year. It is devoted to this use in the Society to which I have referred.

[p. 642 cont'd] There is no more reason for being without fire and exposed to the cold two or three hours together, when worshiping God and attending to the all-important instructions of his house, than when attending to our secular concerns, or when visiting in parties of pleasure. We should think pretty lightly of the hospitality of the friend, who should invite us to spend an hour or two with him at his house in a pinching winter's day, and then keep us without fire; and we should with equal reluctance wait on the man of business with whom it might be necessary to spend some time, were he to show a similar disregard to our comfort. There is every reason why the house of God should be made as convenient, as dwelling-houses, and the situation of those who visit them be rendered as comfortable as it would be, were they seated by their own fire-sides. Men are naturally ready enough, to absent themselves from religious services, even when there is no sufficient reason for so doing. [See at end -- HJH] It is the bounden duty of those who duly appreciate this consideration, to lay aside their prejudices, and to endeavour to prevent the effects of this natural aversion, by removing every excuse for absence from public worship, that can be pleaded with reason and with justice. They should recollect that though they, being in perfect health, can endure the utmost severity of winter without injury; there are others who cannot. The feeble aged individual--the man in delicate health who is easily chilled by cold--and especially the person whose lungs are already affected and are consequently keenly sensible to every change of air,--all these and many others, must, for several months in the year, unless suitably accommodated, be deprived of the privilege of waiting on God in his hbouse. There are also many others who live so far from the place of worship that they cannot go home and return again during the intermission; such persons will of course usually be present at only one service. And not unfrequently they will absent themselves from both; for those only who have tried it, know how unpleasant it is to travel several miles through the cold, and then sit without fire during the whole of public worship.

But the most weighty consideration connected with this subject, is yet to be mentioned. Our object in visiting the house of God, is to be instructed in divine things, and to have our hearts suitably and profitably affected by religious truth. That these ends may be accomplished, it is necessary that we should fix our minds closely and constantly upon the subject presented to us. This it is impossible to do when we are suffering from the inclemency of the weather. The preacher cannot then speak with animation, nor the hearers listen with patience. The clearest and most conclusive trains of reasoning then fail of their effect; and the most moving strains of eloquence are spent in vain upon the audience whose limbs are shivering with cold.

I should not, Mr. Editor, have troubled you with these remarks, were it not for the hope that, through the medium of your work, they may possibly produce a salutary effect upon other congregations in a similar situation with the one of which 1 am a member. Yours, &c

"Excuses for Not Attending Public Worship," The Christian's Pocket Magazine (and Anti-sceptic) Vol. 9, n.s. 3 (1823): 498,

(From an American  Paper.)--"Overslept myself--wasn't shaved in time--too cold--too hot--too windy--too dusty. Too wet--too damp--too  sunny--too cloudy--don't feel disposed. No other time to myself.  Look over my drawers. Put my papers to rights. Letters to  write to my friends. Taken a dose of physic. Been bled this  morning. Mean to walk to the bridge. Going to take a ride.  Tied to the store six days in the week. No fresh air but on Sundays.  Can't breathe in the church, always so full. Feel a little feverish--feel a little chilly--feel very lazy. Expect company to  dinner. Stumped my great toe. Got a head ache. Caught cold  last night at a party. Must watch the servants. Can't leave the  house for fear of fire. Servants up to all mischief when I go to  church. Intend nursing myself to-day. New bonnet not come  home. Tore my muslin dress coming down stairs. Got a new novel, must be returned on Monday morning. Wasn't dressed in  time. Don't like a liturgy--always praying for the same thing.  Don't like extempore prayer--don't know what is coming. Don't  like an organ--it's too noisy. Don't like singing without music -- makes me nervous. Can't sit in a draft of air--windows or  door open in summer. Stove so hot in winter, always get a  head-ache. Can't bear an extempore sermon--too frothy. Dislike  a written sermon--too prosing. Nobody but our Minister.  Can't always listen to the same preacher. Don't like strangers--too bombastical. Can't keep awake when at church. Snored  aloud last time I went there--shan't risk it again. Tired to death  standing to pray. Hate to kneel--makes my knees stiff. Mean to inquire of some sensible person about the propriety of going to  so
public a place as a church. Will publish the result." [Emphases added.]

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