Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Buckeye

When I checked in to The Vintage Inn B&B, I heard a few noises coming from the parlor or living room.  Lori, the owner, said that her husband was repairing the fireplace in the parlor (or living room, or den).  The 1906 fireplace still had a vintage, unique cast iron insert with two adjustable dampers, that had needed some work.

"We've never used this fireplace before," Lori told me.  "We don't think the fireplace has been used in a long time -- we're not even sure it works!" 

"Well, it worked in about 1970," I replied, as casually as I could, "because we made popcorn in it, in the winter."

That's when I told her: My grandmother owned this house in the late 1960s through mid-1970s.

I gave Lori a set of pictures of the Crowell House, now The Vintage Inn, including a print of that same fireplace with that very same lining.  The quality of the picture is not great, but if you look carefully you can see the fireplace lining and the old blue tile surrounding it.  The tile has since been replaced, but not the insert.  Apparently it was originally designed to hold coal.  The back of the insert is stamped THE BUCKEYE.

Fireplace in 1970.

Fireplace insert in 2013, nicely cleaned up.
The inside of the fireplace insert says "The Buckeye."
Online records show that the patent for the design of the fireplace insert was held by William E. Fitch of Louisville, Kentucky in the late 1800s.  He had risen through the ranks of the Peerless Manufacturing Company.  An 1890 Louisville City Directory shows Fitch as a clerk in the organization; by 1893, he was general manager.  And by 1920, the year he died, Fitch was listed as president of the company.   Fitch described this creation as providing "two dampers for perfectly controlling and regulating the draft.

"The uses of the two dampers may be stated thus: When the fire is to be started, the [first] damper is opened, and when the fire has got under way this damper may be closed and [the second] damper opened, and it being smaller than the first and nearer the fire will carry off the smoke and gas and keep alive the fire. The top of the lining being closed from this damper to its outer edge presents a large radiating or reflecting surface, and thus materially saves the heat."

Fitch's notes also show he intended this fireplace insert to be easily installed and serviced.  Whether Fitch named his creation The Buckeye, or whether another company cast the piece and stamped the name on it, is difficult to determine since the name "The Buckeye" doesn't appear on any of Fitch's patent illustrations.  One website for a Chicago "building artifacts" seller reports The Buckeye was indeed manufactured by Peerless in Louisville, KY.  

The bottom line is, The Buckeye still worked well.

We put more wood in the fire; it crackled and blazed into life. Once the fire got going, Lori's husband closed the first damper, the second damper drew the smoke up perfectly, and the parlor began to grow warm.

The next evening the teenagers of the house settled in front of the fire with some friends to watch a movie.  Lori gave me a bag of popcorn.  The Buckeye was at work again, warming the family and guests in the old house against the chill of the autumn night.

To be continued...

William Fitch's many patents for fireplace innovations are listed here:

This story is one in a series on the historic red brick house at 801 Flynn in Alva, Oklahoma.  This Prairie-style mansion was built in 1906 by local businessman George W. Crowell. 

My grandmother bought it from his heirs in 1968, and lived there for several years. 

The house changed hands again several times since then; it’s now The Vintage Inn, a bed-and-breakfast.  

I went back to visit in October 2013.   All the blog posts I wrote on the visit are collected here:

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