(WSA & Trail End collections, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2003 - December 2006
Trail End blueprints (Trail End Archival Collection)
State Historic Site
BY THE 1910s, the diminishing ranks of potential domestic servants was being felt all over the country. At Trail End, the Kendricks – no doubt hoping to tempt better quality staff – made sure that the work areas of the house, including the kitchen and laundry room, were comfortable places to work. Gone were wooden-floored kitchens full of smoke and dank laundry areas with no plumbing. In their place, Trail End had a modern sanitary kitchen, a convenient butler's pantry, and a basement laundry room with laundry chute and double-ringer tubs.
Historically, because they were work areas and not public areas or family rooms, kitchens tended to be overlooked when it came to allocating space inside the home. Most tended to be small, dark places where wood-burning stoves poured out grease, dust and unbearable heat. Because of the risk of fire, kitchens were sometimes housed in separate outbuildings. Around the turn of the 20th century, health researchers discovered that improper food handling and preparation was a major cause of illness. People soon learned that cleaner kitchens made for healthier families. Dirt floors and bare wood were abandoned in favor of porcelain, ceramic and other easy-to-clean surfaces.
Trail End’s kitchen – built with modern materials and conveniences – is a good example of a sanitary, “hospital white” kitchen. Its ceramic floor and counter tiles were easy to clean, as were the porcelain wall tiles, marble trimmed windows and enamel painted woodwork. The white surfaces reflected plenty of light, and the room’s large dimensions gave the cook ample space in which to prepare the food.
To control heat, the kitchen could be isolated from the rest of the house by closing the doors to the pantry and hallway. The heat then went up and out through transoms and windows that opened from the top. To prevent hot air and noise from reaching the dining room, the cook would slide the prepared food – pan and all – into the butler’s pantry through the small opening next to the sink. Waiting on the other side in the butler's pantry was the maid or housekeeper who would then transfer the food from the pan to a serving dish.
Why does Trail End have a butler's pantry when it didn’t have a butler? Because “butler's pantry” is the American name for what the English called a “serving room” or “side-board room.” It is a pass-through area located between the kitchen and the dining room used to store dishes, linens and flatware. It is also where food was plated for service. As noted in an 1889 description of a house similar to Trail End, the butler’s pantry was to be situated for the convenience of both the family and the staff:
In arranging the rooms in connection with the kitchen, care has been taken that the servants shall be required to traverse as little space as possible in the performance of their duties; the butler's pantry has been put just where it is most convenient, without interfering in the least with the more important rooms.
A spacious butler's pantry also provided a buffer between the kitchen and the dining room: "In this position it serves also the useful purpose of preventing the necessary odors of the kitchen from permeating [other rooms], and is of convenient size, with appropriate dresser, shelving [and] drawers."
Trail End's pantry cabinets are made of butternut and birch. They were manufactured and installed by Lindner Interior Manufacturing of Grand Rapids. The pantry sink and drain board are made of German Silver – a precursor to stainless steel. Because it was more flexible than porcelain, the metal sink was the perfect selection for a room where fine crystal and delicate china would be washed on a regular basis.
Work on the pantry was complicated by changes made between the time the blueprints were drawn and when work was actually begun. In the butler's pantry, for example, the sink was moved from the east wall to the west wall, the door was relocated, and a floor-to-ceiling cabinet was installed in the middle of the room. According to the manager of Omaha Marble, this caused some delay in the setting of the tile, but not a lot:
I am sorry to note that on account of alterations in kitchen and butlers pantry, we will be delayed a trifle waiting for additional round corners, but as the marble will be coming along, the men will be able to work in toilet rooms, and thereby lose very little time.
While such changes were seen as good ones, they impacted more than just one area of the house:
You spoke of enlarging the pantry which is a good idea but remember that the brick wall between the pantry and kitchen supports the floors above and that iron work will have to be substituted should you wish to move this partition.
Trail End's original icebox was a built-in model that stood in front of a ground floor window. Outside stairs leading up to it allowed the iceman to deposit his product in the top of the box without tracking mud and straw into the house. An additional cold storage area was located in the basement.
Doing the laundry was once a grueling chore. In homes without running water, buckets full of well water had to be hauled into the house, heated on the stove and then poured into large washtubs. Clothes were scrubbed by hand with harsh soaps, rinsed in hot water, and hand-wrung before being hung to dry. Even in households with indoor plumbing, washing and drying clothes usually occupied an entire day. The popularity of starched white shirts, lacy dresses and linen sheets made laundry a task that required a great deal of time and attention.
During this time, other household tasks had to be ignored. There wasn’t even time to cook. Wash day was often relegated to Monday because elaborate Sunday dinners provided plenty of leftovers. (Ironing day, incidentally, was usually set for Tuesday.) As noted in one book of household hints:
Monday is the washing day with all good housekeepers. ... Do not have beefsteak for dinner on washing or ironing days – arrange to have something roasted in the oven ... Do not have fried or broiled fish. The smell sticks, and the clothes will not be sweet; besides, the broiler and frying pan take longer to clean.
This same book suggested that homemakers with servants take washing and ironing into consideration when planning for guests:
When inviting friends to visits of a week or more, try to fix the time for the visit to begin the day after the ironing is done. The girl [house maid] feels a weight off her mind, has time to cook the meals better and is a much more willing attendant upon guests.
Even without electric washers and dryers, Trail End was well-equipped to ease the wash day blues. The housekeeper and maid retrieved dirty clothes and linens from the laundry chute, located just down the hall from the laundry room. In the laundry room, they washed and rinsed the clothes by hand in three large sinks along the east wall. The wet material was wrung through wringers attached to the tops of the sinks, then hung to dry on the circular clothesline located in the west yard. While Trail End’s laundry facilities later included a pair of electric washing machines, the family never installed an electric clothes dryer. Clothes were always hung out to dry.