Period furnishings, the hope for a display space, a need for a meeting area and a desire for a modern kitchen, mixed in with some hard work, determination and funding are the necessary ingredients for creating a Victorian kitchen at the Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton.
A restored kitchen would serve as a complement to Hearthstone’s already rich history.
“The important thing is that it’s one of the first homes to be lit by electricity,” says Walter Rugland, Advisory Council member. “What I find really fascinating, is that they built that house with gas lights throughout and electric lights throughout and never turned on the gas.”
Hearthstone was the second home in the world to have electric lights and the first to be lit by hydroelectricity, explains Cheryl Kaczmarek, president of the Friends of Hearthstone Inc.’s Board of Directors. The home was designed by turn-of-the-century architect William Water for businessman Henry Rogers and his family who lived there 11 years until they left Appleton. The house would go on to have nine other owners and become a public restaurant in the 1930s called, The Hearthstone Tea Room, because of its nine elaborate fireplaces depicting different literary works. The home’s style is Queen Anne on its exterior, while the interior is Eastlake, Kaczmarek notes. Developers considered razing the home in 1986. The Friends of Hearthstone, Inc. was formed to save the home, restore it and turn it into a museum.
To read more about the upcoming exhibit,
“The Sound of the Edison Doll”,
at Hearthstone Historic House Museum
Hearthstone serves not only as an important thread in our national history, but also in the fabric of Appleton’s story.
To help with conveying this point and the numerous functions of Hearthstone’s operation, the Board of Directors adopted the “Cabinet Concept” in November 2014, thus creating nine cabinets, comprised of volunteers, to assist with tasks ranging from finances to tours to research to fund development and more.
“We need board members who are going to roll up their sleeves and move this museum forward,” says Kaczmarek. “That’s one of the things we’re trying to do with the house is create more of an experience while you’re here.”
The addition of a Victorian period kitchen would be one such experience.
“They have to come before they can understand the connection to history with respect to (Thomas) Edison and electricity,” Rugland encourages prospective visitors. “The missing link on the first floor is the kitchen.”
“I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the house,” adds Ann Larson whose involvement with Hearthstone dates back 27 years as its first curator. “Whenever an area can be restored, it just reveals so much about the past.”
Jane Baken, a designer with Studio Kitchens of Appleton who was brought into the project by Kaczmarek, sees the restoration as an exciting prospect and admits she was disappointed not to see a period kitchen after touring the home. Visitors frequently question if they can see the space, Kaczmarek shares. Larson, now an Advisory Council member, notes that there are often unseen spaces of old homes that have been turned into museums, but the fascination with shows like PBS’ “Downton Abbey” are renewing the interest in these areas.
“I think it’s very telling to show the work spaces of the home,” Larson says, noting that kitchens were the “workshop of the house.” They were also efficient, but not necessarily decorative, and hygiene was of the upmost importance.
“Today, as we look at it, it’s got to go,” says Kaczmarek of the 1966 design, which was considered state of the art for its time. “There’s nothing sacred in this kitchen, except for this cabinet.” The small storage box on the wall is believed to be the original from the home’s annunciator system.
In many ways, Hearthstone was ahead of its time with radiant heat and indoor plumbing with running hot and cold water. While there aren’t any photos of what the home once looked like, history documents that Victorian kitchens were often away from the formal part of the home, in a place were there was good ventilation thanks to large windows and had a back porch with easy access for deliveries, shares Larson, adding that where the kitchen is at Hearthstone points to its original placement, which was the ideal construction for the time.
Victorian period kitchens also could have either ice boxes or refrigerators and cook stoves could be wood-burning or gas. Tables were used for food preparation, and freestanding cupboards and shelving were common. Hearthstone also has the period butler’s pantry used for storing china. Often times, homes had summer kitchens as well in either the basement or an outbuilding. It is uncertain whether Hearthstone had either, says Larson.
It is Baken and Nancy Nygaard’s, co-owner of Studio Kitchens of Appleton with Jeremy Giebel, intent to restore the kitchen to its previous luster and not remodel the space.
The biggest part of the project is the initial phases, says Baken when the ceiling will be repaired, and the current flooring and cabinets torn out. The walls also will be painted according to a color analysis that was done in the 1990s of the home. The hope is that the original hardwood floors beneath the dated linoleum are salvageable, but the scope of the project and whether or not any unexpected factors, like mold or nesting animals, are present will be determined during the initial days of the project.
“We don’t know until we peel back the layers,” states Baken. “The structure is still there. The size, the radiator, the windows.”
While the total cost of the kitchen restoration is a fluid number, $30,000-40,000 is a fair starting base, Nygaard and Kaczmarek share. Hearthstone has a stove, table and pie safe that are slated to be used in the project, but are on the hunt for an authentic period sink and ice box.
“One of my desires is to see if we can find the money to do that work or an organization, or combination of the two,” notes Rugland of seeking in-kind donations for carpenters, electricians, plasterers, plumbers, etc.
Rugland grew up just a few blocks from Hearthstone. He moved to New England where he lived in a home 100 years older than Hearthstone and returned to the area in 1998.
“There’s just so much that people can understand about Appleton if they spend any time there,” he says of Hearthstone and its appeal for future generations. “As the years go by, there’s more appreciation for the legacy Wisconsin has.”
“We think it’s time to bring it back to 1882,” shares Ed Hilgendorf, vice president of the Board and Building and Grounds cabinet leader. “ Many of our guests come back several times because they enjoy the home, but they’re always looking for something new.”
Ann Sager, a charter member of Friends of Hearthstone, has been a volunteer since the beginning days of the home’s history as a museum.
“It means a lot that Appleton has such a prize,” she says. “It means a lot that we’re not just destroying our history here in Appleton because we’ve lost a lot of it and I think that needs to be turned around.”
The restoration and restructuring of the kitchen would mean that the space would include a period kitchen display, but also meeting space in the middle of the room and a functioning kitchen in a side space that may have once been used as a servant’s dining area, a cook or housekeeper’s bedroom, or scullery. The modern kitchen will include a sink, cupboards for storage, refrigerator and countertops for food preparation.
Hearthstone’s master plan also includes moving the existing copy machine to the current executive offices that will become a staff office space. The executive offices would then be shifted to the current library and the library would be moved to the upper level. It is the goal of Hearthstone’s Board to turn the library into a Victorian resource for the community, Kaczmarek shares.
Hilgendorf, who has volunteered with the museum for four years, wants to see the space be as historic as possible, but also useful and encourages others to step up and become involved with preserving the community treasure. Currently, between two major donations, Hearthstone has raised about $10,000 to start the effort, but fundraising is still occurring. A true restoration has not been done for 15-20 years, Kaczmarek notes.
“To not move forward would be a disaster,” Hilgendorf says. “The house will stay standing whether we do the project or not — but we sure would love for it to move forward. … If people want to help and contribute to the project, we would appreciate it.”