recent experience gained while installing a wood stove in my workshop
brought back memories of early day brick chimneys and flues. Almost
every dwelling I can remember contained at least one brick chimney,
venting smoke and fumes up, up and away.
This simple square brick vent was fireproof, insulated enough to
protect the nearby wood and was usually located centrally for service
to more than one heating stove. Most chimneys were located in the
corner of a room with vent inlets opening through the walls to other
Unused inlets were covered with round decorative metal covers with
flowers painted on the surface. Some bricks were left raw, some
varnished and ours was papered over with wallpaper that sagged after
the glue gave way. Mother complained once in awhile, but we never
corrected the sagging design.
My favorite memory of our chimney was of the shelves built below.
Few chimneys extended completely through the floor to the ground
below. A shelf some 5 to 6 feet tall, was built of heavy 2-inch
by 12-inch lumber to hold the brick chimney in place.
Inside these shelves most women stored their heavy sad irons and
heating stands. We kids used the irons as make-believe ships on
Grandma Trew placed hand crocheted doilies on her shelves and kept
knick-knacks on the doilies. Our shelves had newspapers folded under
the sad irons to help keep away rust. The bottom shelf held a box
of dominoes and packs of playing cards pushed back so if the preacher
came he couldn't speculate about our sins.
Our chimneys served to carry both wood and coal smoke out of the
house during my early years. Later, for a while, we had a kerosene
stove fueled by a little glass jug held upside down behind the stove.
The chimney carried away kerosene fumes until we installed a butane
floor furnace. Even then, the furnace vent entered the brick chimney,
carrying away the gas fumes.
A study of western history reveals that every town was plagued by
fire. Rural school records show that most early schools burned at
least once, leaving nothing but the wood stove standing among the
ashes. If the truth was known, it would probably come down to faulty
flues or chimneys causing the fire. In Europe, the chimney sweep
is a valuable member of each community, keeping the chimneys clean
and in good repair.
A major inventory item in all old-time general stores was the stove
and flue component parts. Along with assorted lengths of metal stove
pipe, there were connections, dampers and insulated floor pads.
Accessories included shovels, ash brushes, ash buckets, coal buckets,
lid lifters, match holders and boxes for kindling. Some stores owned
the equipment to manufacture the length of pipe needed complete
with fitted ends and snap-together seams.
The brick chimney and metal flue served man well through the evolution
of devices developed to heat our homes. From wood to gas and electricity,
they kept us safe from toxic fumes and smoke. Here's a salute to
the old-time, simple brick chimney.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
- March 14, 2006 Column