At present we have one fully functioning bathroom, and as it is ensuite to our bedroom, it’s not exactly convenient as the family bath. Neither do we have a shower, though both clawfoot tubs are still here, and my husband is anxious for a shower. So we thought we’d start tackling the plaster to begin with, which is in pretty bad shape as you can see in the photos below. Firstly I needed to make a decision about whether to try to save it (always my preference) or whether to gut the bathroom and start over (which gives us the advantage of addressing some of the plumbing and electrical issues at the same time.)
The first hurdle to this project was a large cabinet that took up the entire wall between the door that goes into the boys room and the wall that separates the toilet area from the rest of the bathroom. I didn’t want to lose the storage space, but in order to really address the plaster issues I had to at least move it. I started by taking off the quarter round molding that went around the bottom of it, and I discovered that the floor ended where the cabinet sat, which told me that the cabinet was there before the floor was laid down. Still, I was determined to move it without destroying it.
But I was mistaken on both counts.
In the pictures above you can see the cabinet, the plaster above where the cabinet was, and the plaster on the ceiling.
We began by trying to pry the cabinet away from the wall, but this only resulted in further damage to the plaster. A thin piece of particle board served as the backing, and after tearing this out, we realized that the plaster was black. Mold? I began to get nervous. Now we knew the cabinet had to come out. So bit by bit we began prying apart this piece and that piece hoping to find the magical nail that was holding this thing to the wall with an iron grip. By the time we realized there was no hope for it but to take it apart entirely, we were left with nothing but one side, a partially separated top and doors hanging haphazardly. I relented and told myself I could rebuild it later. I do have a plan for it, even though I had decided by then that the cabinet would have to be moved elsewhere. It’s great storage space, but what I really saw on this wall by this point was a dressing table and a large mirror.
At last we had the cabinet disassembled and what we found behind the cabinet surprised us greatly. A fireplace! And that cutaway piece where the floor had not been laid, it was a slate hearth, in near perfect shape. But why was there a fireplace in the bathroom? On top of that, there was a fireplace on the opposite side of the wall, and I didn’t think they could be back to back.
Really, this is not my first old house restoration, but our house in South Carolina had virtually no changes at all made to it and had been owned by one family (before us) since it was built in 1918. This house is somewhat older, having been built in 1897. My understanding is that it was sold in 1917 to the Day family. Who owned it before that I’m not yet sure, but I mean to do some research on that soon.
So were there two chimneys back to back on this wall? It seemed the only way to know for sure was to excavate. And so I began.
This picture is really blurry, but you can see the black paint on the plaster. This is consistent with the fireplace in the front upstairs bedroom, which has a large mantel (matching the one in the shed) and has black paint surrounding the ironwork where tile might ordinarily be. You can clearly see through the plaster where the edge of the brick is. It took a great deal of chiseling and persuading, but at last we had the brick free.
After inspecting the chimneys, their sizes, etc, I decided that there always were two fireplaces on this chimney. It’s just possible, and really, it’s the only thing that makes sense (sort of). But, as with my excavation of the dining room fireplace (where I found an 1870′s Indian head penny) my work here did not go unrewarded.
I found a receipt folder from the Kiwanis club at Leeland Hotel (now subsidized housing) embossed with the name Henry F. Day, a laundry recent from Star Laundry Co. on Patton street, and a cancelled check in the amount of $5.45 and dated March 19, 1915. Which I have to say confuses me a great deal. My understanding was that the Days bought the house in 1917. So now I need to go research that and find out who originally owned and built the house, and just when the Days moved in.
As for the question of why there would be a fireplace in the bathroom, this is my guess. The toilet (or commode, as we like to call it in the South) was not invented until 1891. From what I’ve read, indoor toilets, even plumbing, was not a household staple until up into the 20′s and even 30′s. It’s apparent that when the Days bought the house they did a great deal of remodeling and redecorating, and so it’s entirely likely that the house was plumbed after the Days bought it. Also, the plumbing is stacked. The bathrooms are above the kitchen, which suggests these amenities were added later. I think the fireplace was in the bathroom to heat it, and possibly even to heat the water. There were indoor bathrooms certainly by the time the house was built, but the water for them would have to be hauled from the kitchen and/or heated on the spot.
And so, instead of putting in a dressing table, I’m going to restore the fireplace. I’ll likely never use it, but I like the idea of a mantel in there. I’ll give my nod to modernity by adding a shower for my dear husband. He’ll like that. I think we both will.