Pot-bellied Stove
Nick Earley

"Who put too much wood in the stove? It's so hot we need to open all the windows and strip down to our underwear," declared my grandfather in the middle of a cold April night. He was referring to the pot-bellied stove that was used to heat his cottage in Au Gres, Michigan. I spent my childhood going to this family cottage on almost every summer weekend. In the mid 1970's, this pot-bellied stove was replaced with a modem furnace, and the old black stove took up residence in the backyard shed, no longer needed, discarded because it had lost its usefulness. It remained in the shed for twenty-five years, until my grandparents sold their cottage. They gave the antique stove to my father, who cleaned it up and put it on display on our modem, Americana-enclosed porch. This family heirloom is now a cherished memory of fun times for four generations of our family.

I was born after the stove was replaced by a furnace, but my relatives tell about how the pot-bellied stove used to heat our cottage. It was the job of any adult man who was at the cottage to start and keep the fire going. They would open a heavy, black iron door and place wood inside to burn. The woodpile was outside, next to the shed. My mother explained, " When a fire was burning inside the pot-bellied stove, it would be too hot to stand near. It would feel as uncomfortable as sitting right next to a campfire."

The stove was centrally located in the living room of the cottage, in the heart of the home. Therefore, the living room was usually very hot and the other rooms stayed chilly. All the bedroom doors needed to be left open, so the heat would reach the rooms. The men would get up randomly throughout the night and add more wood, keeping the fire going all night. This wasn't a very efficient way to heat a home, but created many memories and laughs. According to my mother, "We needed to be in our underwear in one room, but in heavy sweats the farther we got from the stove. At times, it felt like running your furnace on a ninety degree day! There was no way to adjust the heat so it was evenly distributed throughout the cottage."

The heavy iron stove, estimated to be nearly one hundred years old, reaches from floor to ceiling and is seven and one-half feet tall. It stands on four claw legs and is square in shape. Some stoves have glass doors so the fire could be seen burning with the door closed, but ours did not. Just above the claw legs is a small door in a one-foot opening that opens so the ashes can be cleaned out. On either side of the door there are two knobs that can be turned to adjust the airflow, which controls how fast the wood burns. Above this is a decorative silver chrome skirt that has an oval ring, in which "Interstate Banner' is etched.

The middle of the stove is a cylinder shape, which has a larger door, with about an eighteen-inch opening. The latch opens to a large hollow area where the firewood is placed for burning. At the top of the door is another silver, iron oval, bearing the words "The Baxter Stove Co. Mansfield, Ohio." Above this area is an additional silver iron band that goes all the way around the stove. Then there is a smaller black area and an open decorative silver swirly part that sort of curves inward like the top part of a ball. At the very top sits a nonfunctional decorative headpiece. Out of the back of the stove is a black, cylinder shaped smokestack that used to go up through the ceiling of our cottage. There is a pointed metal rod, once used to stoke the fire. The stove is of extremely heavy iron, and it takes two or three strong people to move it around.

My grandfather said, "While modem-day furnaces are almost noiseless with a quiet motor or blowing sound, the pot-bellied stove made many different crackling, snapping sounds. Wood would fall to lower heights as it burned, so the shifting and movement of the wood could be heard." My mother said, "At times, the sounds could be cozy, reassuring and comforting, but at other times, especially in the middle of the night, the sounds could be eerie and somewhat frightening, as if ghosts were moving about."

For many generations, old items seemed like junk, often thrown out with the trash. I'm glad my grandparents tended to hang on to their old belongings, so we now still have this antique pot-bellied stove, rich with family history and memories. Since we no longer have the cottage in our family, it stands as a symbol of the many wonderful times our families shared together.

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