The Care of the Cellar

This is the third article in July of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on June 18, 1909, and is an article on why keeping the cellar clean is important.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Care of the Cellar

FORTY years ago, chancing to stop at a New Jersey farmhouse in the course of a dive through the country early in the spring, my senses were assailed at our entrance into the hall by a peculiar and displeasing combination of evil smells and dankness.

I use “sense” in the plural advisedly. For the villainous combination aforesaid offended taste and smell and struck to the bones in an indescribable chill. I analyzed it during the half hour that sufficed for repairing the broken harness that had obligated us to halt by the way. I detected onions, I was sure of cabbage and turnips, and I suspected bets and potatoes. Mingling with these was the subterranean odor which lingers in disused wells and is never absent from unaired excavations—“of the earth, earthy.”

Above vs. Below.

We did not prate much of germs 40 years back, or my aversion to the celary smell would have been dashed by fear. As it was, I brought away from the homestead that had been in one family over 100 years an impression of uncleanliness and slovenly housewifery. Yet the upper part of the infected dwelling was as neat as hands could make it, and I learned subsequently that the mistress thereof had the name of being the most notable manager in the region.

“Almost too fussy and particular!” affirmed my informant. “You might live in her house for a month at midsummer and never see a fly indoors.”

“Yet she lived, day and night, with that smell!” I commented inly.

It was 10 years later in my life, and I was, by virtue of the added decade, a shade less uncharitable in judgment, when I unlocked the front door of the cozy cottage we had built a year before in the hill-country, beside the prettiest little lake in the State, and met a breath from the airless interior that confounded me. There was no furnace in the old-time homestead we had visited, and the more I thought of the “combination” the more the wonder grew how it had found its way to the upper floor. There was a furnace, with tell-tale registers, in our summer cottage, and open fireplaces in the living rooms. It was easy to decide how that noisome breath crept through the house. The question was how the smell came to be there at all.

Before the house was closed for the winter the cellar had been cleaned, swept free of dust and garnished with a coat of whitewash. The vegetable bins from which supplies were shipped to us weekly were duly overhauled by the faithful gardener and the decayed esculents thrown away. Yet there was the identical odor I had analyzed disgustfully that spring day. Onions and turnips entered into it, but the rankest and most offensive element was the strong earthiness of sprouting potatoes.

A Week of Airing.

It required a week of diligent airing and purging of the premises to rid my olfactories and throat of the rank effluvia. Before the month was out we had a root-cellar dug at a safe distance from the dwelling and the polluted bins removed thither. Since then no vegetables are stored in the cellar over which we are to live by day and sleep by night.

An underground room is never fit for human beings. In the teeth of the fact that thousands of our fellow-being do live below the ground level of our cities, no student of sanitary conditions pretends to dispute that dogma. We may drive currents of pure air through the vaults all day long; the floors and walls may be of waterproof cement, “dry as a bone,” according to the architect and landlord. Shut up the place for 24 hours and the dank odors are there, and the chill and the peril to lungs and blood and bones. In a “Talk Upon Apartment Life” we held some weeks ago, I spoke of the “germ belt,” or stratum of the exhalations of the soil in the most carefully constructed cellars. The upper floors are drier for having it. Hence, no well-built house is without the excavation. If you doubt what has been said here of humidity and chill, leave a linen sheet or garment shut up in the basement for a month, or a stack of papers, and report upon their condition at the end of the time.

We may not if we would, and we would not if we could, abolish our cellar. The trend of what I have tried not to make a philippic is to inculcate the necessity of managing them to the best advantage.

Never keep green vegetables and fruits in the basement that is below the street level and underlies a residence of human creatures.

“Sweating” and decay are inevitable. As inevitable is the subtle throng, creeping into the stories above, of gases engendered by dampness and rot. Your coal bin may be there, and whatever of rubbish or disused properties that will not be injured by humidity. Crockery, glassware and even barrels of fine china are safe in the orderly recesses. Trunks and clothing, pictures and books—never! I wish you could have seen a packing-case of clothing and fine linen that was brought upstairs in a fine, modern apartment house in a big city last year after six months’ storage in the cellar warranted to be “perfectly dry.” Mildew and mud were over every article, and the metal clamps of the trunk were red with rust.

The country cellar does not claim the modern improvements which would win us to trust the city basement. It is, usually, a hole in the ground, lined with stone masonry or faced with cement. The country householder knows its uses. He gives, as a rule, little thought to its probably abuses. When it gets too full of “truck and stuff” he has a general cleaning-up and sorting. The place is scraped clear of dirt and the walls are whitewashed. This done, his conscience is easy for six months to come so far as the hole in the ground is concerned. When a snake creeps in at the window and lives a contented life in the far corners until mistress or maid chances to espy him and goes into hysterics, the beast is hunted and killed, and the rubbish left is a lair for “rats and mice and such small deer” until the next periodical clearance day.

Build we never so wisely, it is not always practicable to have a cellar that will be dry the year round. But it is possible, and it should be obligatory upon the owners, to see that it is clean. The walls should be whitewashed twice a year, the windows should be protected from unclean beasts and creeping things by wire netting and stand open all the time except in rainy weather. The free circulation of fresh, living air makes the dwelling overhead sweet and wholesome.

There is no dust in our cellar unless when the coal is put in. And a word on that point comes in partly here. Coal dust flies upward through register and window to blacken furniture and floors above stairs. See to it that the man who brings the load to your cellar window sprinkles the coal from a watering pot before he begins shoveling it into the chute. It will save chagrin and dusting in dining room and parlor. Have high bins for the fuel, from which it will not escape all over the floor; likewise a wide plank on the side opening into the cellar.

If you keep glasses of pickles and and preserves down here, have constructed an inner room for them, well ventilated, but secluded from the coal bins and the lighter part of the cellar. Arrange the pickles and preserves upon swing shelves away from the dampness of the floor and the inroads of the “small deer” aforenamed.

Order, cleanliness and as much dryness as is compatible with the conditions I have enumerated as prejudicial to human health are the essentials to the right care of the cellar.

Marion Harland

Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

Spring Housecleaning

This is the fourth article in March of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Mar 26, 1905, and is a nice article on spring cleaning. One of my favourite things to do after winter is to go through my possessions and see what I can get rid of in order to make room for the new.

School for Housewives – Spring Housecleaning

An Expert’s Advise on the Most Important of Subjects

Readers will find in another section of this page – in the “Housemothers’ Exchange” – a helpful note from an experiences homemaker which might be headed “The Week Before Housecleaning.”

Referring to one branch of her subject, let me emphasize her exhortation to clean decks for action before settling down to business. Where rubbish comes from in orderly careful families is a mystery past finding out. TO quote from sapient George Sampson in “Our Mutual Friend” “We all know it’s there!” There in quantities that amaze and shame us! Things that are of no earthly – or unearthly – use to us now, and which are not likely to be of us to us ever hereafter – yet too good to throw away – all that is superfluous is rubbish! Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and let them go; the old coat which John has fattened out of; the stained gown you cannot clean or make over; battered toys; reports of patent offices and orphan asylums and quack medicines; letters whose end is to be burned sooner or later; broken plates and cracked tumblers and leaky kettles – extract them from pantry, wardrobe and attic before you begin to scrub and polish – and get them out of the house at once and for all time. Set abut housecleaning on Wednesday, when washing and ironing are out of the way, and begin in the attic – if, as our wise “Grandma” put it, you have one If should have been swept and dusted on Saturday. Scrub woodwork and windows before touching the floor, having first of all brushed down the walls with a peticoated broom. For paint, use a firm, not harsh, brush, sapolio and suds, afterward wiping with a dry cloth. Stir a little kerosene into the water used for the windows, beginning with the uppermost panes, cleaning one at a time and wiping it dry before proceeding to another. Polish with newspaper, rubbed soft between the hands. If properly applied it lends a luster nothing else imparts.


After the scouring is done, move boxes, barrel, and trunks invalided chairs and unused bedding into the middle of the garret. Have ready a gallon of gasoline into which were stirred two days ago three ounces of gum camphor, broken small. Keep this mixture in a can with a tight top. With a large syringe, used for this purpose alone, inject this into every crack, around baseboards of the floor. Spray the edges and tufts of mattresses, and do not overlook old furniture. Shut the place up and leave it for twenty-four hours before airing it. Enter, then, without a light, and let not so much as a match be struck in the room until the windows have been opened.

If you have no attic, observe the same precautions against moths and other insect life in cleaning the trunk room or closets where are stored articles not in frequent use. The odor of camphor will soon pass away, and that of gasoline almost as quickly as it evaporates. If there directions be faithfully followed, the danger of summer visitation from nocturnal marauders – “red rovers,” roaches and even mosquitos – will be greatly lessened. The powerful antiseptic kills their eggs with those of moths.


Go about the work in hand diligently, by systematically, and do not make unwise haste to get it done. Take one room at a time, working steadily downward if you live in a cottage. If John be away all day, content yourself and co-laborers with a cold luncheon, enlivened by a cup of tea or chocolate, at noon. Contrive to have a hot breakfast for him before he goes away in the morning and a hot dinner at night. Make soup in advance for several days, warming it each evening, and study economy of labor in other culinary tasks. By finishing each room before you attack the next, you will never be turned out of your living rooms. A little ingenuity in this respect will life much of the odium from housecleaning justly dreaded by masculine mankind. The average John, having enacted the role of seeking dove for ix nights in returning from the waste of his working world to the domestic ark, is but human if her elect to pay raven on the seventh, and tries his luck abroad.

Set steadfastly before you the purpose of making your quarter comfortable in spite of the semi-annual upheaval and resist, as an unlawful temptation, the disposition to overtire yourself and disgust everybody about you by making a point of “finishing up” by Saturday night. The world will be none the worse if a room or two be left over for next Wednesday.

One part of the formidable job will require nice calculation and adroit management. I refer to the “treatment” of your hardwood floors. After forty years’ experience with these, I have come to the deliberate conclusion that the one and only satisfactory way to keep them in order is to put them into the hands of “the profession.” They must not be touched until the rest of the cleaning is done. Wash off the dust overnight, have your household astir betimes next morning, bed made, etc., s that they men engaged to “Treat” the floors may get at them early. If they understand their business, they will use a preparation warranted to dry hard in five or six hours. Of course, you will have the floors of the living rooms treated earliest in the day. If any must be done so late hat the furniture cannot be set back in place until the morrow, let it be drawing room and guest chamber. A draft of fresh air sweeping through the apartments facilitates the business. If there be any trace of “tackiness” about the floors do not relay rugs until the next day, and treat lightly upon the polished surface. A footprint is more easily removed from it than the pattern pressed into them by the underside of the heavy rugs.

From first to last study prayerfully to keep temper and nerves in hard. Make the inevitable endurable by a cheerful spirit. At the worst it is never so bad in the doing as in the dreading.

Our next week’s talk will be headed: “When John Brings a Friend Home to Dinner.”

Marion Harland

Council-Table Talks with Up-To-Date Housewives
Housecleaning Hints

Shampooing a Feather

This is the third article in March of the School for Housewives 1904 series published on Mar 20, 1904, and is a short article on how to clean feathers.

School for Housewives – Shampooing a Feather

Clean Water, Soap and Care All That Are Needed

Owing to the frequency with which it is turned over to the professional cleaner, a white or pale-tinted plume becomes something of a luxury. If the feminine continent only realized how easily these pretty ornaments can be cleaned at home, quite a little saving toward the end of the year would result. Nothing more difficult to obtain than soap and clean water is necessary to clean an ostrich tip in a thoroughly scientific fashion. If the work is carefully done, the plume will stand an infinite number of “shampooings” without showing the least signs of wear. Here is the simpler process: Make a lather with warm water and a good white soap. Fill a bowl with this and dip the plume into it. When it is thoroughly saturated draw the tip through the finger, as shown in the second illustration. Repeat a number of times if the feather is much soiled. Now rinse thoroughly in clean water, making sure that no vestige of soap remains. Put on a white apron or cover the knees with a clean towel and gently pat the plume with the hands until dry. Curl with a blunt knife. Or steam the plume over the hot water kettle and dry out in the heat of the stove, when it will of its own accord attain a certain degree of fluffiness.

Marion Harland

Around the Council Table with Marion Harland
The First Breath of Spring Brings Out Hints About the Flowers and Home Decoration
Recipes That Have Been Contributed