Tour the William Root House In Mourning, Oldest Home in the City of Marietta

Recently a friend and I visited the William Root House Museum & Garden. The Root House was almost demolished back in the 1980s because it had fallen into terrible disrepair. Fortunately, some savvy folks realized it was the oldest known home in the city of Marietta and preservation efforts got underway just in time.

In 1989, the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society acquired the home and it was moved to its current location in Marietta. It took quite a few years but after going through an architectural analysis, the home was eventually restored to its original 1845 state.

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Upon entering the home, our guide showed us some of the artifacts they found during digs at the home’s previous location. That area was slated to become something new so they tried to collect anything they could before the new building was erected.

Dr. William Root was one of the early founders of Marietta and Marietta’s first druggist. So several items were found pertaining to his business as a pharmacist.

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They also found bits and pieces of old dishware and pottery that once belonged to William and his wife, Hannah.

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The most fascinating thing about our visit to the William Root House Museum and Garden was how the house has been “dressed” for the month of October. For the whole month, the Root House has been arranged and decorated how a home during the 1850s would have looked after the passing of a family member. October is a great month for this since Hannah’s father, Leonard Simpson, passed away on October 11, 1856. It also makes the house a bit more mysterious looking for the tours that will take place during this Halloween month.

Since the home is dressed/decorated as it would have been while the family was in mourning, our guide pulled up some photos on a notebook to share how the home normally looks. This is how the parlor looked this past spring and summer with white slip covers to lighten up the furniture and decor.

I noticed the rug on the floor looks very much like the covering I saw on a trip to Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, LA a few years ago. (See that post here: A Storybook Nursery at Rosedown Plantation)

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Come winter, the Root House parlor normally looks like this. Gone are the white slip covers and lighter curtains, it’s time to pull out the heavier draperies and rugs.

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Here’s how the room looks right now and will continue to look for the whole month of October. All the curtains are drawn and the pictures and mirrors are covered in a black cloth called crepe. Crepe was often used for this purpose since it was inexpensive and had a matte, dull appearance that was more suited for mourning. It’s hard to describe how dark the rooms were the day we visited. They were so dark, I found myself straining to even see the furniture and the other objects in the room.

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A seating area was at one end of the room just as you would have expected to find in a parlor.

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The recently deceased was at the other end. Our guide assured us the coffin was empty. Linda and I didn’t check, deciding to just take her at her word. 😉 The chairs in the parlor would have been for the immediate family only.

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Across the hall in the dining room, furniture had been moved around to make room for the chairs where those invited to the funeral would sit the day of the funeral. During this period, you were not allowed to attend a funeral unless you had been invited. The chairs were placed where those invited would have a view of the casket in the parlor, but not of the grieving family members.

That large black thing in the background over the sideboard isn’t a widescreen TV. It’s another mirror that’s been draped in black crepe fabric. Our guide shared two reasons why mirrors were draped during this time but right now, I’m only recalling one. The one I remember was, people believed if you saw your reflection in a mirror after a loved one had passed, death could take you, too.

During the Victorian period, there were a lot of superstitions and people believed there were a lot of evil spirits around a home when someone had passed, so covering mirrors kept those evil spirits from taking you, too. Kinda sad to think that folks were having to cope with their grief and with all these superstitions when a loved one passed away.

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On each chair was a funeral wafer, kind of a favor for the invited guest.

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Everything seems to have been about status back during this period, even down to the funeral invitation you received. Our guide said that you could tell the importance of a person to the deceased, by how wide the black border was around the invitation. The closer or more important you were to the deceased person, the wider the black border would be on your invite.

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Here’s how the other side of the room looked. Crepe fabric was also draped across the mantel in this room, too. Hannah and William Root had a lot of children so our guide told us that this room would probably have had a bed in it for an elderly person like a grandparent who could no longer manage the stairs and may have needed more privacy from the rest of the family.

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There was also a dresser in the dining room. The furniture in the Root House isn’t original to the house, it’s been furnished as a home would have looked around 1845, the year the William Root home was built. Our guide told us that it may seem odd to have a dresser in the dining room, but that it wasn’t uncommon to see really nice pieces of furniture on display in the dining area because families liked to show off their nicest pieces of furniture to visiting guests.

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You’ll notice the mirror on the dresser is also draped in black crepe fabric. The mourning period lasted for quite a while. If I’m remembering correctly, I think our guide said that the home would have looked this way for at least a full month.

Can you imagine living in a home with no electricity, all the curtains pulled tightly shut and the mantels and mirrors draped in black fabric. It’s like heaping sadness upon sadness. You have to feel bad for the folks who lived back then, to be made to live this way after losing a family member. It’s a wonder anyone ever got through the sadness of losing someone without going into a deep depression. Glad times have changed!

Our guide went into detail about how the family would have dressed in black during this time, gradually graduating to gray clothing etc… I forgot how long the “dressing in black period lasted,” but I remember it was for quite a long time.

Remember that scene in Gone with the Wind, HERE where Scarlett is tired of dressing in black and “acting” as if she is in mourning after the death of her first husband who she only married to spite Ashley? I kept thinking about that scene during our tour of the Root House since we had just visited the Gone With The Wind museum that morning.

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Our guide shared this diagram of how a table would have been set in the dining room during this time period.

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Next we headed upstairs where the rooms and windows were not dressed for mourning. This bed is a rope bed, you can see the ropes and the mechanism for tightening the ropes in the photo below. Since the Root family was quite large, a lot of the family would have slept together in the same room.

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Back in the day, folks normally only took one bath a week, everyone bathing in the same bath water starting with the oldest person and ending with the baby. I kept thinking how unsanitary that must have been for the babies. Seems the bathing process/pecking order should have been in the reverse order for the sake of the smallest and most vulnerable in the family.

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There were toys from the time period on the floor near one of the children’s beds.

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Another rope bed in this same room. Wonder what folks from this time period would think if they could see our beds today.

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After seeing the inside of the home, we headed outside to the kitchen which was in another small building out back. Kitchens weren’t normally inside homes during this era for fear of a fire. We also toured the garden which was lovely to see.

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Touring a home from the 1850s will surely make you feel blessed for how we live today. So thankful we don’t have to use chamber pots and outhouses, bathe in the same bath water and sleep all cramped into one room. I guess you learned quickly to not be a light sleeper or you would never get any sleep!

What modern convenience(s) are you thankful for today?




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Comments

  1. Sherry Stuifbergen says:

    I just finished a book entitled “The Kitchen House” (by Kathleen Grissom) where slaves worked in the kitchen house. Food was taken to the “Big House” from the kitchen house for meals. The kitchen house was separate from the “big house” in case of fire. Did the tour say they had slaves? This book was in the 1820’s, before the Civil War. Slaves working in the “big house” and “kitchen house” thought they were “better”than “field slaves,” working in the cotton fields or tobacco fields.

    • I don’t remember her mentioning about slaves and there wasn’t anywhere for them to sleep. I just looked that up and it appears they did have one, but now sure how long that lasted. You can see the article here: http://georgiashpo.org/node/2208

      • Linda Page says:

        The guide told us there were 3 slaves at the Root House. I doubt if a cabin for the slaves survived very long especially since the house itself. Fell into disrepair.

  2. It is always great to tour historic homes and living history musuems. I enjoy them.

  3. Thank you for sharing this and to the historical society for preserving this piece of history. Great to see a 1850’s house with rope beds, summer kitchen n all! Very interesting n fitting to see it styled in Oct for a funeral and learn some history on the traditions- covering mirrors n pictures, seating, n invites etc. In this day n age it seems odd to have a funeral at home. You see some old houses with 2 front doors n read that one door was for funerals/ guests. Great post thanks 🙂

  4. Great to see this tour, Susan. Thank you for sharing. I guess it was all progress for families at the time, but I agree with you on heaping sadness upon sadness. Sleep probably came easy for as hard as they all worked.

  5. Interesting post. Thanks for the tour. Sometimes the timing of a thing can be so amazing. Last week I visited one of my favorite thrifting haunts and they had a table set. I took pictures of it and in the center of the table was a silver and crystal piece that the owner called a Victorian cruet set. Today you post contains a drawing of how a table setting would have looked and in the center is the castor. It turns out that the castor is the same piece that was referred to as a cruet set by my friend. I went from never having seen one or heard of one to twice in one week. How fun.

  6. Great tour!

    I am very grateful for modern day medicine, washing machines, telephones, soft tissue paper, diapers, microwaves – and those you mentioned, of course: indoor plumbing being absolutely a favorite……

    One thing I DID like about those years was the privacy given to a grieving family – and the wearing of black giving others not knowing a gentle attitude toward one wearing black – I think that overall manners are so lacking in today’s society (at least here in the north) that it is a shame genteel behaviour is long gone.

    I love the old homes tours, thank you, Susan.

  7. My mother had her grandmother’s cruet set. I think my sister has it now. I always thought it was so neat. : – )

    • I think I remember seeing those when growing up. Seem like folks often had home-grown peppers in one of the bottles, that what I see in my mind anyway.

  8. (Playing catch-up today.) Thank you so much for all the interesting tours Susan. -Brenda-
    P.S.: Re the funeral card and considering it was one hundred and sixty years ago I imagine compared to most (plus even by today’s statistics as he was a male); the deceased was fortunate to live as long as he had.

  9. Diane Dixon says:

    Living in a farmhouse in the 40s was not much more advanced than this in east Texas. No running water, electricuty, gas, etc. That makes so thankful for so much today. I agree with the writer who commented on manners today. We were raised with a big emphasis on politeness and graciousness an d sharing. whatever we had.

  10. Linda Nixon says:

    Clocks were also stopped at the time of death. Wonder when they started them again? I love primitives and I did not see anything in the kitchen that I don’t have. BUT I still have the modern necessities!
    Love all of your blogs. Hoping Walmart has the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas salad plates as they did last year. Sold out online.

    • Thanks, Linda!
      Interesting! I didn’t realize that. Maybe they were restarted after the set mourning time was over.
      Linda, where you’re seeing them sold out, that may be from last year. I don’t think the stores have gotten them in yet so they just may not be available yet online. I bet they’ll start showing up as we get closer to end of the month or once Halloween is over.

  11. Linda Nixon says:

    Clocks were also stopped at the time of death. Wonder when they were started up again.

  12. Linda Page says:

    I loved touring this house and our guide was so knowledgeable and fun… especially when the rocking chair with the doll started to rock!!! This is only my second historical home to tour shown in mourning. I find it very interesting. Your pictures are wonderful.

    • I forgot about the doll rocking. She was so funny about that, I couldn’t stop giggling as she tried to move on to talk about something else. It just cracked me up how that happened. lol

  13. I looked up mourning traditions and it seems to vary depending on era and nationality – I have examples of death notices in my family with the black borders on the envelope and on the notice – and the notices include a photo of the deceased in his/her casket (Finnish descent – circa 1800s to early 1900s) –
    I’m thankful for the indoor plumbing, central heat & air and modern kitchen & laundry appliances – but I miss the respect and manners taught in years past

  14. This article suggests reasons for covering the mirrors, stopping the clock until after the funeral or at least until the next day after the death and having the deceased person exit the home feet first. Interesting. https://exemplore.com/misc/Stopping-Clocks-And-Covering-Mirrors-When-A-Person-Dies-Like-In-the-Movie-Fried-Green-Tomatoes

  15. Indoor plumbing and electricity are HIGH on my list of things for which I give thanks! I will have to check out the Root House, I was not familiar with it.

  16. I’m pretty sure that a mourning period lasted for a year with a gradual transition from black clothing (including black hats with long black veils when women ventured outside) to grey. Was it only men who got away with black arm bands?

  17. judy gaaskjolen says:

    My mother, who passed away 8 years ago, at age 92, told me they had baths once a week. For their family, the small children were first. Then teens,adult women,then men. That seems more proper.

  18. I remember the first time I toured a house with a rope bed. The owners had a sign on the bed which told the story of the bed, and explained that that is where the expression, “sleep tight” comes from.. The tighter the ropes, the better you will sleep !! Thank you Susan for this site. I am getting in trouble with your treasure links–our tastes are too similar, and clicking a link is soo convenient !!

  19. Charlotte says:

    That was an interesting tour. They used to have the coffin in the parlor room…which was usually only used for company, and hence, Funeral PARLOR today.
    Also, in Little House on the Prairie books, bath water was changed between each person taking a bath. The youngest went first. My twin and I shared a bath until we were probably 9 yrs old, then we took turns who got to go in the clean water first to take a bath. That lasted until we were 13, when we said No More! (I love taking a shower now..a “modern” convenience!)
    My mom was raised on a farm back in Iowa, and when we visited when I was 14, which was in 1960, we still had to use the outhouse and chamber pot! A couple of the farmhouses still had the pump inside the kitchen for water.
    Old-time manners and hospitality are sadly lacking in many homes. Thanks for all the home tours, Susan!

  20. Jacque Avant says:

    I live in Gray, GA outside of Macon and have been to a few houses in the Atlanta GA area but never have heard of the Root House.Thank you so much for the guided tour. Fascinating and yes thank goodness we do not have to live like that now. How horrible to live in such darkness after losing someone you loved.

    Jacque

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