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.
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.
They also found bits and pieces of old dishware and pottery that once belonged to William and his wife, Hannah.
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)
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.
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.
A seating area was at one end of the room just as you would have expected to find in a parlor.
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.
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.
On each chair was a funeral wafer, kind of a favor for the invited guest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our guide shared this diagram of how a table would have been set in the dining room during this time period.
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.
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.
There were toys from the time period on the floor near one of the children’s beds.
Another rope bed in this same room. Wonder what folks from this time period would think if they could see our beds today.
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.
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?