From western forts to Victorian mansions and pivotal battlegrounds, the Texas Historical Commission's 20 state historic sites exemplify a breadth of Texas history. Come explore the real stories at the real places.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How Texans Stayed Cool in the 1800s

By Jeff Campbell and Megan Maxwell, site staff

During a hot Texas summer, when temperatures soar to the 100s, staying cool rises to the top of a Texan’s priority list. With central air systems for our homes and air conditioning in our cars, beating the summer heat is not the challenge it was more than100 years ago. So how did Texans from the late-1800s and early 1900s keep cool?

Maplecroft, the centerpiece of the Starr Family Home State Historic Site, was built in 1871. Many of its architectural elements are found in other homes of this area to help residents deal with the summer heat.

Entering the house, the first thing to notice is the long main hallway with two rooms off to each side. This long hallway has a door on each end. When these doors were opened, it allowed the south-facing home to draw a breeze through the main hallway.

Standing in the hallway, it’s also easy to notice the high ceilings in the home. At 12 feet tall, they are much higher than ceilings in modern homes. These high ceilings allowed the warm air to rise, as cool air is heavier than warm air.

Entering one of the four rooms off the main hallway, there is a noticeable window above each door. This window is known as a transom. The transom can be opened to allow air to circulate throughout the house when the doors are closed.

Standing in the room, there are two noticeable elements to keep the house cool. The first is double-hung windows. The bottom window can be raised and the top window lowered to allow circulation of air throughout the room. The second is shutters, which were used to block the hot rays of the sun.

These are some of the main architectural elements that were used to keep cool in an age before air conditioning and electricity.

Starr Family Home is located in Marshall on the corner of Travis and S. Grove streets, in the Texas Forest Trail Region.

1 comment:

  1. glad you posted this on the facebook Starr Site -- now i have another worthwhile blog to read!

    living in a late-Victorian house myself, i immediately notice how stuffy modern houses feel when i spend time in one. if/when something happens to their mechanical ventilation, the discomfort mounts quickly.

    a point i like to make to visitors at living-history events is that people's activities were also arranged to maximize comfort. if possible, manual labor was avoided during the heat of the afternoon -- everyone did as much as they could of their heavy work in the comparative coolness of morning and evening. brightly-moonlit nights were even taken-advantage-of, in farm work! getting up before dawn to get one's laundry done allowed the home-maker to feel justified in sitting in the shade with a lemonade and her sewing after the midday meal. :-)