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Mystery of the Winter Parlor Moniker Revealed

Those of us in the fields of architectural history and historic preservation are constantly reading and exploring new information. Recently I have had the pleasure of reading an excellent book, The Philadelphia Country House: Architecture and Landscape in Colonial America by Mark Reinberger.

In his development of Philadelphia country houses, Reinberger discusses English antecedents influencing the development of American architecture. Hidden within the text is a short discussion of specialized rooms and their use in the 16th and 17th centuries. While reading this section I was pleased to find reference to a classical English term making its way intact to ante-bellum America, then into the plan of Belmont. Returning to live year round at Belmont after her Grand Tour, Adelicia for the first time confronted winter in what for her had always been a summer house. In an almost futile search for warmth, Mrs. Acklen choose a space facing southwest where rays of the warming sun poured into the room. She is known to have commented that when the doors of the room were closed and a coal fire was lit, the room was in fact quite comfortable. In fact, Adelicia deemed this warm space, her “Winter Parlor”, which is exactly how we refer to the space today. Mark Reinberger educates us on the origin of this term in his book. Those of us at Belmont assumed Adelicia casually assigned this name to her comfortable, well heated room. In fact, the term was in use in England long before the execution of Charles I in 1649. Winter Parlors were rooms usually located directly over the kitchens in English country houses and naturally served as a center for warmth.

Though Belmont’s Winter Parlor is not located over the kitchen, Adelicia was familiar with this old English term and utilized it for her own purposes. Though this English renaissance term has long since fallen out of use and common knowledge, Adelica’s Winter Parlor survives for everyone to enjoy today.

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