The Dean House

The Parlor

Written by Wanda Nelson

Untitled Document

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As you come into this room, you immediately feel that you have entered a special place in the home. It just feels more fancy and more formal--and it was meant to be a place that was only used for special occasions. Maybe the room was opened and aired out when a visit from the pastor was expected or when a suitor came to call. Maybe the room was opened when there was a death in the family and neighbors came to pay their respects to the family.


The soft flame of kerosene lamps provided the lighting throughout the house after darkness fell. The woven wick extended down into a bowl of kerosene that soaked up into the wick; the flame was guarded by a clear glass chimney.

The ceiling light in this room has been electrified, but in the old days it was a lamp that hung on a pulley and was lowered to fill and light it. With its artistic hand-painted glass shade and dangling prisms it must have been even more beautiful when lit by the flickering light of a flame.

The two table lamps are beautiful examples of a banquet lamp, standing tall on a brass pole and bearing a globe-shaped shade. One globe is of clear etched glass and the other of rose-colored beveled glass. They would have provided a delightful atmosphere for a large banquet table. The smaller lamps on the melodeon would provide the extra light needed for the instrumentalist to read the sheet music.

The Melodeon

The keyboard instrument in this room is a "melodeon" - a special reed organ made in 1856 by Estey and Green of Brattleboro, Vermont. To play it the musician uses one pedal to pump air into the concealed bellows while striking the keys. The melodeon is in good working condition and can still be played today. Notice the stool covered in scratchy "horsehair" upholstery. Another stool hides in the corner with a beautiful needlepoint covering on the bench.


One of the fascinating and entertaining objects in the room is the "stereoscope" on the center table. The dictionary explanation of how this works is: An optical instrument through which pictures of the same objects taken from slightly different points of view are viewed, one by each eye, producing the effect of a single picture of the object with the appearance of depth or relief--i.e. three dimensional. Can't you just imagine the young woman of the house entertaining her suitor on a Sunday afternoon by looking at pictures through this stereoscope or by paging through the family photograph albums found in this room?

Wall Decorations

If you look closely at the wall decorations, you will find that they are all made from natural mediums: dried flowers and grasses, dyed cotton bolls and even human hair. The shadow-box floral art in the elaborate frame was made from "Grandma's hair and her sister's hair." In 1869, someone used human hair, small wire pieces, beads and embroidery thread to design this unique artistic composition. The wreath on the other wall is made from natural fibers and cotton bolls-some left in their natural state and some dyed a warm red color. Under the curved glass in the frame hanging above the melodeon, dried roses, wild flowers and grasses are tied together in a bouquet with a lovely ribbon bow.

The Furniture

The matching set of seating furniture in this room was designed in the Charles Eastlake style. The ornate machine-carved pineapple design tooling on these pieces is indicative of his Medieval Gothic style that was so popular in the late 1800s. The furniture has been reupholstered in satin-striped brocade. An Oriental rug graces the floor with complementary colors.

The two small three-shelved muffin stands at the side of the room were used to carry plates of small cakes and sandwiches to the guests when the lady of the house invited her friends in for tea. The Barrister's bookcase in the corner holds treasured books of the period, with retracting glass shelf doors guarding them from the dust.

Other Interesting Pieces

If you were asked, "What is your favorite decorative piece in this room?" what would be your answer? Would you choose the elaborate beaded and fabric picture frame on the side table? Would it be the peacock feather bouquet in the corner? How about the tiny sewing table with its pincushion and spokes to hold spools of thread? Maybe it would be the etagere that displays the hand-painted china vase and the other small "bric-a-brac?" Or it could be the beautiful woven shawls that cover the tables? Obviously, this was the room where the family exhibited their treasures and heirlooms. How lucky for us that some of them have survived for over one hundred years for us to enjoy today.

By Wanda Nelson

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