Updating Your Victorian House?


Italianate House

Contact us for authentic Victorian period design, preservation, restor­ation, renovation and remodeling services.

We specialize in updating period homes while preserving the feel, style, and craftsmanship of the historic era. We can seamlessly incorporate a modern kit­chen, bath or addition into your Victorian home.

Understanding the Victorian Kitchen Victorian Kitchen Plumbing

The effortless luxury of turning on a faucet to bring fresh, clean, safe water into the kitchen is so new that it does not yet even qualify as a blip on the timeline of human history.

The same is true of sanitary sewer systems to carry away household waste, treat it, and return it safely to the environment.

All of these civilizing improvements began during the Vic­tor­ian years. We still use many of the Victorian technologies nearly a century and a half later.

At the beginning of the Vic­tor­ian period, a few homes had the luxury of a water pump right in the kit­chen, but these were rare.

Urban dwellers relied mostly on communal wells, several stories down and as much as a mile away. Rural families usually had their own well but otherwise needed the same bucket brigade to get water into the kit­chen.

But, major improvements came during the last decades of the Vic­tor­ian era that continued weill into the 20th century, including safe and reliable water delivery systems, the modern faucet, the ceramic sink, and the very beginnings of sanitary sewer systems and wastewater treatment.

Well into the Vic­tor­ian era, getting water to the kit­chen for cooking and washing required carrying it from a well or pump, a process that had barely changed since the dawn of man.

The big technological breakthrough during the first million years of human existence was the replacement of animal skins with ceramic urns and wood, then metal, buckets as water carriers. Buckets and urns allowed more water to be hauled with less effort and little spillage.

At the beginning of the Vic­tor­ian period, a few homes had the luxury of a water pump right in the kit­chen, but these were rare.

Urban dwellers relied mostly on communal wells, several stories down and as much as a mile away. Rural families usually had their own well but otherwise needed the same bucket brigade to get water into the kit­chen.

The "Smart" Windmill

In the mid-1800s, well over 80% of Amer­icans lived and worked on farms and ranches. Fortunately for these rural citizen, 1854 was the year they were delivered from the age-old drudgery of carrying water by Daniel Halladay, an Amer­ican engineer from New England, who in that year patented the first small, self-regulating, reliable windmill for pumping water.

Wind-driven pumps of various sorts had been around since 9th-century Per­sia and were common in parts of Europe, notably the Ne­ther­lands and East Ang­lia during the middle ages to remove water from low-lying farmland and feed irrigation systems.

These rudimentary devices required almost con­stant vi­gil­ance and ad­just­ment, and worked only when the wind blew from one specific direction.

Halladay's "Self-go­vern­ing Farm Wind Pump" was a "smart" windmill – nearly automatic – orienting itself to always face into the wind and adjusting the pitch of its blades in response to wind speed to keep shaft rotation constant.

Linked to a pump, it allowed water to be lifted effortlessly to an elevated tank where it was stored until needed.

By 1899 over 600,000 windmills were in use in the U.S., and an estimated 60,000 are still in use, mostly to water livestock. Many of thee are well over a century old.

Halladay joined with foundry owner John Burnham to form the U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Company in 1857 to manufacture his windmills in Batavia, Illinois. By 1881, the company was the largest manufacturer of its kind in the world, and Batavia was home to so many windmill manufacturers that it had become known as "The Windmill City."

U.S. Wind Engine ceased manufacturing in the 1940s. Its facilities were converted to war production for the U.S. military. The last windmill factory in Batavia closed in the 1950s. Electricity had come to the American rural marches and wind power was no longer needed to pump water. But, Batavia is still the "City of Energy" hosting the Fermi National Ac­cel­era­tor Lab­or­atory operated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Batavia: If you are ever in Batavia, a stroll along the Fox river is recommended. Original windmills manufactured in Batavia have been located, purchased, carefully restored, and erected along the Batavia Riverwalk which currently has seven different models from various companies manufactured from 1867 to 1942. A plaque at each exhibit tells the story of the manufacturer and the particular model represented.

Windmills are back, not just to pump water for energy-conscious homeowners, but to generate electricity on a massive scale. Computer-aided versions of the technologies invented by Daniel Halladay over a century and a half ago still dominate the industry.

The Steam Pump and City Water

Windmills were not practical, however, for pumping the massive amounts of water needed by cities. Urban areas needed much more power than the wind could provide.

The earliest pumps used to fill a large communal tank or elevated reservoir were operated by water wheels – taking advantage of the power of water to move water in great quantities.

For communities not conveniently situated near fast-moving rivers or streams, steam-driven pumps were harnessed to do the work. Pumping water was the first ap­pli­ca­tion of steam power.

Thomas Savery in­vent­ed the first practical steam-driven pump that he called the "Miner's Friend" in 1698 expressly for removing water from mines and quarries.

It was balky, temperamental, and prone to frequent breakdowns but still lifted more water than mule- and horse-powered pumps.

Thomas Newcomen improved on the "Friend" with his "At­mos­pher­ic En­gine" in 1712.

Newcomen engines were used throughout Britain and Europe, primarily to pump water out of mines. Hundreds were constructed throughout the 18th century. But its oscillating pump could raise water only about 25 feet.

Seventy years later, James Watt [1] increased the power of the Newcomen engine by adding a steam condensing chamber that eliminated the energy wasted in earlier engines from repeatedly cooling and reheating the cylinder.

He also devised a crank mechanism that converted the engine's reciprocating movement to a more efficient rotary motion. Watts' device could lift water several hundred feet using about half the fuel the the Newcomen engine.

Watt's rotary linkage became the model for the driving mechanism used in nearly all steam locomotives, and was almost as important to industrial development as the Watt engine itself.

Watt entered a partnership with Matthew Boulton in 1775. The firm of Boulton and Watt was highly successful, manufacturing steam engines used throughout Europe and North America in its Soho Foundry.

The ability of steam engines to move lots of water was almost immediately applied to the logistical problem of supplying English cities with fresh water.

The West Ham works (opened in 1743 at Saynes Mill, Stratford, on a branch of the Lea River), Shad­well Water­works (1750) [2], and Lea Bridge works (1767) supplied water to East London and its suburbs. (These were all absorbed by the East London Waterworks Company in 1843.) The Lam­beth Water­works company, pumped water to south and west London directly from the Thames River beginning in 1775.

In the U.S., the first known use of steam to pump water for drinking was in New York in 1803.

The Manhattan Company installed two steam engines manufactured by Boulton & Watt to pump well water into a reservoir on Chambers Street in New York City.

The company, formed in 1799 ostensibly to provide clean water to lower Manhattan, was less interested in water than it was in banking. It eventually became the banking goliath, JP Morgan Chase & Company, selling its water system back to the City of New York. [3]

The Fairmount Water Works opened in 1815 on the Schuylkill River in Phil­adel­phia. It was designed by Frederick Graff to use two steam pumps – a low-pressure Bolton & Watts-style engine built by Samuel Richards, at the Eagle Works in Philadelphia, and a high-pressure steam engine built by Oliver Evans at the Mars Works in Philadelphia – to move water from the river to reservoirs.

The company had troubles with its steam pumps, including a boiler explosion in 1818 in the high-pressure engine that killed two workmen. It reverted to water-wheel-driven pumps in 1822.

Columbia, South Carolina's privately-owned water system installed a steam pump in 1820 to move water from springs in Seaboard Park (now Finlay Park) to the distribution system supplying the city through cast-iron and lead pipes.

The Boulton & Watt-style low-pressure steam pump was built by Caledonian Foundry in Manchester, England. Never profitable, Abram Blanding, its owner, sold the system to the city in 1835.

The 138-foot Chi­ca­go Wa­ter Tower was constructed in 1869 to house a steam pump that stored water drawn from Lake Michigan.

Built of limestone, it was one of the few buildings in the central city to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and has since become a city landmark.

The Water Tower in Louisville, Ken­tucky was built-in 1856 also to pump water into an elevated reservoir.It is the oldest ornamental water tower in the world, now repurposed as a city park.

The National Register of Historic Places, managed by the U.S. Park Service, lists both the Chicago and Louisville towers as historic structures as well as the Fairmount Waterworks, also preserved as a city park.

The Water Faucet

Getting water into the house was a major technological accomplishment but controlling the water once it was in the house was equally important. This is done with the modern faucet.

It was a marvelous improvement over earlier water control technology that consisted of some version of driving a plug (or bung) into the end of a pipe to stop the flow of water and removing it to start water flowing again.

The Guest and Chrimes innovation was to move the plug inside the body of the faucet, operating it with a screw mechanism rather than a mallet. Turning the handle of the faucet raised and lowered a stem. At the base of the stem was the plug consisting of a stack of leather disks that was pressed into a brass or bronze seat until water flow stopped.

Loosening the screw backed the plug away from the seat so water could flow again. This was the first of what came to be called compression faucets.

Early compression faucets had problems, however, the most troublesome being that leather washers wore out quickly and had to be replaced often. Excessive wear persisted even after hard rubber replaced leather in washers because the screw action that opened and closed the valve also had the effect of grinding the washer into its seat.

The competing technology was the Ful­ler Ball Valve, patented by Henry W. Ful­ler of Brooklyn, New York in 1879, in which a handle was attached to an offset cam that opened and closed the water channel using a small rubber ball [4] attached to a stem.

Because the cam mechanism did not grind the rubber ball but rather merely compressed it to stop water flow, the mechanism lasted much longer between repairs. The cam required about a half turn to operate making precise control of flow volume tricky and requiring a deft touch.

In the end, better design and improved rubber saved the day for the compression faucet. Ful­ler ball valves, despite several improvements in the technology over the years, died out almost overnight in the 1920s and are no longer to be found except in vintage plumbing stores. Even replacement parts are becoming hard to find.

By the turn of the 20th century, compression valves that required several turns to reach maximum water flow were being replaced by new models that required no more than a quarter turn, putting much less twisting force on the compression washer, reducing wear, and extending the life of the washer.

The compression valve mechanism was the model for faucet operation for more than a century, being supplanted only in the 1950s by the single-handle washerless faucet valve that revolutionized the industry.

Today even the washerless valve has largely passed into history, having been replaced by the even more reliable ceramic disc cartridge valve invented by in the 1970s.

For more information on the mechanics of a modern faucet, see Fau­cet Valves and Cart­ridges.)

The Kitchen Sink

Kitchen sinks in the early years of the Victorian era were used for more than just washing up. They were also handy for chopping and slicing meat or cleaning fish, with the waste washed out into the yard to be consumed by chickens and other livestock. For washing up, a wooden tub would be placed in the sink.

Early sinks were made from wood or stone. The more fragile marble and limestone were used in bathrooms but rarely in the more demanding kit­chen environment.

Stone for kit­chen sinks was the more durable slate or soapstone, common in the North­east, rare west of the Ap­pal­a­chi­ans because suitable slate and soapstone were hard to find.

Wood sinks were usually lined with lead, copper, or "German metal" (an alloy of copper, tin, and nickel). Without the lining, wood sinks barely lasted a few years before needing to be replaced.

Cast-iron sinks came into widespread use in the U.S. after fixture manufacturers learned to bond porcelain glazing to iron.

They were featured in catalogs beginning in the 1870s.

These were often wall hung with tall backsplashes and wide drain­boards on each side of the sink.

Sanitary and easy to maintain, porcelain sinks virtually eliminated wood and stone sinks within a few years.

Glazed ceramic sinks followed toward the end of the Vic­tor­ian period, although these more delicate sinks were more often found in bathrooms where damage from a cast-iron skillet was less likely.

Before faucets became common, sinks were filled from a bucket, or more rarely, from a pump. Dirty water was drained into the yard or into a bucket to be emptied into the yard.

Sanitary sewers arrived only very late in the Vic­tor­ian era.

Sanitary Sewers

Prior to the middle of the 19th century, most American cities east of the Mississippi had some sort of primitive sewers to supplement cesspools and outhouses, both of which were common.

These sewers were what are now called "combined systems" in which both stormwater and wastewater were diverted to nearby streams or rivers. Often these were a hodgepodge of privately owned systems, sometimes just a pipeline of hollowed-out logs.

By the middle years of the 19th century, it was clear to urban planners that improvements were needed.

The rapidly developing germ theory of disease led to growing awareness of how many illnesses were transmitted by pathogens in drinking water.

This better understanding led to the "hygiene movement" for better overall sanitation including improved disposal of sewage to avoid water contamination.

Major efforts to clean up American cities and install safe water and sewer systems were soon underway. The year 1850 saw the beginning of large sewer projects.

Chicago's ambitious plan to build a comprehensive system of sewers to move stormwater and waste into the Chicago River required the entire city to be raised as much as fifteen feet to allow the sewers to freely drain by gravity, a massive undertaking even with an 1850 population of a mere 30,000.

The Chicago River, however, proved to be unsuitable as a drain for the city's waste. It discharged into Lake Michigan from which Chicago also drew its drinking water.

The problem was revealed unmistakeably when in 1885 an unusually heavy rainstorm resulted in sewage being flushed far enough out into Lake Michigan to reach the city's intakes of freshwater.

Con­tam­i­nat­ed drinking water caused typhoid and cholera outbreaks that killed over 10% of the city's population, then over half a million.

The solution was to reverse the course of the Chicago River so that it flowed away from Lake Michigan and into the Des Plaines River to be ultimately flushed into the Mississippi River.

The project started in 1897 and was completed three years later – an astoundingly short time considering the technology of the day. It required the construction of a series of locks and canals including the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and was the largest municipal earth-moving project up to that time.

The Panama Canal: The techniques learned during the reconstruction of Chicago's sewers helped make building the Panama Canal possible a few years later.

New York also started the construction of its sewer system in 1850 and built over 70 miles of sewers within five years. By 1902, sewers served virtually all the developed sections of the city, and even tenement houses began offering private flush toilets.

The New York City Sewer: New York's sewer system includes 6,600 miles of mains and pipes connected to 14 sewage treatment plants, the last of which was not built until 1986 to treat raw sewage that had previously flowed into the Hudson River, resulting in massive pollution.

Most early sewer pipes were made of wood. They came in two styles: stave style, made by pressing beveled boards together with steel banding (similar to how wooden barrels are made), or hollowed-out logs.

Wood pipes were installed across the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They were surprizingly durable, many lasting well over 100 years before being replaced.

Philadelphia's first sanitary sewer was constructed with hollowed-out spruce logs. These were replaced with cast iron pipes in the early 1800s.

Cast iron had a high risk of corrosion, however, so different coatings were developed to extend the life of the pipes. One of the most successful was concrete used to line the inside of cast iron pipe, a technique still widely used today.

Waste Treatment

Treatment to remove the impurities from sewer water was, however, in its infancy.

In smaller towns and cities, discharge into nearby streams and rivers was widely considered to be a sufficient treatment due to the dilution of the sewage in the larger volume of flowing water combined with natural processes of decontamination.

In larger urban areas, however, the amount of sewage discharge soon overwhelmed the ability of nature to digest contaminants.

Sewer Farms

One of the earliest solutions tried was sewer farming in which wastewater was used to fertilize surrounding farmland. The method was widespread in the arid West where water was relatively scarce and large acreages of suitable land were available.

Many cities in California including Fres­no and Pa­sa­de­na had extensive sew­age farms as did Salt Lake City, Utah.

However, by the 1930s an increased focus on food hygiene, urban growth, and widespread objection to the odor of raw sewage drifting on the wind put an end to most sewer farming.

The practice has not entirely died out, however. Many communities in the Mid­west and Cal­i­for­nia still dispose of de-odorized and treated sewer sludge by using it for fertilizer.

Our town, Lin­coln, Ne­bras­ka uses treated sludge to fertilize the extensive farmland owned by the city.

The crops produced on the land are sold and profits used to offset the cost of wastewater treatment, one of the reasons that Lincoln water and sewer services are some of the least expensive in the Nation.

Another is the use of the methane generated by waste treatment as a source of renewable fuel used by the city-owned Lincoln Electric System to generate electricity since 1991.

Advances in Waste Treatment

By the end of the 19th century, advances in microbiology lead to new processes for the treatment of wastewater.

Coney Island, New York began treating sewage in 1887 using chemical precipitation, a process of adding lime to absorb harmful pollutants, converting them to solid precipitates that settled at the bottom of a pool leaving the water relatively clear.

Experiments conducted in Law­rence, Mass­a­chu­setts in 1912 using aerobic micro-organisms led to the discovery in 1914 by two Brit­ish engineers, Ed­ward Ard­ern and Wil­liam T. Lock­ett, of activated sludge which a was much less expensive method of precipitating solids.

The first plant in the U. S. to use the process was built in San Marcos, Texas in 1916 followed by larger pants in Houston; Indianapolis; and Chicago. The resulting sludge, after drying, was disposed of in various ways, primarily for use as a high-quality fertilizer or garden compost.

The process is still in widespread use – as is the fertilizer.

One of the most widely sold brands is Milorganite®, a product of the Mil­wauk­ee Met­ro­poli­tan Se­wer­age Dist­rict made by sterilizing and pelletizing its sewer sludge and selling it in bags throughout the U.S. to home gardeners.

Other uses include spraying the treated sludge on farmland and golf courses. As early as 1925 the U.S. Golf Association was recommending using sludge as an inexpensive and effective fertilizer. It is usually diluted and sprayed through the course's underground sprinkler system at night.

The Clean Water Act

Even as late as the 1940s, however, not every community treated its sewage and of those that did, many did not perform secondary treatments to remove remaining non-solid pollutants from sewer water before discharging it into streams and rivers.

Growing public concern over pollution lead to the passage of in 1948 the Federal Water Pollution Control Act,popularly known as the Clean Water Act. The Act was significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972. The law requirs states to treat their sewage and provided Federal assistance to publicly-owned treatment plants.

Following the publication of Rachel Carlson's ground-breaking Silent Spring [5] in 1962 and resulting heightened concern over polluted waterways, the Act was amended in 1972 to give control over polution from treatment plants to the newly established Environmental Protection Agency.

Victorian Kitchen Appliances

A well-equipped Vic­tor­ian kitch­en might include dozens of appliances, large and small. Some would be familiar. meat grinder, coffee mill, mixer, blender, slicer, ice cream maker, and butter churn may still be found in a modern kitchen. The difference would be the power source. Modern appliances largely run on electricity. Victorian appliance on muscle power. … (Continues)

1. James Watt also invented the first device to produce exact copies of documents, pre-dating Xerox by almost 200 years.
His process physicaly transferred some of the ink from the front of the original to the back of a second sheet pressed to the original.
It was a commercial success and was widely used to duplicate documents Noted users include George Washington and Thomas jefferson. It was used in offices well into the twentieth century. To see the press in action, watch this video
2. The Shadwell works were opened in 1660 by Thomas Neale under letters of patent from Charles II authorizing him to "maintain, erect or new-build his Water-works and Waterhouse near the River Thames in the parish of Shadwell and to make ponds, pipes, and cisterns to take water from the river to supply inhabitants within the Manors of Stepney and East Smithfield."
A pump operated by horses was used to draw water from the Thames. In 1679 a second pump was added. With the opening of the West Ham works, Shadwell was forced to convert to the steam-driven "atmospheric" pump in 1750 in order to remain competitive.
However, its directors were not the least interested in supplying water, but rather in becoming a part of the highly profitable New York banking industry. The company immediately elected to open an office of discount and deposit – a bank in all but name.
In 1808, the company sold its waterworks, to the City of New York for $1.9 million dollars and turned to banking as its sole business.
The company merged with Chase National Bank in 1955 to become Chase Manhattan Bank which merged in 1996 with Chemical Bank and was purchased in 2000 by J.P. Morgan & Co., to became JPMorgan Chase & Co, its current moniker.
The bank was one of the precipitators of the 2008 economic Recession and ultimately paid a paltry $13 million dollar settlement with the Justice Department for its mortgage lending practices, amounting to 0.000541666% of its $2.4 trillion in assets.
For comparison, if you earned $70,000 last year, your equivalent fine would be 38¢. The government heralded the fine as a big vitory over large banks.
5. Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring virtually created the grassroots environmental movement, led to the founding of the En­vir­on­mental De­fense Fund in 1967, the formation of the En­vir­on­mental Pro­tec­tion Agen­cy in 1970 by executive order, and to the passage of seminal environmental legislation including the 1972 Federal Insecti­cide, Fungi­cide, and Ro­denti­cide Act, and 1972 amendements to the Clean Wa­ter Act that increased Federal enforcment powers and turned responsibility for enforcment of sewage treatment over to the EPA.
Carson's was neither the first nor the last exposé that finally compelled an habitually tardy Congress to take remedial action.

Rev. 11/01/23