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The room next to the porch served as a passage way separating the exterior service area from the adjoining pantry. While this chamber’s walls are plastered and painted, its ceiling and floor are made of planked boards, whose aesthetic impact ties the space to the adjacent rear porch. The choice of wood instead of plaster for the room’s ceiling may have been to prevent damage from water that could have seeped through the second-story porch floor, which rests directly above this service area.
In addition to simply connecting the more formal dining room to the other service areas, this room could have functioned as a butler’s pantry during the Wilson family’s time. (Oral history taken in 1969 indicates that later owners used the space in such a capacity and that the room once featured a galvanized sink and cabinets.) The chamber’s north wall features a window whose view includes the backyard (and originally included the kitchen dependency), which would have been helpful in coordinating activities between secondary rooms within the main house and the kitchen dependency. This could have been done day or night, as this room’s west wall still features a gas nozzle from the residence’s original gaslight system.
Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 2002.2.1
Everyday dishes from before the Civil War and during Reconstruction included a variety of styles and decorative motifs. Many popular dishes were manufactured in England by numerous potteries. This octagonal serving platter exemplifies a form and decorative pattern found within the archaeological records of all historic sites under Historic Columbia Foundation’s care and throughout other downtown Columbia properties. Shell-edge tableware would have been a style of dishes with which the Wilson family would have been familiar and one that might have been stored in its pantry.
Historic Columbia Foundation, HCF 2007.9.1a-b
Additional serving dishes often held within butler’s pantries included soup tureens like this early 19th-century English green shell-edged piece. Such covered dishes would have been used for serving soups and stews that would have needed to stay warm on their way from the kitchen to the dining room. This variation of the popular shell-edge pattern, trimmed in green, was less prevalent than blue shell-edged wares but has been found in excavations at the former Theological Seminary where Woodrow Wilson’s father taught.
Historic Columbia Foundation, HCF 1968.7.1
Undecorated whiteware serving dishes and place settings became increasingly popular during the later 1860s and 1870s, during which time American ceramics production was becoming more competitive with an industry that historically was dominated by English firms. Examples of such pieces are numerous within Columbia’s archaeological record. This ironstone compote could hold a number of different foodstuffs including fruits, desserts, or candies.
Historic Columbia Foundation, HCF 1983.7.90 & HCF 1983.7.88
Silver was a popular metal that conveyed refinement. During the mid-19th century coin silver and sterling silver was rendered into a variety of items that would have been used by middle and upper-income households in food presentation and consumption. As the Victorian era progressed into the post-war years of Reconstruction and beyond into the 1880s-1890s such forms of tablewares multiplied in forms, styles, and numbers, thanks to an increase in silver plating among manufacturers. All silver, whether pure or plated would have been safeguarded when not in use. These small spoons would have been used for such condiments as mustard and sugar.
Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 2001.5.45A-G
Integral to proper dining, table linens also would have been stored in a convenient location within the butler’s pantry. Produced in Belfast, the greatest linen producer in the world from the 1860s until World War I, these Irish linens represent the quality of fabrics that would have been used in middle- and upper-class households.
Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 1983.56.1
Accompanying other linens in the butler’s pantry, table runners added some color and design to dining tables. They remain popular today along with tablecloths and placemats. Featuring delicate handmade stitching, this particular table runner dates to the last quarter of the 19th century and resembles table linens that would have been common to meals in some Columbia homes during Reconstruction and later.
Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 2008.2.1 / Private Collection
Families such as the Wilsons most likely did not eat with silver utensils every day. Bone and wood handled spoons, forks and knives were much more commonly used during daily meals. While simple and plain in design, this tableware would still have been stored in a pantry although not necessarily under the same security as that given silver.
Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 00.310.1
Introduced into Columbia during the 1850s, gas was considered to be an advancement in illuminating streets, public buildings, and private residences. Immediately following the Civil War citizens often dealt with interrupted service. However, the fact that the Wilson family opted to incorporate gas brackets (wall mounted devices) and gasoliers (ceiling-mounted fixtures) into their home’s design indicates this amenity was considered a must for modern living.
Butler’s pantries typically featured storage for food presentation and consumption including dishes, silver, and table linens. However, thus far, no evidence has been uncovered that indicates this room had any built-in cabinetry. This absence may be explained in at least two ways. Such furnishings may have been free-standing. Or, perhaps the original built-ins were removed at some point and their traces have been obscured through later paint. Regardless, this room would have served as a transitional area between the private, more utilitarian kitchen and food storage spaces into the public realm of the dining room, located immediately to its south. It most likely contained a number of items used in both everyday living and for meals enjoyed during special occasions.
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