The 1890 House Museum

Museum Object: The Inglenook

Architectural detail found in main hall

Meg Hutchins, Director

It’s what I think we’re so lucky about our museums here [in Cortland] that even if you’ve lived here your whole life or you’ve been here for an event or you’ve gone around for a tour before there’s always something new to discover or like the Inglenook you come back and you really take the time to sit in it for more than just a couple of minutes and really get to experience it.

Meg Hutchins

Museum Director, The 1890 House Museum

There are many interesting objects found throughout the 1890 House Museum. There’s a hair wreath in the East Parlor, large brass cranes imported from Japan in the Fernery, a unique shower in the master bathroom, and photographs of the Wickwire family. Yet there is one object that is part of the unique architecture of the house, designed by Architect Samuel Burrage Reed. I sat down with Meg Hutchins, the 1890 House Museum Director in the Inglenook to learn more about what makes this space so special.


Cortland County Convention & Visitors Bureau: Alright so we’re going to talk about the Inglenook. First question, what does “Inglenook” mean?


Meg: So Inglenook is an old English word or it could be old Scottish, or old Gaelic, but Ingle means fire and nook is a nook so essentially it means fire nook or chimney corner is another translation for it so basically an old English word for place to hang out around the fireplace so…


Yes, and that’s why it’s such a unique place and it’s a term that not a lot of people would be familiar with.


Yeah, and I think it’s interesting too that it’s derived from English but it’s a different word for fire than in English that show people that old English…


Doesn’t sound anything like today’s English. I remember an old edition of Beowulf in Old English and just thought “this isn’t English!” It almost sounds German.


And that’s why when I was originally thinking about going to school for Medieval Studies I thought oh well I’ve taken German and French so I could get by and then I was like no I couldn’t. (laughs)


Okay so that’s what Inglenook means, but what makes this… I mean not a lot of houses have Inglenooks, I think I’ve seen, maybe, a couple others, but what makes this Inglenook the focal feature at the 1890 House?


Yes, so I’ll back up and I’ll explain how it came to be in this space.




So the Inglenook originally came from the English architecture of the single room home or maybe the two room home so you’d have the hall and the bedroom. Our term for hall or hallway, where you would normally think of a narrow space, was not that. It was a whole room and you would live in that room. So when you did that and you had one fireplace, one hearth, and you did all your cooking there, and that heated the whole room. Well the closer you are the warmer you are and so, especially when it’s really cold people would spend more time closer to the fire and so the Inglenook came about as this architectural feature that would help cradle some of that heat and keep it there. It also provided seating for people who were going to be seating there anyway and so it was the focal point of the house. Eventually when architecture moved forward the kitchen moved to the back or to another room but the Inglenook stayed as a focal point especially in large rooms. For instance, in a large parlor in the Colonial Era, it might have had an Inglenook around the fireplace because when it was cold people still wanted to be around the fire. As it relates to this house, the Architect S. B. Reed was active between 1886/1887 into the 1920s and he decided somehow, now I don’t know him personally (laughs), was connected to this feature. It was kind of a popular style during the Colonial Revival Era of architecture around the 1870s the whole Centennial we’re going to do everything Colonial because we’re excited it’s been 100 years since the Revolution so during that time this whole Colonial Style is coming back.


Yes, it’s came back in the architecture too…


Right in the 1870s it’s [the Inglenook] somewhat popular especially in Stick Architecture and then it sort of dies away and then it comes back in the Arts and Crafts in the 1920s but between the 1870s and the 1920s it wasn’t really used all that often. So the fact that he [S. B. Reed] put it into this home [the 1890 House] and the Bailey home which this home was based off of in New York City, in the 1890s he’s either old fashioned or ahead of this time. And he’s taking a… I mean a lot of time you see Inglenooks and they don’t look like this [the 1890 House Inglenook].


Right and I’m trying to think of other ones I’ve seen that aren’t here or the Bailey House but even the Bailey House in New York City is different. What’s interesting about that one is that is actually takes the fireplace like the Gold Parlor here with the window in the over mantel and incorporates it into their Inglenook.  So with this one that I’ve always liked is that you step into it and the nook part is very apparent.


Yes, it feels like it should be in a library. Like it has much more of that feeling of being a reading nook. And you have the benches and you feel cradled in it and it has the dark wood. And the Bailey House has dark wood too but I think that yeah this one feels different. I did try to look to see if this [Inglenook] was sort of a calling card for him and that his two other popular homes that he’s done, he did mainly churches, I couldn’t see inside, they didn’t have photographs on the inside. He [S. B. Reed] was hired by a man from Bulgaria to build a house in Iowa and he was like an Industrialist and its stick Victorian and one of the only examples of it in Iowa but there aren’t any pictures of the inside because I think it’s always been a private residence. But it is on the National Register and it’s a cool building. He probably when from here to Iowa because I think he built that one in 1893. So I’d be interested in one day seeing if he continued this Inglenook and if it was something that he really wanted or that the Bailey’s wanted.


That’s just it because this [the 1890 House] was such a replica of the Bailey House that maybe Chester [Wickwire] whatever is good enough for Mr. Bailey I want in my house, but it is slightly different on the inside from that one.


It is and that’s one of those questions that only they might ever know that conversation.


But then I look at the photograph [on the wall] and it was obviously well used.


Yes, they used to spend tons of time here.


Right and it’s set up like another sitting area but even more intimate than the parlor.


And it feels more like a living room or family room sort of thing. It’s funny because when I talk about the two parlors on tours with the kids I say that the East Parlor is more like the living room because they would spend time there…and the formal parlor that would have had the plastic…(laughs) but the Inglenook reminds me of that room that everyone would hang out in and so it reminds me of the family room.


Right and this is the heart of the house. This is one of the first things you see either from the front entrance or the east entrance.




So with that being said and I mean the whole house has amazing architecture, what makes this in your opinion a places that people should come and see or revisit even?


Yeah, so for me I think it’s one of the more important or must see things because it draws that line through time which is really interesting. I feel like people really connect to it because they can understand it. It’s a functional architectural piece but it’s so decorative so it’s just a juxtaposition of the utilitarian side of it with the fact that it was made this focal point so I think that it really speaks to people. Also it’s nice because people can come and sit here.


Right, this is one of the few places that you are encouraged to sit and really experience it.


Exactly, you feel like you could be a Wickwire. So we like to encourage people to sit and take a photo here. So that’s what I think what makes it a must see spot in the museum because there’s so much architecture here you could just spend days and days looking at it all.


And you’re working on an architecture tour?




Okay so coming soon.


Yes, coming soon hopefully in the next couple months it will be up and running.


That’s great. It’s what I think we’re so lucky about our museums here [in Cortland] that even if you’ve lived here your whole life or you’ve been here for an event or you’ve gone around for a tour before there’s always something new to discover or like the Inglenook you come back and you really take the time to sit in it for more than just a couple of minutes and really get to experience it.


Yes, it’s really nice. 



Step back in time and experience the late 19th century. The 1890 House Museum is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays noon to 4pm. For more information, please visit their website or call (607) 756-7551.

Plan your visit! Open Thursday to Saturday 12-4pm 37 Tompkins Street Cortland, NY 13045 607 756 7551