The Best Room or Parlor
This room is part of the 1711 addition, and the paneling presumably dates from the same time as the paneling in the Great Room, or 1733. Only the front or south wall was doubled in the manner of the other large room, while the west was has been left a single thickness. The exposed timbers – the chimney girt, summer beam, wall girt and sill – have been “boxed” in and a bead applied to the box in standard 18th century fashion. The paneling around the fireplace is warped by the settling of the timbers (note the shifting of the panels in their framework, so that each panel’s top is level but not in relation to the frame) and by the decay of the chimney mass, which has deposited a considerable amount of dirt behind the panels, bowing the wall out.
The two early shades of original gray paint can be seen in the chimney cupboard; a dark gray later covered with a lighter gray. There are also drips of the 19th century cream or white paint.
It was standard practice in middle-class New England homes to reserve one downstairs front room for “best”, closing it off to daily usage and children, except for special occasions such as the minister coming to call, tea with visiting family members or the reception of special guests. A “best room” might be opened at Thanksgiving, for example – not to eat in, but as a place for after-dinner prayers, or in a more secular household, parlor games and dancing.
On such special days, the parlor or best room might be pressed into service. There were few holidays in colonial America when this room was new. In New England, annual special occasions included Thanksgiving (often but not always in November), the Annual Fast Day (usually around the 19th of April), Militia Muster and Election Day (3rd Saturday in May), and later Forefathers’ Day (December 22, the anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims was a local holiday after 1769) and the 4th of July, but not Christmas. Only Episcopalians and a few others celebrated Christmas around here before the 1840s. Another function of the parlor was for funerals, which is why the term “funeral parlor” came into use. Until the end of the 19th century, it was up to the women in the family – or some other local woman who specialized in such work – to wash the body and prepare it for burial, while the men bought the simple casket at the general store. Visiting and services were both held in the parlor.
The Best Room was also the place where the family treasures and heirlooms were displayed, such as the tall case clock (“grandfather” clock is a later term), gilt mirror, family samplers, portraits and other prized belongings.
© Alden Kindred of America 2006