Saltbox Primer

For readers unfamiliar with the New England saltbox, here’s a very concise primer that should be helpful.

The first floor plan of a saltbox home consisted of two, large, front rooms: the hall, and parlor, respectively, which were divided by a large, central chimney column. The front entry, “porch”, and second floor stair, were situated in front of the chimney. The long rear roof (“lean toe”, in ancient parlance) allowed for a kitchen in the rear, and the ends of this lean-to area often were partitioned into a pantry and spare bedroom, respectively:

Plan of a typical New England saltbox home.

Fig. 1: First floor plan of a typical New England saltbox home. From Isham and Brown’s “Early Connecticut Houses”, p. 126.

On the second floor, two large, front sleeping rooms echoed the first floor plan, and were known as the hall chamber, and parlor chamber, respectively. In the rear, the lean-to roof defined garrets, partial rooms with low overheads that often were used for storage. One garret usually contained a stair to the kitchen pantry:

Fig. 2: Section of a typical New England saltbox home. The inset details a carved summer beam. Summer beams in Connecticut homes usually ran from chimney girt to end wall girt, so in this diagram, they’re visible as solid rectangular sections, just above and on the right of each fireplace opening. From Isham and Brown’s “Early Connecticut Houses”, p. 127.

The hall was usually situated at the warmer end of the home — the end facing south or west. The parlor, on the other hand, was deliberately located at the cooler end of the home (north or east), and became the main family room during the summer months. If the home had a cellar, it almost invariably consisted of a half-cellar just beneath the hall, with an exterior hatch at the south end, and a stair under the kitchen pantry.

Saltboxes began to appear in Connecticut in the very late 1600s. The first were conversions of earlier 2/2-style homes (two upstairs chambers, two downstairs rooms), in which the original roof was extended via a lean-to, with new rear and end walls added to complete the enclosure. However, during the first quarter of the 18th century, the saltbox had become well established as a house form, and new saltboxes were being cut from whole cloth.

Here are a three well-known Connecticut saltboxes:

[Thomas Lee House]

[Thomas Hawley House]

[Rev. Richard Mansfield House]

The saltbox with central chimney is a quintessential New England home style, an elegant and original invention of subsequent generations of housewrights who successfully adapted their traditional techniques and building styles to the needs of a new world.

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