Early American Fireplaces and Cooking
Photo taken at the Bull Skin Inn - Pioneer Village at Caesar Creek State Park - Warren County
The heart of the earliest homes was always the hearth.
The earliest fireplaces were simply places where you set the fire. There might be an opening in the wall or roof to let out the smoke. Later a smoke hood would be added to channel the smoke up and away from the room, and eventually the fire place evolved into what we think of now as a fireplace.
The earliest American fireplaces were fairly small, but as things became more settled, and there was more time for chopping and collecting wood, they began to get larger, up to 8 or 10 feet wide in some cases. They could be big enough to place a bench in, so becoming the warmest place in the house. There was a custom in England to have a small window in the back wall, and some early Americans also did this. Later, as ready wood became scarcer, fireplace started getting smaller again.
Sometimes a wooden or metal crane would be hung at one end of the fireplace to hold a blanket that would screen people from the cold. The houses of the American colonists would get so cold that water would freeze in basins, and ink would freeze up in the ink stands.
Originally all cooking was done in and over the fire. When ovens were introduced, they were originally in the back wall of the fireplace or to one side inside the fireplace opening. Later they began to build ovens as separate units next to the fireplace.