'An Abomination Of Desolation'

Hawkins House recalls task of spring cleaning


Life in the Rogers Historical Museum's Hawkins House -- built in 1895 -- tends to be seasonal. In the fall, the theme is usually mourning and turn-of-the-century funerals to complement Halloween. Christmas is celebrated in December, and Victorian weddings in the summer.

But spring officially begins Monday, and in the imagination of Terrilyn Wendling, the museum's assistant director, "Mrs. Hawkins and daughter Lizzie are determined to clean house. Taking advantage of the absence of son Frank, who is at the University in Fayetteville, and of Mr. Hawkins, who is attending a state Masonic meeting, the two women can concentrate on nothing but spring cleaning. And they won't have to listen to the usual complaints about misplaced papers and late meals!"


Spring Cleaning

WHEN — 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday through May 20

WHERE — Rogers Historical Museum

COST — Free

INFO — 621-1154

Spring cleaning, Wendling explains, was a "necessity in an era when wood or coal stoves and oil lamps filled homes with soot and ash all winter. There were no vacuum cleaners to regularly remove dirt and dust from carpets and no dry cleaning to maintain items which could not be washed."

But still the task was torturous, described by one early home economist as "an abomination of desolation" that "breaks women's backs and causes men to break the Ten Commandments." No wonder, when the recommendation was to begin in the attic and work down, cleaning the front hall and the kitchen last. Even the poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, "'House is being 'cleaned.' I prefer pestilence."

In the Hawkins House, it's all happening at once, with work in progress in every room.


"The sticky accumulation of soot and dust necessitated washing lamp chimneys, glassware and the many knick-knacks which decorated a turn-of-the-20th-century home," Wendling says.

During spring cleaning, meals took second place to other chores, she writes in the tour guide. "Supper today will be a simple affair of canned peas and ham sandwiches made with homemade bread."

Back Porch

Spring cleaning meant washing and ironing tablecloths and cotton or linen table covers, Wendling says. Lace curtains also were washed, rinsed, starched and put onto curtain stretchers to dry. "Of course, the kitchen and porch floors would be thoroughly scrubbed, as would all the woodwork in the house."

Dining Room

During spring cleaning most of the furniture in a room was grouped together away from the walls and covered with sheets, old rugs or old blankets. Wallpaper was dusted off, and windows and mirrors were washed, Wendling says. Wood stoves were disassembled and stored in the shed or barn, and carpets were pulled up, taken out to the clothesline and beaten with a carpet beater.

Front Parlor

Spring cleaning also meant taking non-washable table covers outside to be shaken clean and aired, according to Wendling. "Here in the front parlor the tables have been cleared and the covers are stacked awaiting cleaning. Wooden surfaces such as these parlor tables were polished with wax or boiled linseed oil."

Back Parlor

Like rugs, upholstered furniture could be cleaned of dust only by beating and brushing. Books also were dusted, as were picture frames, Wendling says. "Just to be on the safe side, men often gathered up all their papers, put them in the roll-top desk and locked them away from the inevitable turmoil of spring cleaning."


In the bedroom, mattresses were removed, beaten and aired before being returned to the beds. All drawers and wardrobes were washed with a solution of carbolic acid. Red cedar oil was brushed into every crack and crevice to repel insects and fresh paper liners were placed on shelves and in drawers, Wendling says.

The tour, says Wendling, illustrates that "spring cleaning demanded lots of energy and single-minded determination. A turn-of-the-20th-century poem warned of the spring-cleaning homemaker, "fly from her presence, dog and cat; fly from her presence, man and mouse: it is the vernal frenzy that possesses her, she's cleaning the house."

NAN What's Up on 03/17/2017

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