by Taylor Kirchwehm
Perhaps you visualize a practical Saltbox home on a hillside or in the Midwest surrounded by trees, and you figure that’s where they get their American origin. This is probably due to their slanted rooftop and wooden framing. The charming Saltbox shaped home features a long, pitched roof that slopes down to the back, a one-and-a-half or two story house that has been expanded with a one-story addition and a wooden frame. Envisioning their origins in the Midwest woods is not too far off then.
Homes in this slanted shape have dated back to 1650 Colonial New England. The saltbox takes its name from a popular wooden box used to store salt in Colonial times; both the house and the wooden box share the same gable roof shape. The earliest Saltbox homes were created by simply adding a lean-to addition to the rear of the original house. Sometimes the roofline was less than six feet from the ground. This addition was most often made into a kitchen, or “keeping room” in the center, and two small rooms on either end used for storage and a “borning room” for childbirth or illness. The exterior of the homes were finished with clapboard or other wooden siding. One of the most famous saltboxes is the birth place of the ever-popular John Adams, the second President of the United States. He was born in a Saltbox home in Massachusetts, which is now apart of the National Historic Park there.
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So how did saltboxes gain popularity? The Saltbox home has been theorized to have gained popularity because of Queen Anne’s taxation of houses greater than one story. The house avoided taxation because the rear of the roof was a single-story. During the Colonial times, though, dozens of people would crowd into these homes. So more likely than not the shape evolved from the need for added space, not from Queen Anne’s taxation.
Other common features of the Saltbox style home include:
- Two stories in the front and one story in the back
- Sloping gable roof with unequal sides
- Central chimney
- Transoms above the entrance
The Saltbox style has fallen in and out of fashion throughout the years, but if you look close enough, you can find saltbox homes almost anywhere. They are much more common in the Northeast than anyplace else. Wherever they are, they carry a strong trace of the past, of a simpler time. So next time you are in the Northeast, stop and marvel at one of the simplest homes inside and out, the Saltbox home.
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