“Spring Cleaning” at the Lawrence/Dana House

January 25, 2013 § 2 Comments

Window in Susan's Bedroom

Window in Susan’s Bedroom

The Dana-Thomas House was closed to visitors last week so that staff and volunteers could remove and store the holiday decorations and clean the house thoroughly.  For this “spring cleaning,” they dusted every wooden surface, cleaned art glass, and vacuumed the carpets.  The week was probably much like the spring cleaning that was customary in households in Susan’s day.

At least once a year homes were cleaned from top to bottom.  Evidently Susan personally was involved in the process at least one year and found it exhausting.  In a letter dated December 22, 1918, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother Anna she describes a particularly trying time in her life:

My cousin Miss Lawrence…was taken very sick last Christmas night.  For five weeks I nursed her…and she gradually recovered…then had a relapse.  For six weeks I went over the same road night and day.  By that time I was worn out, then count the house cleaning, and I got down for ten days, but I as usual recuperated quickly.

One problem that the modern cleaners did not have was the soot from the wood burning stoves and the grime from the passing train engines that must have clung to walls and furniture in Susan’s home.  They did, however, share the challenge of cleaning the Wright-designed art glass throughout the house.  The team last week sprayed Windex on soft cloths and gently wiped the dust away on the larger surfaces.  They then sprayed Windex on Q Tips which they used to remove the dust from the corners of the designs.  We have no way of knowing how Susan and her staff cleaned the glass, but perhaps they followed the advice of this 19th century “Heloise” in an article entitled “Spring Cleaning” in the May, 1872, issue of The Manufacturer and Builder:

In washing windows, a narrow-bladed wooden knife, sharply pointed, will take out the dust that hardens in the corners of the sash…We find weak black tea with some alcohol the best liquid to wash the glasses.  For a few days before the cleansing takes place, save all the tea grounds; then when needed, boil them in a tin pail with two quarts of water and use the liquid on the windows.  It takes off all dust and fly specks.

When I read the words “narrow-bladed wooden knife, sharply pointed,” I shuttered and marveled once again at how fortunate we are to have so many original Wright designs still intact in the house.  It occurred to me that even a well-intentioned spring cleaning could have had a disastrous outcome at some point over the years.  I am certain that the members of last week’s cleaning team were very conscious of that legacy.  I for one thank them for taking the responsibility of sprucing up the house one more time.

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§ 2 Responses to “Spring Cleaning” at the Lawrence/Dana House

  • Nancy Chapin says:

    When we moved to the country some 50 plus years ago, I learned another reason for ‘spring’ cleaning which probably dates it to even before coal burning stoves. Spring rains ensure enough water in the wells and cisterns to clean and launder. When we first moved to the country we had a hose that returned the wash water to the washing machine to be used by the next load of clothes to save water. (Therefore one washed the ‘whites’ first; then the ‘light coloreds’; and the overalls and jeans with those well used suds.) I believe that special hose to return the suds to the machine from a tub is still around here somewhere.

    I quickly learned to do the heavy laundering in the spring and we had LP gas furnaces; so no soot as such.

    I do like the hint about washing windows with weak tea. It would be fun to run a test to see if it could out clean Windex.

    Keep up the good work!

    • susanandme says:

      While preparing this post, I found so many interesting stories and theories about the history of spring cleaning. Thanks for adding another insight into a tradition I remember my mom continued during my childhood. I still like to do a watered down version of spring cleaning when the weather turns nice.

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