When the term "saltbox" comes up, few people these days have a clue what it refers to. In the old days, salt was typically stored in a special box, which was known as a saltbox. During the early colonial days in New England, houses that resembled oversized saltboxes became wildly popular. To this day, it is possible to find examples of saltbox homes all around New England, including greater Boston and throughout Massachusetts. Whether you are interested in purchasing a saltbox home or are simply curious about this distinctive architectural style, Boston City Properties is happy to bring you up to speed.
A saltbox was a lidded, wooden box that was used in the early days to store salt. This type of box had a tiered design, with a lower section in the "front" and a raised up section in the "back." As you have probably already surmised, saltbox homes mirror this general shape. However, they were not deliberately designed to resemble saltboxes. Rather, these structures evolved over time. They are fascinating because they offer a very clear example of how necessity can alter the style of local architecture. They remain relevant because they continue to be popular to this very day, and they are easily found throughout New England.
Saltbox homes typically have a single story in the rear and two stories in the front. They also tend to be flat in the front, and they usually have a large, central chimney. Their long, pitched roofs typically slope down to the back. Typically featuring wood frames, these homes are a prime example of early American colonial architecture. Due to their post and beam construction, which usually comes from locally sourced timber, these homes don't always stand up to time very well. However, many early examples remain standing around New England, and you can find fairly early examples in greater Boston.
Contrary to popular belief, the saltbox style was not developed to thwart a tax on multi-story homes. During the colonial era, Queen Anne imposed a tax on homes that stand taller than a single story. Because these homes have multiple stories in the front and just one in the rear, it was long believed that they were exempt from this tax, and that this is why they became so popular. In reality, the reason for their development is a lot less intriguing.
Early colonial homes were generally quite simple. They usually consisted of simple geometric shapes, and their layouts tended to be open. However, in these early days, such homes typically housed more than one family. Indeed, extended families often crammed into fairly small homes. As local populations swelled, many homes were rendered too small to accommodate large family units. Rather than build newer, larger homes, families often compromised by adding sheds of lean-tos to the backs of their two-story homes. This is how the back of these homes ended up with a single story. Therefore, saltbox homes started out as converted regular homes. Over time, however, these homes were designed to be like this from square one. However, it is still possible to find early examples of saltbox homes that were clearly hobbled together.
Some of the most notable features of saltbox homes include:
• Two stories in front, one in back - Traditionally, the lean-to addition at the back of this type of home was split into three areas. There was usually a central kitchen with a fireplace, where meals were prepared. This area of the home also usually included a pantry. Many times, there was also a "sick room," which might also have been used during childbirth.
• Central chimney - Chimneys on saltbox homes are typically located right in the middle. They are also usually quite large. Inside, there is usually a large fireplace with a prominent hearth. Occasionally, saltbox homes have one chimney on either end.
• Doors and windows - The typical saltbox home features a large primary entryway right in the center. Windows are traditionally double hung. There isn't a lot of consistency in terms of how many windows are found on such homes. Not surprisingly, modern renditions of this style tend to feature lots of large windows.
• Long, pitched roof - These homes generally have long, pitched roofs that are steep enough to prevent too much snow from accumulating on them during the winter. From the apex of the second story, these roofs usually slope down to meet with the top of the single-story section around back.
• Siding - Traditionally, saltboxes are finished with wood siding or clapboard. Modern takes on this style may feature vinyl siding or other materials, but they are not considered to be "authentic."
• Timber frame - Houses like these feature post and beam construction, and their frames are overwhelmingly made out of wood.
Although saltbox homes were constructed all over New England, they were especially popular in eastern Massachusetts. Today, many fine examples remain on Cape Cod and elsewhere in the eastern section of the state. Due to their size, however, saltbox homes aren't usually found in crowded urban environments. As a result, they are not easy to find in Boston itself. Outlying areas are home to many saltbox houses, however, so if you are interested in living in a suburb of Boston and want a saltbox home, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding one.
The heyday of saltbox homes in America occurred from around 1680 until 1830 or so. With such a long reign, it comes as no surprise that they are found all over New England and elsewhere in the country. As people started settling more and more to the west, saltbox homes started popping up in areas like Ohio and Kentucky. However, to this day, they are most closely associated with the colonial era and with New England. Many well-preserved examples of traditional saltbox homes can be found throughout greater Boston and in rural areas of Massachusetts.
It should also be noted that saltbox homes are very simple in design. This is especially evident in their interiors, which were traditionally quite simple and open. Indeed, the first floor of a traditional saltbox was usually just a single room deep. The main floor was often entirely open, serving as a common room, family room or den. Bedrooms are typically located on the second story at the front of the house. Their size depends on how many are included. The more bedrooms there are, the smaller they tend to be. This is also partly what made these homes so popular, as they are quite versatile and can be adapted to suit many needs.
Are you interested in buying a saltbox style home somewhere in Massachusetts? Boston City Properties can help. In addition to bringing you up to speed about this popular architectural style, we can help you locate a beautiful home in the area of your choice. Sign up now to get free, immediate access to our searchable real estate listings. It shouldn't take long to zero in on great saltbox homes around the state. We are also happy to connect you with an experienced local real estate agent who can direct you toward homes that feature this type of architecture. For more information, call Boston City Properties today.