On the corner of...

The old ‘Handy Laundry’ stove
Sun, 01/22/2017 - 7:30am

Ed. note: The Block Island Historical Society was founded in 1942. To help celebrate its 75th year, the Society’s Diamond Anniversary, The Block Island Times will be publishing sketches and photographs of some items it has in its collection throughout 2017.

The stove by the door appears at first glance to be some variation of a kitchen range, cast iron with a two-chambered firebox, from the days before the convenience of electricity or gas.  It has a small cooking surface, boasting two round lids, both removable with a handle, allowing pots to feel the fire beneath them.

Then one reads the words “Handy Laundry” in raised metal and takes a closer look to find multiple flat irons — the precursor of the electric steam iron and permanent press no-iron clothes — set around the “belly” of the stove below the surface for heating water for laundry more than cooking food. There are holders for seven irons.

“It was Clossie's” brings to mind The Spring House when it was run by the Mott family, headed by the indomitable Clossie, daughter of Hamilton Ball. She was of the first graduating class from a public high school on Block Island and she married Alton Mott, who built The Narragansett Inn. He died young, leaving her to run the hotel and raise three children, all of whom she sent to private school and then college, no small feat for a single mother. 

She was thrifty by any measure, no longer using the flat irons heated by coal in her later days but still overseeing the operation The Spring House and its sister, The Narragansett, and known for darning holes in the white linen tablecloths used in the dining rooms of both hotels.

It was Clossie Mott's thrift and hard work, exemplified by that painstaking darning, which had kept The Narragansett going through years of War and Depression and another War, had sent her children to school, and helped facilitate the family's purchase of The Spring House in 1952.

The stove had ceased being of a practical use by the time the Motts took over The Spring House and with it the laundry that served both hotels, but it remains a testimony to the work force, dating from the 1870s, largely women, who stoked fires to heat water to wash laundry to be dried by the sun, and kept hotel tables covered with white, pressed linen.