Cold Water Flats

by Jule Spohn


Growing up in Newark when I did back in the 1940's-50's many of the houses, especially the houses which contained two or three apartments, were what was called "Cold Water Flats." That is, each apartment had to make their own heat and hot water right in that apartment.

In our kitchen we had a very large silver colored water heater tank. When we wanted hot water we had to turn it on to heat the water and had to keep feeling the top of the tank to see how far down it was becoming hot. You had to make sure that you did not forget about having turned it on or else it could possibly explode. When you had what you thought was enough hot water you then turned it off.

For heat we had kerosene heaters in the kitchen and living room. The kitchen stove was divided into two parts - one with the four burners for general cooking, and on the side of that was a separate compartment with two heating elements which contained some type of asbestos-like material which absorbed the kerosene and which produced the flame and heat when lit. There was a large white container in the back which had to be filled up with the kerosene. On top of this section of the stove was a heavy black metal plate covering with two round openings which could be lifted up with a handle to check on the flames. This section was also good for keeping things warm.

In the living room we had a large kerosene stove which had a large container on the back which had to be kept full of kerosene. On the front was a little window opening which allowed you to see if it was working OK.

My job before going to school every day was to go down into the basement and bring up four gallons of kerosene and fill the kitchen and living room stoves so that the house would be warm that day.

Years later the kerosene stove in the kitchen was converted to gas, but we still had the kerosene stove in the living room.

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