Historical Society of Battle Creek
The Entry Hall
The Entry Hall is the first space a visitor sees in the house and a good first impression was important to status-conscious Victorians. Even though the Kimball House foyer is not large, the walnut woodwork and the elegantly carved double doors with ruby glass insets reflect the good taste and affluence of the occupants. The Entry Hall and the adjacent Library are the only rooms with walnut woodwork.The chandelier, like others in the house, was designed to use both gas and electricity. The house was built in 1886, just two years after electric power was first available in the city, and there were lingering concerns about the reliability of the new technology. When they came to the front door, guests presented their calling cards to the maid or butler, who placed the cards on a tray on the hall tree. The etiquette of calling on friends and acquaintances was very formal in the Victorian era. Upper class women had specific days and times set aside for "receiving" friends. On other days, when the lady of the house was not "at home," servants frequently delivered cards.The hall tree, made in Battle Creek, included space for hats, umbrellas and a mirror to check ladies' coiffure before and after donning the elaborate hats of the period. A small chair was provided for guests while they waited to be received by the master or mistress, or for the family members to use while putting on or removing their boots. Portraits of all three generations of the Kimball family are displayed on the foyer wall. Pictures of the house and Maple Street over the years hang on the stairway wall.
The Best Parlor
In the late 19th century the Best Parlor was reserved for the family's most solemn and important activities - wedding, funerals, receiving and entertaining important visitors and showcasing the elaborately decorated Christmas tree. The Parlor was also the place where family heirlooms and souvenirs of travel were displayed. The family's most elaborate furniture and most prized possessions were usually reserved for the Best Parlor, where they would impress visitors. The Parlor was normally closed off from the rest of the house during routine daily activities. The carved center table is a Kimball family piece. The elegant blue and gold chairs and love seat are from the nearby Maple Street home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (daughter of cereal millionaire C. W. Post). The small teak and marble tables are from C. W. Post's apartment in the Post Tavern in downtown Battle Creek.
The Sitting Room
The Victorian family gathered in the Sitting Room for informal time together, singing around the pump organ, listening to music on Edison wax cylinders, playing board games or viewing stereoptican pictures. The children could read, do puzzles or do schoolwork while their parents read, carried on their correspondence, did sewing and mending or worked on hobbies. The major architectural feature of the room is the bay window with stained glass insets in the middle window and curved glass panels on either side. The Sitting Room is separated from the Best Parlor and the Dining Room by sets of pocket doors. In this era, before central heat and adequate insulation, it was important to be able to close off rooms to conserve heat.
The Dining Room
Dining was one of the grand rituals of the Victorian family. Evening meals were elaborate social occasions, featuring multiple courses presented with a bewildering variety of serving dishes and utensils. Food was prepared in the kitchen and was usually served by a maid or butler. The pass-through door allowed food and dishes to be passed back and forth from the butler's pantry to the dining room. The door to the kitchen area was kept closed, to conceal the noise and confusion of the working kitchen and the scents of food preparation, from disturbing the family and guests. The large china cupboard, displaying a variety of period hand-painted china, is from the Manchester Street residence of Dr. John Harvey and Ella Eaton Kellogg.
The Kitchen
The kitchen was the nerve center of the household. Lighting the fire in the kitchen was the servant's first job in the morning and the last job to be done at night.
The Bathroom
Widespread access to indoor plumbing was available in most American cities by the 1880s. Municipal sewer systems made running water available to the majority of middle class homeowners for the first time. The medical community in the late Victorian era was discovering the role of germs in causing illness. As a result, there was an increased emphasis on creating and maintaining sanitary conditions in the home, especially in the kitchen, the sick room and the bathroom. The sink and zinc tub are original to the bathroom, which was one of the earliest in the city. Originally there was no running water to the tub. The water source was a cistern (a large tank which collected rain water) located in the attic. Before a bath, water was hauled in buckets from the attic, heated on the kitchen stove, hauled into the bathroom and then poured into the tub.
Sojourner Truth Exhibit Room
This room was originally used as the playroom for Arthur and Frank, the two young sons of Arthur and Marion Kimball. This was a typical arrangement of the period, when the children's room was located next to the family Sitting Room, making it easy for parents to keep a close watch on the younger children as they played. The room is now being used to display artifacts and archival material related to Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883), the anti-slavery activist who made Battle Creek her home from 1857 until her death. The dress in the corner case is reputed to be a gift to Truth from Queen Victoria of England. Although she never went abroad, Truth (like many African American antislavery advocates) was well-known in England. The most important item in the exhibit is the small autograph book which contains the only known example of Truth's writing. She attempted to sign her name in this book, which belonged to a local school child, just a few years before her death. The exhibit also includes modern memorials to Truth, including the Rover named for Sojourner which traveled to Mars in 2004.
The Doctor's Library & Gift Shop
This room is one of the finest in the house, with the walnut woodwork and the simple but elegant green tile fireplace with carved walnut mantle. The Victorian Library was the male retreat, where the gentleman of the house could escape to read quietly in front of the fireplace, or smoke his cigar without fear of offending the delicate sensibilities of the women and children. The Library was also typically used by the man of the household to conduct the business and keep the accounts of the family. The large walnut bookcase, which belonged to the Kimball family, contains a display on the life and career of Dr. Arthur Herbert Kimball. His academic certificates hang on the wall. The wicker rocking chair, the oval mirror and the mantle clock, dating from the 1840s, are all Kimball family pieces. Family memorabilia, including photographs and their invitation to the 1893 Columbian Exposition are placed around the room. The small black desk chair is from the Post Tavern located in downtown Battle Creek. The chair, designed by C. W. Post, swivels and tilts back to allow gentlemen to lean back from the table and enjoy an after-dinner cigar without having to move their chair or being in danger of tipping backward. This is one of five Post Tavern chairs in the Kimball House collection.