Irons may seem to have a utilitarian appeal but the ones in the possession of the Delaware County Historical Society were once part of a display on a local inn’s sun porch.
Prominent businessman Fredrick M. Simons had the Strath Haven Inn built from 1893-94 on the grounds of where the Strath Haven condominiums stand today. At the time, the inn was a popular destination for city residents who wanted an escape from Philadelphia.
In 1913, the Yale Avenue inn was bought by Frank M. Scheibley, who was a collector and had many items, including the irons, on display on the inn’s sun porch.
Later, John A. and Jeanne MacGregor Dodds of Detroit, Mich. purchased the inn . It was through the Dodds that the Delaware County Historical Society acquired this collection of irons on July 17, 1959.
Irons have a long history, dating back thousands of years when flat rocks were first used to smooth out wrinkles in cloth. Those in the DCHS collection are known as sad irons or smoothing irons.
Many needed to have cloths wrapped around the handle to protect the woman using it from heat. Later, cooler wooden handles were installed, and asbestos irons were introduced. Asbestos irons had a compartment which opened to fill with asbestos that kept the heat concentrated in the bottom part of the iron, rather than in the handle.
Often, two irons were used simultaneously to keep the ironing efficient. One was heated on the stove while the other was in use. The trick was getting the iron hot enough to smooth the cloths, but not burn them.
In the DCHS collection, there are a couple of goose irons, so called do to the distinctive curve in the handle, evocative of a goose’s neck. These heavy pieces were used by tailors in their day.
There’s also the charcoal iron, which has a cavity that would be filled with heated charcoals to reach the desired level of warmth to press the clothes.
The Strath Haven Inn iron collection is housed at the Delaware County Historical Society Museum, Library & Research Center. The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 1 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The museum’s telephone number is 610-872-0502. Parking is free on the society lot behind the building or across the street in the municipal lot.
Membership in the Delaware County Historical Society ranges from $10 for students, $27 for individuals to $250 at the patron level. It includes free admission to the society’s Chester museum and library at 408 Avenue of the States, the society newsletter and preferred reservations and discounts for lectures and events. To join, please visit www.padelcohistory.org or call 610-359-0832.
These irons used to be displayed on the sun porch of the Strath Haven Inn.
At one time, a person would fill an iron like this with hot charcoal to straighten out wrinkles in clothes.