…and did Mrs. Cross belatedly need a conservatory?


ABOVE: You are looking at the second floor of the Cross House, the southeast corner. Sorry for the dark blue patch, that is on the drawing I have.

The bedroom was, it seems, the housekeeper’s room. The door shown is right off the servant’s stair, although the door was actually placed a bit over to the west (left).

Then there was a blanket closet with drawers.

And a closet.

The why of this post is the windows. You see one at the bottom of the drawing, and it indicates two 30×30 sashes. There is another window to the east (right), and almost hidden by the blue rectangle.


But, the windows today are not 30×30. They are MUCH larger, I mean just HUGE, with each window having two 51-wide x 33-high sashes.

All evidence points to the huge windows being original.

This is the odd thing. This is actually very very odd. Whenever I give tours of the house I always stop in front of these windows and ask: “Why in the world were two HUGE windows in the housekeeper’s room?”

No one has been able to offer an answer, and we all depart the room with stumped expressions.

A week ago a thought occurred to me: Ah-ha! I might know the why of the why!



ABOVE: You are looking at an original blueprint of the Cross House, partial south facade. See the window on the second floor? That it what the architect intended. It was a good-sized window, and comparable in scale to all the other windows. But that is not what was actually installed, which was almost twice as wide. NOTE: The dormer, above the window and just to the left, was never built.



ABOVE: The windows in question. In the image one cannot appreciate their considerable size. But, I can assure you, this is instantly evident in person. Oh, and yes, the room is a wreck. In fact, all the rooms of the Cross House look like this. Some are much worse. But missing plaster does not overwhelm me, although missing trim would. Luckily the missing trim in the images is in the basement. Praise the Lord.



My Ah-Ha! moment was this:

THE YEAR: 1894

THE PLACE: This room in the Cross House

THE MOMENT: This room under construction

THE PLAYERS: Mrs. Susan Cross (owner) and Mr. Charles W. Squires (architect).


Susan: “Mr. Squires, I was standing in this room over the weekend, with a glass of lovely wine, and had a thought. Do you mind if I offer it for your reflection?”

Charley: “Certainly Mrs. Cross. I am always delighted to hear your ideas.” [NOTE: This would not likely have been true. NO architect likes to hear the ideas of their clients. I mean, everybody knows this.]

Susan: “Well, I was worried about all my exotic plants. They are fine in their tubs during the summer, but I really need a place for them in the winter. This room has such lovely light, as it faces south and east. So, well, I was wondering if you could perhaps, if it were not any trouble, make the windows a lot larger?”

Charley: “Oh! I see! Well, would you mind terribly if I thought about this overnight?” [NOTE: Mr. Squires is actually thinking: Damn. The windows are already ordered. And we are already so behind. How many more change orders must I put up with?]

Mr. Squires smiles pleasantly at Mrs. Cross.



Mrs. Cross got her windows. And a much chagrined housekeeper was kicked upstairs to the expansive third-flloor attic.

While I have no proof as to this exchange, I am certain — certain! — that this is what happened. The room, indeed, would have made a wonderful conservatory. Such rooms were all the rage in the 1890s, and it was common for Very Large Houses to have a conservatory.



Ok, I might be wrong about all the above. Perhaps Mr. Squires had two huge windows left over from another job, and slipped them into the housekeeper’s room.

We will likely never know the why of the why.

Anyway, I really love my very small room with the very large windows. I often look at the windows, smile, and think: What is your story?


  1. Meg@sparrowhaunt.com on October 15, 2014 at 12:39 am

    If not a conservatory, my guess is that since a maid’s duties included mending clothes and such, the good light would have helped her be more efficient. In my house, most of the early oddities were from the addition of the kitchen wing (they moved and reused windows and such), did the Cross house have any additions/changes that would have had them moving elements around like that?

    • Ross on October 15, 2014 at 1:04 am



      The Cross House, by some miracle, has never had any additions.

      And while I can appreciate the value of good light for sewing, I have never, ever, seen a housekeeper’s room with such HUGE windows.

      That said, I cannot say that you are NOT right! I just do not know the why of the big big windows.

      Yet another old house mystery!

  2. Margaret on July 19, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    You mention that this room is in close proximity to both a closet and a blanket closet. I’m wondering if it could have been a winter drying room? Any evidence that wooden racks were hung from the ceiling with pulleys? Just a thought!

    • Ross on July 19, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      Hi Margaret!

      Any winter drying would have taken place in the HUGE open-floor top level. The entire top floor of the house is one massive room. Pretty amazing! And ideal for drying clothes and sheets in 1894!

      • Margaret on July 19, 2015 at 9:32 pm

        Ah-ha, makes sense!

  3. Michael Mackin on February 20, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    There’s also the possibility that the windows were ordered wrong originally and were used instead of re-ordering the right sizes

  4. phyllis johnson on April 7, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    I believe you are correct about the windows, but she may have them there because she had (a new term) light deprivation. If I were in Kansas during dark months of winter I would love to sit among my plants reading.

    You would not have need of a great cook would you?

    • Ross on April 7, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      Kansas has pretty mild winters. And more filled with light than dark.

      I do not NEED a great cook but would LOVE one.

  5. Suella on October 2, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Love, love, love reading every detail of the Cross House restoration. By the way, I also love that your name Ross is built-in to the Cross name…so perfect! I binge-read for days, studying every picture and every blue print. Couldn’t get enough. Now, I’m sure I resemble all expectant fathers of the 1950’s (except I’m female) pacing the room, but I’m awaiting each new entry. So to fill by greed, I am re-reading!

    Just wondering if there are any water stains on the wood floors in this room which might confirm the idea of it possibly being a conservatory. I’m thinking that no matter how careful one is, that would surely have happened and probably more than once.

    Thank you so much for saving this glorious house and letting us all come along for the ride!

    • Ross on October 2, 2016 at 10:15 pm

      Nice to meet you!

      All the floors in the house are circa-1950, so any 1890s stains are long gone!

      • Suella on October 6, 2016 at 6:41 am

        Oh, that’s right, forgot that part! So much for my idea!

  6. Glenn on January 3, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    I’ve been enjoying your blog for a couple of months now, and actually binge read it to start.
    I’ve only seen one good example of a conservatory from this period, and it was on the main floor of the house, and had drainage built into the floor (these rooms would get humid, and water would be misted on plants)
    And I don’t think it likely a conservatories access would be from the servant stairs… A real mystery!
    Funnily enough, the house I’m talking about was built in 1895, and has a lot of the same features as the Cross House!
    Keep blogging!

  7. Dodi on March 24, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Ross my dear? How close to the kitchen is this particular space? And are there holes drilled in the casement as I seem to see? My first thought was/is, given the light in the windows, this was the “kitchen herb garden”. My grandmother ALWAYS had some sort of plant in the kitchen window, even if it was just geraniums or Jacob’s coat. Most often, there were jars of water with sweet potato vines and other vegetable ends. So it would not be unusual to see such glorious light put to use for “wintering over” certain popular herbs when the weather was bad. Check and see if there would be a couple of trayed grills that fit those windows in your hoard of “whatsis” in the basement.

  8. Glenn on January 22, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    Curious… There is a house here called Dalnavert which was built at the Same time as the Cross House… It does have a Conservatory, but it’s on the main floor, the floor of the Conservatory is tiled and has a central drain… Your room has me very curious… A second floor conservatory is an oddity in and of itself…

  9. David McDonald on April 3, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    Hi. Just a thought, a conservatory was, while being a place to contain one’s plants, was also a Victorian’s way of “showing off”. Thats why these rooms were on the first floor. The first floor was the public floor. The 2nd floor was a private floor. The conservatory was a place to hold exotic plants that no one else had in their possession. Basically, bragging rights. “Come see my fabulous (meaning, EXPENSIVE) exotic orchid” or whatever palm or fern was all the rage. Therefore a conservatory served a two fold purpose-a place to care for your plants, and second, a place to brag and show off placing oneself “above” ones neighbors thereby elevating ones intellectual prowess. I know, stupid. But the Victorians loved to show off!
    I suspect those larger windows may have simply been changed because the Cross’s loved their housekeeper and wanted better lighting for them. Maybe he/she had some sort of medical condition? Perhaps.

    • Ross on April 3, 2020 at 10:29 pm

      Hi, David.

      As I mentioned, I mostly suspect that the architect simply had two huge windows left over from another job.

  10. MJG on September 10, 2020 at 6:34 am

    Moderator can you delete my post above and replace with this. Voice type screwed it up

    This is not always correct David. Not everything in the Victorian era was about showing off either. Conservatories were also on second floors of homes as well first floor for some homes. Remember houses were custom design for personal needs. So if this particular lady loved ferns she could have had a fernery installed in the second floor for her own needs. Conservatories also didn’t need drains in the floors and tile floors. Some rooms in architectural plans are called conservatory and they’re simply what we were just called today is a sunroom. Attached is a link to a house with a second-floor conservatory.


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