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A 1965 issue of Old-Time New England, Historic New England’s former scholarly journal, posed a question that our preservation services team still hears from homeowners today. A reader wondered about sets of wrought-iron hooks found spiked into old plaster ceilings, speculating that they were used to support bed-hangings. These hooks, “invariably L-shaped with the shorter length turned up at the end,” were spaced to suggest the dimensions of a bed, the article’s author noted, but asked members whether someone could furnish proof of the original use.
Current scholarship indicates that these ceiling hooks didn’t support bed-hangings at all. Instead, they held slats of wood to which small items could be suspended, tied, or looped. Today, visitors can see these hooks in several places at Old Sturbridge Village, including the Asa Knight store and the Freeman Farm kitchen, where baskets, tinware, herbs, and drying fruits hang overhead on the slats.
Examples of these hooks still exist in several homes that are part of Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program. Often located in service rooms or nearby kitchen hearths in early houses, ceiling hooks are an important element of a house’s period character and should be kept in place or even reused.