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Home Keeping 101: Spring Cleaning with Historical Significance

The domestic arts, home keeping, housekeeping, even home economics, parlay both comfort, and drudgery to many of us. Our forefathers (and mothers!) were admired for their resourceful and practical know-how for “keeping” their homes, houses, cabins, shacks, tents, teepees - prideful abodes in which they loved, nourished, grieved, rejoiced, entertained, contemplated, and worshiped. This year, F.H. Gillingham & Sons celebrates their 130th anniversary – in the business of food, housewares, clothing, books, toys, wine & beer, hardware, and of course, cleaning products and supplies you simply cannot live without.

Some showstoppers we are honored to shared historical significance with:

Kirk’s Castile Soap Since 1839
The founder of Kirk’s Castile Soap, James S. Kirk, hailed from Glasgow, Scotland. Kirk’s father, a shipbuilder and engineer, migrated with his family to Canada. As a young adult, Kirk showed a keen interest in soap and candle manufacturing. Soon after marrying, he was inspired to create the James S. Kirk & Company in Utica, New York. As the parents of seven sons, a Kirk family business was certainly in the cards. James S. Kirk and his family lived in Illinois until his death in 1886 (a key year for yours truly!). Kirk’s Castile Soap is still going strong today with its hypoallergenic-all-natural-coconut oil-infused-super lathering formula. Find it at our store’s spring cleaning displays and our shelves – in the barn area of F.H. Gillingham & Sons.

Fels Naptha Soap Since 1861
A true household staple, Fels Naptha weaves a tangled web of history, but we’ll get to the point. The story began in 1861 in North Carolina. Benzene solvent, also known as Naptha, was prominent in this product - a unique ingredient that dissolved grease and cleaned to a sparkle all surfaces it was introduced to. Many home remedies relied on this soap – from skin rashes (not today, though), to laundry uses, even as a natural tree pesticide. As mentioned, this soap is more of a laundry soap, not to be used for bathing. With a beautiful presentation of a wrapper, basic with their historic logo, this product is housed in galvanized pails throughout Gillingham’s store. An antique version is on display in our spring window display.

Bon Ami Since 1886
In the late 19th century, in New England mines, quartz, interlaced with feldspar (another mineralized quartz), was an important ingredient in the formulation of scouring soaps. In comes J.T. Robertson, in collaboration with Gurdon Hicks Childs, who owned a gristmill. The feldspar, ground to a fine powder, was mixed with liquid soap, cured, and cut into soap cakes. In 1890, the son and nephew of Childs formed the company of Childs and Childs, the exclusive agent for Bon Ami Cleanser, coined as America’s oldest natural home cleaner. A Gillingham’s cleaning staple, also celebrating their 130th anniversary this year, Bon Ami, with its gold and red label, adorns our curio cabinet of household cleaners, and is the star of one of our window displays.

In addition to these historic cleaners at F.H. Gillingham & Sons, you will find other tried-and-true household helpers, including: Zud, Twinkle Polish, Lava Soap, Barkeeper’s Friend, and other notable names New Englanders will recognize. Fast-forward to today’s additions: we rely on Mrs. Meyer’s to make our cleaning enjoyable, fragrantly, with Basil, Rosemary, Bluebell, Lemon Verbena – scents that invoke happiness to those who “like to clean.” Stonewall Kitchen’s – Maine Home Keeping products – entice us with color and aromas (Coastal Breeze, anyone?); Method gives us a purpose and a product for everything from our hands, to dishes, to that fingerprint-laden stainless steel refrigerator. Environmentally friendly, Seventh Generation presents plant-friendly cleaners and soaps that are safe and reliable – for your seven generations to come! Last, but not least, Vermont Soap showcases a castile soap that is an exemplary detergent substitute, coupled with nicely scented options (we love the Tea Tree and Country Lavender), and it’s from Vermont.

F.H. Gillingham & Sons, located in the center of quintessential Woodstock, Vermont, welcomes friends, family, and visiting guests to experience our historic general store. Stop by once, and we promise to welcome you back - often. Remember, “A clean house, is a happy house.”






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