Heating the Old Fashioned Way

Minnesota couple warm up to vintage cast iron stoves

| March 2006

  • A collection of Round Oak baseburners
    A collection of Round Oak baseburners. Elaborate detail on ornate baseburners started out as hand-carved wooden molds. Nickel plating – not chrome, as many mistakenly believe – adds luster.
  • Two handsome pieces from the collection of stoves gathered by Bill McCann and Chrissy Nord
    Two handsome pieces from the collection of stoves gathered by Bill McCann and Chrissy Nord. A Radiant Estate Model 214 (left) and a Royal Acorn Model 142 (right). "Many of these stoves I've told the kids 'You're going to sell these, not me,'" Bill says. "This is a real family interest, with my daughter and son and Chrissy all involved in it ... they give me the drive to get it done."
  • Bill McCann and Chrissy Nord
    Bill McCann and Chrissy Nord (shown here with the Art Garland 25 they use to heat their home) are active partners in collecting and restoring antique stoves. "Chrissy is in love with the stoves," Bill says. "I'm so fortunate to have someone like her. She really fuels the fire."
  • A selection of Round Oak 14-inch heaters
    A selection of Round Oak 14-inch heaters. Antique stoves occupy a place of honor at the Bill McCann home. "My daughter asked 'How many stoves are we going to get?' If I had my way, I'd fill the entire house with old stoves!"
  • Regal Peninsular stove.
    Regal Peninsular stove.
  • An 1889 Art Garland cookstove.
    An 1889 Art Garland cookstove.
  • Detail on a Regal Peninsular stove built in 1879
    Detail on a Regal Peninsular stove built in 1879. Faces of a boy and girl are shown in the tile.
  • Collectors differ on whether the stove's finial depicts a gladiator or a knight.
    Detail on a Regal Peninsular stove built in 1879. Collectors differ on whether the stove's finial depicts a gladiator or a knight.

  • A collection of Round Oak baseburners
  • Two handsome pieces from the collection of stoves gathered by Bill McCann and Chrissy Nord
  • Bill McCann and Chrissy Nord
  • A selection of Round Oak 14-inch heaters
  • Regal Peninsular stove.
  • An 1889 Art Garland cookstove.
  • Detail on a Regal Peninsular stove built in 1879
  • Collectors differ on whether the stove's finial depicts a gladiator or a knight.

Time was, cast iron stoves were admired chiefly for the heat they generated. Today, though, collectors prize them for their beauty and charm. For Bill McCann, Eyota, Minn., it was a case of love at first sight. Introduced to the hobby while visiting a collector who had more than 40 stoves, Bill was instantly hooked. "We were there for five hours," he recalls. "I just got so tied up in it. I couldn't believe the workmanship, the craftsmanship and artistry."

Since then, Bill and his girlfriend, Chrissy Nord, have built their own collection of stoves, many of which they've restored. "It's turned into quite a passion," Bill marvels.

The pace of global warming would accelerate dramatically if Bill were to use all of his stoves. In fact, he regularly fires up just two, including one in the house (a Garland 25 converted to propane, making it a 30,000 BTU heater), and another (a Round Oak) in his shop, where it keeps 1,900 square feet of space toasty. Bill and Chrissy focus on two primary types of stoves: heaters and base-burners.

Heaters, what Bill refers to as "the common man's stove," are typically simple, utilitarian units with little ornamentation. Many featured foot rings (or "foot warmers") where you could prop your feet to warm them. Heaters burned coal, or with a grate added, wood.



Baseburners, in their day, owned only by the most affluent, were designed to be functional and showy, allowing view of the fire through mica windows on three sides. They fairly sparkled with nickel ornamentation and elaborate finials (the top crown piece) in brass, copper or nickel. Baseburners were designed to burn coal. If you burn wood in them, you chance breaking the mica windows. And if you're thinking of converting a stove to gas, Bill says, baseburners are your best choice.

Cast iron stoves were manufactured by dozens of companies, including Kalamazoo, Favorite, Michigan Stove Co. and Jewel. The Round Oak stove line, manufactured by P.D. Beckwith, Dowagiac, Mich., is Bill's favorite. "They didn't make the fanciest baseburners," he says, "but they're by far one of the strongest companies ever. They're the best-made stoves, and burn really well. Sixty percent of my stoves are Round Oaks. You're going to find Round Oak before you find any others."