Not long ago I was driving a carload of 13-year old girls to a sushi-making party in Brookline. (Aren’t parties different than when we were kids?) As we edged through Route 9 traffic, my daughter noticed a store called “Boston Shutter Company.”
“I can’t believe there is a whole store that just sells shutters,” she commented. We stopped at the traffic light and she kept gazing at the building. “Why wouldn’t the windows on the store have shutters?” she asked. Good question, she has the makings of a marketing professional, I thought. She kept musing, “Why do houses have shutters anyway? They don’t do anything.” What popped out of my mouth shocked the carload of girls and surprised me too, “New England settlers had shutters on their houses to keep out Indians.” The girls screamed from the back of the car, “That’s inappropriate to Native Americans!”
Wow, my short-hand response was a bit harsh, and I quickly added that I was referring to accounts I had read about King Philip’s War, a conflict between New England settlers and Native Americans in the 1670s. Shutters were a form of defense against potential Indian arrows. (By the way, look for historical plaques along Route 20 in Sudbury Massachusetts referencing events in King Philip’s War.)
The subject in the car changed to Adele and the current radio playlist. The girls’ multi-cultural exposure to sushi-making was successful and delicious. But I kept asking myself, “Am I crazy to have come up with that Indian defense thing?”
So I recently spent an evening looking up the history of shutters. I was heartened to hear that Colonial New England homes do have something called Indian Shutters. They are those lovely interior wooden shutters that fold into the window frames. It turns out that it is a common myth that they were designed to defend against Indian arrows, but the name has stuck in architectural jargon.
Shutters were really designed to guard window frames and valuable glass against nasty weather. Now shutters have become almost exclusively decorative. Shutters even have styles that match the time period of a house. Everyone is familiar with the louvered shutters of colonial and federal-era homes, they are the classics; but the Arts and Crafts period also had distinctive shutters. I love those flat-paneled shutters with cutouts, pine trees for example. They are often found on early 20th century Colonial revival homes that have Arts and Crafts influences, such as Dutch Colonials.
Recently, people have started to remove shutters from their homes or build new Colonial-style homes and leave off the shutters. I think that is a shame, well-maintained and correctly proportioned shutters offer the finishing elegance that many houses need. The current issue of Old-House Journal magazine has an article on restoring shutters.
So back to Indian Shutters…I’ve learned that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing but also intriguing. Take a look at homes with shutters and analyze the older homes that have lost theirs; maybe you will soon be looking for a shutter store near you.
Photo courtesy of www.thisoldhouse.com