Nfld. & Labrador

Think you know what a saltbox house looks like? Think again

The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador says what most people call a saltbox house is in fact a biscuit box.

What most people call a saltbox house is actually a biscuit box

This is, in fact, a biscuit box house in Old Perlican. (Submitted by Eugene Howell )

If you have dreams of renovating an old saltbox house and living by the ocean, you may need to re-visit that mental image.

Chances are what you call a saltbox house is, in fact, a biscuit box house. If you've never heard of a biscuit box, you're not alone.

Jerry Dick with the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador says it's a common mistake, but one they're trying to correct.

"I think there's a tendency to refer to every house built before 1900 as a saltbox," Dick said. "Or any older timber or wood framed building."

Dick said saltboxes have a very specific architecture.

Commonly built between 1800 and 1850, these houses would have two stories in the front but one in the back, giving it an uneven roof that was steeper one side. 

The name comes from the lidded box people traditionally used to store salt and they would have been some of the earliest forms of wooden houses built in the province.

The provincial heritage foundation wants to set the record straight on salt box houses. (Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador/Facebook)

Biscuit box houses came later. Named after the rectangular boxes used to ship hard biscuits, they are two-storey houses with gentle sloped roofs.

The name saltbox may be commonly used, but finding an actual saltbox home is becoming more rare.

"Somebody asked us the question how many saltboxes are left in the province," Dick said. "We started to [think] that it may even just be a handful."

Dick attributes much of this to age. Built out of wood more than a century ago, many original saltboxes would have collapsed or been torn down long ago.

Others, like an old house on the archeological site in Cupids, were altered over the years.

Jerry Dick, the executive director of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Paula Gale/CBC)

"There was a house on site that had a very low sloped roof," Dick said. "When we looked at it, we could actually see the old roof line and discovered it was in fact a saltbox."

To help people learn the difference between saltboxes and biscuit boxes, the foundation made a tongue in cheek Facebook post that's gotten a lot of attention.

While it was meant to be a little fun, Dick says it serves another purpose as well: to raise awareness about Newfoundland and Labrador's early architecture and convince property owners actual saltbox houses are worth preserving.

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