Oil Lamps

Oil lamps in appalachia

The old oil lamps were put back in use again Wednesday morning, the time the electric lights were off in all the Pigeon Roost section for twelve homes. A tree blew down in the wind storm in the hollow below Sid Bennett’s home and fell across the electric line, which was 3 o’clock Wednesday morning and the tree was not removed until 3 o’clock Thursday evening. Several people’s lamps needed some new equipment such as globes, burners and wicks. One Pigeon Roost merchant reported that he had a complete sell out of lamp equipment by Friday afternoon. Several citizens also said they didn’t want to be caught again with no light at all at their usual time to arise in the morning.

U.R. Pate, retired mail carrier of Route 1, from Post Office at Relief, is reported to be very ill at his home at this writing.



The excerpt above is from the 1974 Winter Edition of the Foxfire Magazine which contains a compilation of newspaper articles written by Harvey Miller. At the time of the magazine’s publication Miller’s weekly column had been around for sixty years and was till being published in the Tri-County News located in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Jump over to the Foxfire website and poke around. They are still publishing the magazine and those wonderful Foxfire Books too!


Over the Christmas holidays our power was out for a few hours due to the torrential rainfall our area experienced. The girls and I were down at Pap and Granny’s when the power went off. Their house is dark anyway and once the lights go out its really dark!

Granny sent the girls and Pap through the house rounding up all the oil lamps. Then they realized the lamps were all out of oil. Granny swore there should be oil in all of them, but couldn’t say what might have happened to it…since it was gone.

The lamp oil was found and the lamps were filled. Pap noticed one of the wicks needed to be replaced. A flashlight search of the bathroom closet turned up a brand new wick which Pap quickly installed in place of the old one.

During all the excitement Granny kept crocheting and I sat on the couch, watched the proceedings, and listened to Pap tell the girls about how oil lamps were what they used for light all the time when he was a boy; about how everyone took good care of their lamps and kept the globes cleaned and the wicks trimmed just right.

I was reminded of a red oil lamp Granny had when I was little. I think she may have had a green one too. I said “Hey what ever happened to that red oil lamp?” I was really thinking “That red oil lamp Granny used to have around here would look really pretty in my living room.”

Granny said “Oh I  gave that thing away ages ago or maybe I sold it at the flea-market. I don’t remember for sure, but it’s been gone for years.”

The power was still off by the time the girls and I went home. Then it was time to round up all of our oil lamps (we only have 2) and see if there was oil for them. About the time The Deer Hunter got our oil lamps glowing happily the power came back on. But we’ll be ready for the next time right?

Do you ever use oil lamps when the power goes off?



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  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    January 22, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    Interesting story and comments. We always called them “coal oil lamps.” They were used at my grandparents’ house. They did not have electricity til into the 1950s.
    We called the globes “the chimney.” Boy, was there always a bunch of soot on them each morning.
    BTW, grandma would set the lamp high up and shield the flame with a postcard to
    make a sort of nightlight for me when I stayed there overnight.
    I have two of my grandparents’ lamps. I do not use them because I now have a severe allergy to the burning oil.

  • Reply
    Janice Stout
    January 22, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    I have an oil lamp which belonged to my Grandmother. I have no idea how old it is. She was born in the 1800’s. It is one of my prized possessions. I have used it at times when the electricity was out. Thanks for the story which brought up happy memories.

  • Reply
    January 21, 2016 at 10:57 am

    When we first bought our cabin in mountains of western NC, we had a lot of power outages, so I made sure we had lamps in a good portion of the rooms, either hanging on the wall or portable. However, I knew them as “hurricane lamps” because that’s what we call them in Florida, lol. So, now I have to remember them as “oil or kerosene” lamps. The last few years, though, we haven’t needed them quite as often – thankfully – but we’re not up there in the winter storms usually.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    January 21, 2016 at 10:53 am

    I’m embarrassed to admit this, but we have a several battery operated LED “oil lamps.” They look nice but are so fake. Not quite on topic, but sort of…I remember when I was a kid, during the blizzard of 1978, we had just moved from Tar Hallow in Ross County to Circleville, Ohio. We lost electricity for several days. But, being from the hills, we were cozy with our real oil lamps. What I remember most was that my Dad cooked all our meals on a “hobo” stove he made from a coffee can and a pillar candle. Despite the weather, I’d never felt so safe in my 8 year old life.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    January 20, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    I have no oil lamps now because of the cats, but I certainly have had and used them in the past, and grew up in a house that had them.
    When I lived north of Atlanta, GA, I had oil lamps for each room in the apartment – just in case. A Georgia Power employee lived in the complex too. One evening the power went off, everyone started calling him, I guess. Suddenly my phone rings. I answer it. It’s him. He says, “Rose, the power is out.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” He said, “But everyone in the complex can see that you have light in your apartment, and they’re all complaining to me about it (why does she have light and I don’t).” So I laughed and told him about the oil lamps. That was funny.
    Praying everyone’s safe tonight. Make good decisions. It’s going to be nippy out there, and in some places, a little white and maybe even icy.
    If you have neighbors who live alone, please check on them. If you don’t, probably no one else will either, and maybe they need help.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Do you ever use oil lamps when the power goes off?–Yes! Here in Oklahoma, ice is usually the culprit. Keep extra bottles of oil on hand as well to keep ’em filled.

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    January 20, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    When my family moved to the farm I was two years old. The farm had no electricity at that time. So our only light was oil lamps. My brothers sat at the big table and did their homework by lamplight. I can see an image of my father in his rocking chair reading the newspaper and his only light was from an oil lamp sitting on top of the piano. He was around forty at that time and must have had good eyes. Later he lost one of his eyes in a fishing accident.
    I kept two oil lamps here for when the power went out, but the last time I used one, after my husband died, I stumbled carrying it from one room to another and decided I’d better not depend on them anymore. If I had dropped it while it was burning I would likely have lost my house and maybe my life. But I loved the glow of a lamp. Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    January 20, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    There’s an old gospel song “Give me oil in my lamp”. I think of it every time I look at our lamps.

  • Reply
    ray j , winburn
    January 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    yep i remember using this kind of lamps if fact we had kerosene lamps until 1965, and my grand mother cooking on a wood stove that was some good food cook on those stoves…

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    January 20, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    The thing about living down here as opposed to Northern Indiana is that freezing rain and iced power lines take the place of deep snow.
    We seldom lost power up there but when it did happen in the evening or before sunrise, we just lit a bunch of candles. Time was that we would light an oil lamp but we’ve not had an oil lamp around here for years. Our last one went the way of a rummage sale.
    I bet that’s a good thing to do today … buy a couple of oil lamps.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    We used to have a couple of oil lamps but I don’t know where they are. When the powers goes out here I use a Coleman propane lantern because it provides plenty of light and will heat a pretty good sized room to boot.
    Our power went off just the other day but it came back on before dark. Somebody ran off the road and took out a power pole. That makes three times it has happened at the same place. Once was when ice brought down a tree on the lines. The other two were cars.
    It has been snowing off and on here all morning. I tried to head it off in your direction but I’m afraid its coming back this way again.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 20, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I just heard Pap and his brother Ray singing “Be Not Afraid” and “Neal at the Cross” on the radio. They’re called The Wilsons and I’ve noticed our Radio Gal plays them alot. The other radio guy, retired now, is Bill Younce and he’s got a 50 year career at WKRK. I’m related to him a bit, and my older brothers use to play with him when he lived in Nantahala. I love to hear him tell about old times.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 11:15 am

    We use oil lamps often. Seems Iike there is always a rainstorm, snowstorm or icestorm leaving us in the dark! Tipper, overnight we got 4 more inches of the snow you want. More predicted for Friday too.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 11:09 am

    I have two that I keep out and ready. Since I’ve lived inside the city limits (32 years!) the power has never been off more than a couple of hours. But I’m ready…just in case!

  • Reply
    Will Dixon
    January 20, 2016 at 11:02 am

    I have many oil lamps as I am an avid Aladdin Lamp collector. Each room in the house has a lamp which comes in handy during the fall/winter storms. If anyone has a interest in the club learn more at

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 10:39 am

    I love that photo; it would be a good cover for a Christmas card or note card. I always keep oil lamps; I love their beauty when they glow and one never knows when the lights will go out. I also keep a spare container of the necessary liquid. My lamps are the more modern ones, except for one which came from my in-laws home when they passed away. I cherish that one especially.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    January 20, 2016 at 10:36 am

    I have a pair of Port (red) and Starboard (green) running lights. These were oil lamps used by sailing ships. If sailors can see the running lights of another ship at night they can determine its direction of travel. A red light ahead of you indicates the other ship is moving right to left across your course. A green light indicates it is moving left to right across your course. If you can see both lights, it indicates the other ship is heading directly toward you.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 20, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Our power has been off here at the shop, along with 1600 others, for 3 1/2 hours lately. About 4 times that way in less than 3 weeks, so I got out my gas lantern. That thing gives off a lot of light, like two 100 watt light bulbs. I keep that thing on top of the frig all gassed and pumped up and a lighter in my pocket, just in case. And when the power goes off, I open my stove doors and get heat just like a fireplace.
    I was raised in the time where everybody used lamps, electricity sure is better, but it’s best to always be prepared. Families and neighbors were so much closer then too…Ken

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    January 20, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Yes, I remember using one at my parents home in MS after a tornado took down some trees and lines. I also remember my mother telling me when she was growing up in TN and MS, they didn’t have electric out in the country and the oil lamps were all the had to light the house at night, plus they studied their books in the evening by the oil lamps and the fireplace. I still have one of my grandmother’s lamps and I sure treasure it. We found the Foxfire books I think back in the 70’s and we purchased the series. I bought some for my parents too and they really enjoyed reading them. My daddy said that is just how we farmed, butchered our hogs, etc. Thanks for your article, it brought back sweet memories of mine.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I’ve always wanted one of those fancy Aladdin oil lamps.
    Not the kind with the Genie in them. 🙂

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 20, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Yes, we have two of the old heavy clear glass ones that we use when the power goes out. Last winter we were without power for about 40 hours. Light wasn’t the problem but we came perilously close to reaching freezing inside the house. Thankfully since then we have had a gas fireplace installed.
    I like the soft golden glow of the oil lamps. It somehow speaks about times past and gone. It has been awhile but we used to use one on the table instead of candles for a cozy atmosphere.
    We also have an electric lamp that is an adaptation of an old green glass oil lamp. We found it at the antique mall in Toccoa, GA. The burner assembly was unscrewed and the lamp socket screwed in. If I were to get the right size burner, it could easily and quickly be returned to an oil lamp. Both the electric sockets and the oil burner assemblies can be found online. And the Muddy Pond General Store near Clarkrange, TN sells several colors of oil lamps adapted to electric. So they are around.
    Good luck to the folks who your post starts looking for oil lamps.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 9:40 am

    I collected oil lamps over the years, and have several with two that mount on the wall. I must admit I have neglected with oil being old, and wicks beyond old. It is one of those things one keeps having good intentions but never seems to get around to. The laziness is partially caused by a good camping light, an excellent flashlight, and a collection of candles. Your post has prodded me to be more responsible, so maybe this is a good unrushed time to get supplies needed.
    My gr gr Grandmother turned an oil lamp over on herself when she was up in years, so caution is warranted. My Grandparents did not have electricity in their remote home. Unimaginable now, but they handled this with ease. A favorite memory is playing homemade board games and listening to ghost stories by the light of a flickering oil lamp.
    I cannot imagine how you keep coming up with new and interesting posts, Tipper. Keep up the good work!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 20, 2016 at 9:39 am

    We still have a couple of oil lamps…We used to use them on occasion when the power was off….I am sensitive to the odor of burning oil so I use only oil made especially for lamps…..I think I got bummed out from having the old oil furnace that was in this country house when we bought it in 72. We changed to electric heat within a year of living here.
    I usually use those LED lights nowadays….gifting them to ourselves at every chance when we see a different one we like…One can also set the ones I buy out to recharge if necessary…solar lights….We also have them here there and walkways, dog and outdoor buildings as well…Quite a surprise if you forget one is on the gate or building and it pops on when it senses your presence…ha
    Yes, times are a’changing!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….Snow is here, our doctors office called and cancelled our appointments…he couldn’t make it to his office. We were glad too. It was our yearly well check only….I was dreading beating the larger snowfall expected this afternoon back to the house. Uh oh…the better half just came in and the snow is changing to sleet, not freezing rain, but I think they predicted freezing rain for some areas….Most of our large Oaks on the driveway are stable hopefully!

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 8:33 am

    I still remember when I was 3-4 years old and Grandpa would read the comics to me. When I moved around to the end of the sofa to see better he would say, “Boy, you have to get out of my light.” I couldn’t understand because the lamp (his light to me) was on the mantle and I was not in it. I said, “Me not in you wight.” as I looked at the lamp. Many years later I realized I was between him and the window.

  • Reply
    Dan McCarter
    January 20, 2016 at 7:53 am

    I have used an oil lamp on our kitchen table for years. I love them

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 7:52 am

    I love the old oil lamps. I’ve been able to collect a few from an auction center near where I live. Love them! I enjoy taking the old dusty, rusting parts and cleaning them up new.

  • Reply
    Barb Wright
    January 20, 2016 at 7:21 am

    Yes,we use oil lamps. We have 3 large ones and two smaller chamber lamps for moving around with. They do a good job of lighting up the place. Sometimes, we use them “just because”..especially when our 11 yr. old grandson visits. He really likes to do things the old way!!

  • Reply
    January 20, 2016 at 6:29 am

    Yes, we do. I love the light they give off!

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