After opening the fireplace, we contacted a local fireplace company to have them come out and inspect the chimney to see if it would be safe to use again. They told us that the small firebox size and the age of our house indicated that the fireplace probably was originally designed to burn coal, not wood. Also, new code requires chimneys to now have a liner. They suggested that we have a gas insert installed that would mimic the look of a coal burning fireplace. These inserts have come a long way. The “coal” is actually a ceramic type material that begins glowing when it gets hot, just like real coal.
NOTE: We finally got a new digital camera, so no more grainy photos taken through our camcorder!