We're getting ready to close on the purchase of a Colonial, ca 1800, and I am curious about a feature in the living room and dining room walls. Both rooms once had fireplaces; the fireplaces have long been sealed and plastered over. The walls are in excellent shape. But at the site of each fireplace, there is a niche at the floor/hearth level. It's about 24 inches high, 12 inches wide, and 8 inches deep. The niches are not inserts, but are shaped into the wall. (Sorry, I don't have a photo, but will post one next time we're in the house.)

Any thoughts on whether this was merely decorative, or was there a useful purpose for a niche like this?

Thanks!