Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Iceman Cometh


Old houses often keep secrets.  We have detected three windows that were built in our house in 1908 that later were replaced by exterior walls.  And when we moved in in 1980, we noticed a tiny doorbell button crammed under a kitchen window and against the back door.

 The button and its casing already had several layers of paint making it unusable, even if the ancient wiring still worked.  Over the years we added three more coats.

 During an extensive remodeling project, Dave Butterfield, the project supervisor for Kraft Custom Construction, removed the paint-encrusted doorbell casing and unmovable button.  Below, he found two metal contact points.  When he pushed them gently together, we heard a loud BONG.  He pressed it a few more times.  BONG rang out each time.

I know nothing about wiring.  Our front doorbell has four chimes that ring twice when the front door button is pushed.  The rear bell makes is a single tone.  Thus, one knows exactly which door should be answered.  The old-timers who installed the system sure knew what they were doing.

 Why would a house have two different doorbells?  Given the age of our house, my surmise is that it was used by the iceman, who periodically delivered ice to the back porch or kitchen for placement in the insulated wooden icebox.  The widespread appearance of electric refrigerators began in the late 1920s, and within several years the iceman was gone.  With him, I presume, went the need for the rear doorbell.

 The single BONG came in handy during our renovation project, which took place in the basement and at the rear of the house.  Whenever Dave Butterfield needed an answer or wanted to suggest an idea, the BONG brought us running.

 We could have snipped the wires and patched the tiny hole in the siding, but we opted instead to find a new button and casing and restore the doorbell in place.  After all, it was part of the history of the house.  Will it come in handy?  Will it get painted over so many times that it becomes nonfunctional? 

 Check back in 100 years and lI'll let you know.

 ----Fred Leeson

 Join Building on History’s email list by writing “add me” to fredleeson@hotmail.com



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