A Major Discovery Involving an Annunciator!

Yesterday, Blair came to the Cross House for a tour, as detailed in my previous post.

Blair and his wife, Beth, own a big house built in 1900, so they have plenty of experience with old houses.

As we walked through the many rooms, we stepped into the kitchen which is, like most of the rooms, a ruin. Blair looked around, and then up. He pointed to something tucked between the ceiling joists, and excitement rose in his voice. I, too, looked up, but what was Blair excited about?


See the grouping of wires at an angle? THAT is what Blair got excited about. They meant nothing to me.


But Blair explained that the grouping of wires was not JUST any old wires, but rather call wires.


Blair explained further: “Those wires meant that the Cross House originally had a call system. So, there would have been like a half-dozen door-bell-like buttons in the house, so that the family could “”call” a servant from the kitchen. Like the call bells you see in Downtown Abbey, but instead of bells you would have had an annunciator.”

Oh! I knew what an annunciator was!


An 1890s annunciator.


So, Susan Cross could press a button in, say, her sewing room, and the little arrow on the annunciator would move and point to SEWING ROOM. (Or, a small light bulb would glow next to SEWING ROOM).

OK. I was now officially, tremendously, and fabulously excited.

Blair asked: “Do you have any door-bell-like hardware inside the house?”

Why, yes. Yes I did.


In the dining room is this. I assumed it was part of the 1929 apartment conversion of the house and never paid it any attention.


Blair was excited, because he looked at the wire connected to it and said: “This is almost certainly original to the house, and was connected to the annunciator.”

Golly. I had no idea.

We then ran all over the house looking for more wires. We found one leading to the octagon bedroom, but could not ascertain where it ended up in the bedroom.

And now I have a mission: Try and trace all the call wires laced throughout the house.

A noble mission! An exciting mission!

I had noted, sorta, these wires previously. They are thinner than electrical wires as they were part of a low-voltage system. I had assumed they were installed during the 1929 apartment conversion as each apartment had a doorbell inside, connecting to a buzzer at one of the entrance doors.


And it all made sense suddenly. Of course the highly advanced Cross House had a call system with an annunciator in the kitchen. Of course. The house was as new-fangled as could be in 1894. How did I never once think: What happened to the call system?

Ross is a ding-dong.

I am astonished by Blair’s discovery. And there is zero doubt that I will recreate this lost feature, including the purchase of a restored annunciator. The lack of servants be damned!




  1. Grandmère Louise on May 20, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    How wonderful! Information AND picture rail. What a splendid day. Allow me to Squee and dance a little jig.

  2. Annette on May 20, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Oh my, how exciting! You definitely need to have this working! Ross is going on an annunciator hunt, going on an annunciator hunt.He ain’t scared! Got his phone is his pocket and his wallet too!

    It takes a village to restore a house.

  3. Briana on May 20, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    I have one of those, and it works! Very handy when you are in the bathroom and forget to bring a clean towel. My house is actually the only one I have been in that has an original functioning servants bell system. I am amazed that those tiny wires have remained intact for 110 years.

    The only drawback is that the front door bell and the servants bells are the same. I cant tell you how many times I have accidentally stepped on the bell under the dining room table, and then gotten up to see who was at the door. I recommend you keep those separate when you restore yours!

  4. Jenine on May 20, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    It looks like there have been butler bells/annunciators on ebay in the past so you may get lucky and find one. This might actually come in handy if you are planning on having a B&B eventually. Hire someone who can wear a vintage maid outfit and serve your guests breakfast in bed when they ring?

  5. Bethany Otto on May 20, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    This is one of the most exciting posts you’ve had recently–I didn’t think the Cross house had any more surprises for us but wow!!!! How jealous am I now that you not only have a dumbwaiter and speaking tubes but an annunciator system! “sigh”

  6. Sandra Lee on May 20, 2018 at 2:43 pm


  7. Architectural Observer on May 20, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    What fun! This is a great example of how old houses yield their secrets slowly – parting them out in frustratingly sporadic installments as part of the continuing saga. Praise to Blair for the discovery (and gifts to the CH)! I hope he and Beth find a great old house in their new location.

  8. Cindy Belanger on May 20, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    That’s amazing the call wires are still there, and how lucky it was that Blair was able to identify what the wires were for. This will be a fun project.

  9. Brian A on May 20, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Fun and fascinating! But it’s almost hard to believe, with all the random bits and pieces that survived for 100+ years and made their way to Aladdin’s Cave, that the annunciator somehow vanished. Definitely need to ask Bob Rodak to check his stashes of stuff!

  10. JET Texas on May 21, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    You knew the house had speaking tubes. Who would have thought it would also have an annuciator? That seems slightly redundant.

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