Annunciator! PART II.

This morning, I did a post about the dramatic discovery, by Blair, that the Cross House originally had a call system and annunciator. This means that most of the rooms in the house would have had a doorbell-like thingy. When pressed, this would have alerted a servant in the kitchen via an annunciator.


An annunciator. This would have likely been the size originally in the Cross House.


This annunciator (fabulous!) is too large for the Cross House.


And this annunciator is too small.


There was really no doubt about Blair’s discovery. But…where was the annunciator? It would have certainly been in the kitchen, but where?


All the wires converged at the top of the west kitchen wall, and vanished down a hole INTO the wall. There are six wires to the left, and four to the right.


The west kitchen wall in question. Would I find evidence of the annunciator under the wallpaper? I wet the paper to remove it.


Paper removed. Drat, the wall was painted under. But is that…


…a repair in the plaster???????? Could that be the hole where all the wires came through?


Why yes, Yes that is exactly where the wires came through! GADZOOKS! OMG, I was so friggin’ excited!


Looking INSIDE the wall, all the wires go to a wood block, and through.


I was then curious what was under the paint? Would the outline of the annunciator box be revealed?


I was surprised at how many layers of paint were on the wall. I finally got down to the first layer and no outline of the annunciator box was revealed, although if the box kissed the adjacent door trim no outline would be revealed.


The wires from the annunciator led to buzzers in various rooms, like the only extant buzzer in the dining room.


I went around the house looking for the tell-tale thin wires which would have connected to buzzers.


I hit the mother-load here!


A tangle! This would have, likely, gone to a buzzer in the sewing room.


From my search it seems that all four entrances had a buzzer.

A buzzer in the dining room is extant.

I found wires in the long bedroom and sewing room. It makes sense that the round bedroom and hexagon bedroom also had buzzers.

So, too, with the parlor, library, and perhaps receiving room.

This would have meant an annunciator for a dozen buzzers. Perhaps there were a few more, but I suspect no less than a dozen.

This discovery has been a HUGE thrill.

Thanks, Blair!

My plan is to run low-voltage wires to all the main rooms, and with all converging adjacent to where all the wires converged in 1894. I will leave the original wires in place. I have already created an eBay “search” for antique annunciators and one will, no doubt, turn up eventually of the correct size and era.

And what a fun day that will be!




  1. Kelly P. on May 20, 2018 at 9:59 pm

    This is what is so cool about working on an old house. The fun discoveries you make along the way. Happy hunting for your missing parts, and the thrill of finding them.

  2. Jarrett L. on May 20, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    I expect that day to be so exciting! Smallish (but none the less important!) Things like this thrill me when they are revealed in your home. If i ever visit i wouldn’t br able to stop myself from pushing ever little button. Best of luck on finding a good annunciator!

  3. Dawn Rocco on May 20, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    I wonder if the Mouse family might know anything? You did search the basement right? Funny they would save everything else but not that.

  4. Cody H on May 20, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    I hope you are a patient man.

    Good luck finding matching bells and buttons 😉

    I have a small set gathered, from two years of searching. These things are harder to piece together than hardware and light shade sets!

  5. Cory on May 21, 2018 at 7:31 am

    The annunciator in my house has 10 arrows on it. It’s powered by a 6 volt glass battery in the basement. It works fine as long as I remember to push the reset button on the bottom. If I don’t, the previously called location stays up and I don’t know where the next call is coming from.
    I was confused when you said there were nine wires going to the annunciator but you counted 11 or 12 places for call buttons. You can probably scratch the kitchen door off the list because that would be silly to have it show up on the annunciator when the door is in the same room.
    Did you look in the basement for wires going up to the annunciator? If there are some they may lead back to the battery. Mine sits on the stone ledge of the foundation between the floor joists.

    • Jackie on May 21, 2018 at 9:03 am

      I just had to Google glass batteries!

      I’m inking that they were incased in glass to show off the technology? But then you say it’s tucked between floor joists.

      I wonder if that’s newer than the cross house. The lights were gas and electric. That might mark the battery tech too new, but then a current is running to make the buzzers light up.

      I’m just thinking as I type, but I’m intrigued by your battery. What do you use now? What fits the connections and fits in the glass jar?

      • Jackie on May 21, 2018 at 9:18 am

        I’ve done a bit more reading. The battery tech is much older than I’d have though. I’m also guessing from what little reading I’ve done that the arrows that need to be reset are a little older than the versions above.

        This was interesting.

        Ross- in the comments she mentions the books she pulled that info from. You might find them interesting.

        • Ross on May 21, 2018 at 3:20 pm

          Thank you, Jackie!

          I love Matt’s blog!

  6. Jackie on May 21, 2018 at 9:08 am


    If you can’t find the antique annunciation that a perfect for the space I could see you creating ( having made) some sort of 21st century version. Not Amazon echo versions, but maybe a custom raspberry pie option with a light up display in the kitchen that is more or less a mounted tablet. I doubt I’m making it sound as interesting as it could be.
    I’m thinking maybe with documentation light the old door, but with the esthelic of your light switches.

    I would love to see you find a period and size correct option!

    • Jonathan W on May 21, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      While that would be fantastic, I think as Ross might. It was something original to the house, and thus, he likely wants to recreate it in an old/original style. Unlike the light switches, Ross wants something modern, as the house never really had many light switches. I, for one, would want to do the system in an original taste, as it would (to me) clash with the house.

      • Ross on May 21, 2018 at 3:19 pm

        You are a true kindred spirit, Jonathan!

        It’s true. As the house had no wall switches (or almost none) I want distinctly modern switches so as to protect the historical narrative.

        With the lost annunciator, I will not be happy until I find an early 1890s one as the house clearly had one.

        As for the call switches, I will temporarily install new ones as it will take many years to find a dozen antique ones.

  7. Mike on May 21, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Ross, here is a link to a catalog from the time period that describes annunciators and the accessories that were available for them. It might come in handy as a reference tool while you are restoring this feature.

    • Ross on May 21, 2018 at 3:10 pm


      Thanks, Mike!

  8. Dan Goodall-Williams on May 21, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    This is so cool. I would have been jumping up and down. It’s so interesting how people come into our lives at the right time etc. Just when you think you have discovered The Cross houses secrets another shows up. So much fun and more work!

  9. Karen Spencer on May 21, 2018 at 9:18 pm

    I love annunciators. So Downton Abbey and Newport. I enjoyed the links to the catalog and the 1889victorianblogspot. I have lived in my (smallish) 1923 house for 31 years and we still have anything that was original when I got here. Some doors are missing. I think they were most likely glass paints. But, I have always wanted to restore a big old house, particularly one with a tower! Maybe someday… Enjoy your adventure Ross!

  10. Ragnar on May 22, 2018 at 4:09 am

    If we assume that no wires were removed in the kitchen, only cut and shoved into the stud bay, we can do some educated guesswork about the number of buzzers. The minimum you need is one common wire connected to all buzzers and one individual wire for each buzzer. So nine wires = eight buzzers. On top of that you’d need two wires for the power supply/battery and two for the bell.

    If we assume a battery-powered system (i.e. DC) you’ve got the positive running from the battery to each buzzer, then a wire from each buzzer to the annunciator, one from the annunciator to the bell and the negative from the battery to the bell (or vice versa, depending on how the annunciator box is designed). Either way, unless some wires were removed I don’t think you ever had more than eight buzzers.

  11. Chad on May 29, 2018 at 8:18 am

    The annunciator has to be one of my 5 favorite things about the Atlantic City house! (Did you see the 300 or so photos of it that I sent you like 2 years ago?)

    • Ross on May 29, 2018 at 9:16 am

      I loved that house, Chad! Do you have an update?

      • Chad on May 29, 2018 at 9:25 am

        No, I haven’t heard anything about it, Atlantic City doesn’t have publicly searchable permit and code violation databases, Google Street View hasn’t been by it, and I’m still feeling shy about dropping in on the buyer since there was bad blood between him and my friends who sold it to him. Maybe I can knock on the door and charm my way out of that awkwardness?

        • Chad on May 29, 2018 at 9:38 am

          Also, I noticed some time ago that the page on Old House Dreams was taken down.

          • Ross on June 1, 2018 at 10:19 pm

            Hi, Chad!

            The OHD page is extant. To view old listings one has to be a Contributor.

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