The Cross House

On The Hunt For The Lost Gas Sconces. PART 1

When the Cross House was built in 1894, it was state-of-the-art. It had new-fangled radiators, a telephone closet, a built-in ice chest, speaking tubes, and ELECTRIC LIGHTING! Yes, ELECTRIC LIGHTING!

This would have seemed a wonder to visitors.

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb, and in 1882 Edison created, in New York City, the first practical system for generating electricity for homes and businesses.

During the late 1880s and 1890s, cities across America rushed to build electric generating plants, such as East Coast cities Taunton (1886), Bath (1890), Exeter (1890) and Bristol (1893).

The White House was wired for electricity in 1891.

With such a timeline in mind, the Cross House was perhaps the first private residence in Emporia to have electric lighting.

Still, people were long used to gas lighting, and early electric plants often failed. As such, electric fixtures of the era were gas/electric combinations.

 

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Upstairs at the White House. The chandelier is typical for the 1890s, and features both gas and electric arms. Gas jets face UP; electric sockets face DOWN.

 

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A typical 1890s gas/electric chandelier. Such a fixture is likely what graced the Cross House. Sadly, the Cross House retains no original lighting. BIG sigh. Image.

 

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PARLOR. In addition to gas/electric chandeliers in the Cross House, I have been dimly aware that there were also gas sconces, too, as their tell-tale nipples still protrude from the walls here and there. Like with the parlor mantel. See the little dark circle on the wall just to the right of the mantle? Just to the right of the mirrors?

 

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Yep, that dark circle. Well, this got me to thinking. Did all eight mantels in the house have a gas sconce to one side? I write one side because the parlor mantel only had one nipple. There was no nipple on the left side. And what about the other seven mantels in the house?

 

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LIBRAY. This mantle sticks into the room due to a chimney breast, so there was no room for sconces to the right or left of the mantel. But, hum, what about on the sides of the breast?

 

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Why, yes! On each side. I had to cut around them to install book shelves. I would never have just lopped them off!

 

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ENTRANCE HALL. Another chimney breast design. Gas sconces on the sides?

 

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Why, yes! This is on the right, and is the only sconce with a cover plate. MOST curious! Oh, the corroded wall is dimpled wallpaper rather than mess-up plaster.

 

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And the left side, now covered over. I assume the pipe is still in there.

 

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DINING ROOM. Curiously, no amount of sleuthing revealed sconces to each side of this mantel. VERY interesting.

 

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ROUND BEDROOM. There were no sconces adjacent to this mantel, either. However…

 

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…over to the left is the round tower. See the dangling new temporary lights?

 

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They are hanging over the old gas sconces. This is on the right, and…

 

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…this is on the left. I assume the sconces were to light a dressing table placed under the high stained-glass window.

 

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The original plans for the round bedroom. See the round tower? See the center window? See the G to each side of the window? GAS sconce! See the word Chamber? See the G above the M in chamber? GAS chandelier! I have looked at the drawings a zillion times and never noticed the G’s before. You know, I love this kinda stuff.

 

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OCTAGON BEDROOM. The mantel has been removed to prevent water damage from a leak above. See the holes in the walls to each side? Yep, gas pipes.

 

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SEWING ROOM. See the holes in the walls to each side?

 

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Yep again. More gas pipes.

 

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LONG BEDROOM. Again, there were no gas sconces. Or was there?

 

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I measured to height of the gas nipples in the octagon bedroom, then came back into the long bedroom, measured, scraped away the wallpaper on the right side, and PRESTO! A plaster patch! Whoee! I love a vindication rush, and will take every bit I can get!

 

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On the left side, I chiseled away at the plaster, and presto! Another petite vindication rush! Oh, wanna see the back of this gas pipe?

 

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Revealed!

 

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OK! So, I now knew that five mantels (out of eight) in the house had a pair of adjacent gas sconces. The round bedroom did not, but had a pair of sconces nearby. The dining room, curiously, shows no evidence of sconces. And the parlor had but a single sconce. A single sconce? Hum, this got me to thinking. So I measured the sconce on the right, went over to the left of the mantle, and started digging into my FRESHLY repaired walls.

 

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It was immediately obvious that something was amiss.

 

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And there it be, the long lost LEFT gas sconce in the parlor. Well, this was such a big vindication rush that I needed to rest a moment on the divan.

 

I have owned the Cross House about two years now, and only now do I have an understanding about a cool original feature of the house: its sconces. Why though did the dining room alone NOT have sconces? No amount of sleuthing revealed their location in other parts of the room. So, a mystery!

Well, now that I get all this about the house, I suddenly feel compelled to recreate all the lost sconces. COMPELLED! Even though a week ago no such compulsion was in effect.

I hate knowledge. It just leads to more friggin’ work. And expense.

WHOEE!

And stay tuned for Part II!

17 Responses to On The Hunt For The Lost Gas Sconces. PART 1

  1. Well Ross, my plumber calls this the snowball effect. Last week had new faucets installed in master bath. The new ones are bronze but the original are chrome so guess what? Now I gotta change the shower and tub faucets to match. But it doesn’t end there. You see the hole in the marble shower and bath isn’t large enough for a retrofit, so I will probably now need a whole new shower and tub setup. Why stop there? Gotta add a new floor to go with all the other new stuff and oh yeah, lighting too! It doesn’t end, cha ching, cha ching. Lol.

  2. So ignorance REALLY is bliss??? Hehehe.

    Every time I watch “Meet me in St Louis” I think of you and the Cross House. In the scene where Judy Garland is turning off the lights, they are the gas/electric combos. Sigh… What a beautiful house! I thought I was going to need therapy when I found out it wasn’t real, such betrayal! It’s nice to know that somewhere out there houses like that really do exist!

    When I drive out to see my folks again (they live just west of Salina) I’m gonna go through Emporia and if I could, pretty please, have a tour of the Cross House? It wouldn’t be ’til spring, Kansas is no fun in the winter and I have to wait for the snow up here in Michigan to melt (we got another foot today, yuck!) I will keep my eyes peeled for a green sink or smokin’ hot vintage wallpaper to bring????

  3. Nice detective work. And you even got to tear something up.

    “Why though did the dining room alone NOT have sconces?”
    Because the chandelier would have been especially grand?
    Because candles would provide more elegant/romantic supplementary lighting?
    To keep the focus on the diners and the meal?
    Because with servants doing the real work and serving from the kitchen, no additional lighting would be needed at the perimeter of the room?

  4. This is incredibly intriguing! Dig in your walls and find cool stuff like remnants of original gas lighting. All we find are stuff like rat mummies and lots of debris.

    Are there G indications on the blueprints for the rest of the gas pipes you found for lost sconces?

    • I have the second-floor original blueprints, but not for the first floor. The former have a G for a chandelier in each room, but there are no G’s for sconces save the round bedroom. This is also the only room which did not have sconces to each side of a fireplace mantel, but it did have sconces elsewhere in the room.

      There is no doubt that the other bedrooms on the second floor had gas/electric sconces to each side of their respective mantels, even though no G is on the blueprints indicating as such.

      Drawings tend not be accurate, but physical evidence is pretty convincing!

  5. Very interesting. So did Emporia have a gasworks at the time, or did the Cross House have one of those self contained carbide gas generator systems?

    • Emporia would have had a gasworks when the Cross House was built.

      But did the city have an electrical generating plant in 1894? This, I do not know. If not, the Cross House would have needed its own electrical plant, although I doubt this.

  6. Technically speaking, Edison didn’t event the light bulb. In 1800 Humphry Davy, discovered he could make carbon glow, later in 1878 Sir Joseph Wilson Swan demonstrated his new electric lamps in england and later in 1879 Edison improved his invention. Later on, Swan sued edison and….WON! He later became a partner with Edison…Edison was a thief…sad to say…History is an amazing thing, that we lose to social media..

    For the nipples, I don’t “think” your home had sconces…As with electricity we have remote lamps, that run on cords, back before we had electricity and gas lighting was popularly. We had remote gas lamps, that would run on flexible hoses…With the wealth these people had, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had super expensive gas lamps. Here is one pulled from pintrest, that shows the hose.

    Even chandeliers had this feature.

    Granted rare and expensive these days, this one will set you back near $4,000.

    • Jason,

      I did not state that Edison invented the electric light bulb. I wrote that he invented the first commercially practical light bulb.

      The Cross House had at least fourteen sconces, as evidenced by the tell-tale gas pipes in the walls, and gas nipples projecting from the walls.

  7. Fancy yourself invited over to a dinner party at the Cross House in 1894. It’s brand new, shiny, astoundingly beautiful! Everyone is dressed to the nines, the staff has a superb dinner all prepared. But, the electricity is not working that night. Everyone sits down in the dinning room, and all the lighting in the room is on one wall. :/

    Or, the brand new, super sparkly, freshly polished chandelier, positioned above the table laden with china, crystal, and silver dinnerware is fully lit with gas flame. Now you can catch the eye of that dashing young fella sitting across from you, as you sit there all aglow under the gas lights.

  8. no wonder so many of these old behemoths of houses were lost to fire with that maze of gas plumbing running through all the framework and filled with deLIGHTfully flammamble city gas.

    • I think candles and fireplaces were a lot more dangerous than gas lights, although carelessness could well cause poisoning and explosions (turning the gas on without lighting it). Portable gas lamps could start fires too though I guess, or sconces too close to draperies.

  9. I share your love of old lighting and have been collecting them for 30 years now. Some are converted gas, others gas/electric and still others early electric. Most of mine are mission and arts and crafts but I also have some beaux arts and art nouveau fixtures. I have probably a hundred extra fixtures that I am in the process of slowly working on but I am also in the process of an extensive repaint of my 1910 Tudor that will take me years to finish as I am stripping the fascia boards and doing assorted deferred maintenance.I keep buying more lights although I have noticed increased competition in the last several years.I love your house and you are doing a wonderful job!! The colors are beautiful. I am so glad that that house fell into the right hands. I am getting ready to buy more scaffolding as well. I also have 4 stories to deal with. Between teaching tennis for a living and working on this house I get my exercise to say the least. Anyway best of luck!!

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