The Cross House

On The Hunt For The Lost Gas Sconces. PART 3

In my two previous posts I detailed the discovery of the lost gas nipples to fourteen sconces adjacent to seven fireplace mantels.

At first I assumed that the sconces were gas sconces, but more sluething revealed that they were gas/electric sconces.

Cool.

While researching the two blog posts, I realized that the Cross House may well have been the first house in Emporia to have electricity. And that is WAY cool.

Because it would be really difficult to add wiring to most of the sconces, I was thinking of faking history a bit by simply installing vintage gas sconces, but with a votive candle in place of a gas flame. The sconces would look fabulous flickering during a party.

But the faking part bothered me, whispered in my sleep, and nagged when I was driving. It wasn’t the votive candle conceit, but rather installing gas sconces instead of gas/electric sconces.

It seemed that in order to honor the historical importance of the Cross House being wired for electricity in 1894 (just two years after the White House), I had no choice, no choice but to install fourteen gas/electric sconces.

I really hate those whispering nagging voices.

 

So (drum roll, please) I will go ahead and install sconces like this. I fear for the cost. I fear for ever finding seven pairs. The plan is that the electric arms (DOWN) will be wired, but for the gas arms (UP) I will still use a votive candle. I really want to see flickering flames behind the glass shades.
So (drum roll, please) I will go ahead and install sconces like this. I fear for the cost. I fear for ever finding seven pairs. The plan is that the electric arms (DOWN) will be wired, but for the gas arms (UP) I will still use a votive candle. I really want to see flickering flames behind the glass shades.

 

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The parlor mantel. The red circle on the right is where an gas nipple was extent. I found the left one buried under plaster. OK! But how to get new wring to them??????

 

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I knew I could not bring a wire up from the basement because the foundation is WAY wider than the wood wall above. Thus, I had to drop wiring down from the second floor. To this end, I had to remove the base molding. The top piece comes off easy, but experience has proven the wide bottom board will always break apart in three horizontal sections. Which it did. Which I will now have to glue back together. With the wall open, I could see a raceway down to the first floor. (Circa 1950, new oak flooring was laid in the house. Thus, the floors are 3/4-inches higher than the base molding. And this is why the base breaks apart when being removed. Without the flooring being in the way, I could jiggle the base out without likely breaking it, as I have done a million times before THIS house.)

 

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I was intensely curious to look down the raceway. This might have been possible for a cat, but my human head was way too large. Sigh. Then I thought: My iPhone! So, I took a picture (terrified that I might drop the phone into the abyss). COOL! Nobody has seen this view since 1894!!!! The two wires at the bottom of the image date to 1894. The two upper wires were installed by the previous owner.

 

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I moved over to the left to repeat the effort. Argh! No easy raceway! I am hoping that drilling a hole through the bottom 2×4 will reveal a raceway under. Pray for me.

 

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With the discovery of the iPhone trick, I just had to look inside this wall, too. Looking UP. New electric by previous owner. No cash hoard, unfortunately. Drat!

 

Back downstairs to the parlor, right sconce. This image actually reveals something historically valuable. See the wires? See how the wires are encased in plaster? The plaster is droppings from when the wall was plastered, even more confirmation that the house did indeed have electricity when built.
Back downstairs to the parlor, right sconce. You can see the gas pipe, and electric wires above. This image actually reveals something historically valuable. See how the wires are encased in plaster? The plaster is droppings from when the wall was built, even more confirmation that the house did indeed have electricity when built.

 

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I released the wires from their 121-year imprisonment. Be free! Be free!

 

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Looking UP inside the raceway revealed a new electric box on an exterior wall. Huh? A bit of sleuthing revealed that this went into the porch roof for new porch ceiling fixtures installed by the previous owner.

 

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And the inevitable pile-o-mess.

 

And this is what it will be like in twelve more locations. But in four of these locations I will have to install metal conduit after chiseling away brick. Oh, I am so not looking forward to that.

What drives all this effort, besides madness, is the thought that all the effort will, in the end, be minuscule compared to the total work the house requires, and the reward will be returning a historically significant aspect to the house — an aspect which will be mighty pretty when I am entertaining.

For years to come, when recalling all this effort, I will smile when looking at the flickering flames.

 

15 Responses to On The Hunt For The Lost Gas Sconces. PART 3

  1. Ross, I want somebody to buy you one of those cameras that snake through the walls so you don’t risk dropping your phone and we get to see more details. Now where did I stash that winning ticket, hmm.

  2. I remember reading somewhere of an electrician that had trained a rat to run behind the walls with a string tied around him, then the wires could be pulled through using the string. When my boys were young we had rats as pets, one would come when called(R.I.P. Pongo) and another attacked and killed a wasp that had landed by our newborn baby. There’s gotta be a market there, maybe I could train rats and quit my day job??

  3. Ross – we live in one of the earliest electrified neighborhoods due to Mr. Westinghouse, and electricity was added just a couple of years after our house was built. On our all-brick first floor they chiseled out just the plaster to add electrical to the gas sconces, and I wonder if in some areas burying conduit in the plaster and running the lines down to the nearest outlet may be easier than trying to track down raceways. Either way, I look forward to whatever you come up with since we’ll be facing the same challenge on a smaller scale.

  4. Awesome! I am glad that you are going to go gas/electric with your sconces. I have a good feeling about this quest of yours to find fixtures; I believe that you will find them.

    Question: why couldn’t they be actual gas & electric, instead of using a votive candle?? Please enlighten me.

    • It is possible to restore gas service to the gas arms on the sconces.

      Possible. But VERY unsafe.

      During an open house, for example, a person could walk over to one of the 14 gas/electric sconces, and think: What does this key do?

      And turn it. Then walk away.

      An hour later the house explodes.

      There is no way I would ever endanger the house as such.

  5. looking at your picture of the vintage elec/gas fixture, it appears what i suggested in the last post might work. i don’t see how they did it in the old fixtures in the house as the gas pipe and the wires were run separately but the pic you include in this post means that the wires must run through the gas pipe. that’s scary now but then when the only covering on the wires was cloth and tar. so, how did that work anyway.

  6. on the vintage sconce you showed though i don’t see any external wires. i know they were separate in the wall but where are they on the sconce.

  7. Very cool work. Glad to see you are proceeding with the laborious but rewarding task of running electricity to the replacement sconces. You have a fellow perfectionist rooting for you!

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