Resurrecting a Dumbwaiter

The 1894 Cross House originally had a dumbwaiter serving the kitchen and laundry room in the basement.

This fabulous feature was removed, I think, in 1929 when the house was converted into apartments. The change allowed a new hall, so a person to go directly from the kitchen to the family entrance on the south side (originally, an unimportant feature in a house staffed by servants).

Curiously, the dumbwaiter never serviced the second- or third-floors.

When I purchased the house in 2014 I had no idea the house originally had a dumbwaiter but later discovered the partial remains of the shaft. Well, there was no way I would not recreate this!

The plan is to have the dumbwaiter service all four levels.

I have repeatedly tried to proceed with this great adventure but every time I go to the Silent Service website I come across this chart…


…which makes my brain go dead. D E A D.


Today though I had a brilliant idea! Why not call Silent Servant and have them walk me through the process?

Jim took my call and in less than five minutes answered the 5,839 questions which have been swimming laps in my brain for over two years. I felt much calmer after our call.

Jim needs some dimensions before we can proceed, which I can have for him in a few days. In the meantime Jim sent me the following five images (courtesy Silent Servant):


This is so cool I can hardly stand it.


The “box”.


The top of the box.


The big wheel at the top. OMG! This is so friggin’ cool!


This is a nice image because it really shows how all the wood components are put together.


This gives a good idea of the basics. Courtesy Old House Journal.


The kitchen at Naumkeag. I would KILL for this. Dumbwaiter to left. Note the sliding door; I want this feature for the kitchen of the Cross House.


Yummy. Note also cast-iron range! I would LOVE to know where this kitchen is.


Yep, cool.


I love how they celebrated the big wheel!!!!!!!!


A long disused dumbwaiter. Poor dear.


Silent Servant will provide all the necessary bits and, depending on the size of the box and load weight requirements, the cost range is from $2200 to double that (and more). And of course I will have to create the shaft. A four-story shaft. EEK!

In the end this will be rather an extravagance but can you think of a more fabulous extravagance? I also think it will prove hugely convenient in a four-level house.

Maybe though I can simply gas up my time-travel machine, shoot back to 1929, and convince them to leave the dumbwaiter in place…





  1. Brendan McConville on February 8, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    Now, that’s exciting! I can’t believe they are still being manufactured! Onward and upward, literally, at the Cross house!

  2. Blair Carmichael on February 8, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Hello, Ross!

    My first job was working in a grocery store in Fulton, MO. The store was built in 1889. We had a stock elevator in the back of the store that looked and operated just like this! Except the scale was 10 times larger.

    Sometimes we would load too many cases of food on the deck of the elevator and when we released the brakes, the load would end up in the basement with a resounding thud.

    The brakes were made out of brake shoes from railroad cars and we would pull a smaller rope to apply and release them.

    The main rope was 4 inches in diameter and I believe made of Hemp. I got many rope burns trying to raise that thing!

    The elevator was eventually dismantled and sold for scrap about 20 years ago when the store was converted into a restaurant with apartments on the second floor.

    So many features of that store are locked in my memory.

    Originally the building housed a funeral home and they raised and lowered coffins!

  3. Riley on February 8, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    First, my apologies for hijacking this thread but I’ve found something you might like to see (and perhaps have already seen) and I don’t know how else to bring it to your attention.

    On a FB group called For the Love of Old Houses, there was a picture of a bathroom. And in that bathroom were two sinks. One, a more-or-less standard issue sink, and the second, a sink mounted higher up on a different wall, and having only one spigot. Google has let me down, perhaps because I know no idea what term to use in SEARCHING.

    Here is a link to the picture.

    Have you ever seen anything like this? Can you shed light on its purpose?

    • Ross on February 8, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      I saw that on Old House Dreams (I think) and just assumed it was for drinking water.

      • Riley on February 8, 2017 at 6:02 pm

        I’m wondering whether the Cross house has any similar sinks. Would it be the correct time frame?

  4. Seth Hoffman on February 8, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Wow, I never would have guessed someone was still out there manufacturing these. That’s awesome!

    I like that you’re planning to extend it to the upper levels. It will look just like it was meant to be there, and I’m sure it will be very useful too.

  5. Barb Sanford on February 8, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Did anyone else immediately think of Harriet the Spy when they read this post?

    • Meghan on February 9, 2017 at 6:28 am

      No, but thank you for the trip down memory lane!

  6. Krystal on February 9, 2017 at 12:25 am

    That is beyond exciting! It’s all the adjectives of exciting and more!!

  7. Mike on February 9, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I think you are doing the right thing by extending all the way up, given your plans to have your stockroom of old light fixtures on the 3rd (attic) floor. There is no rule that says the dumbwaiter is only for food…

  8. Shelley S on April 13, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    I love the one that shows the big wheel! It’s very modern & allows you to see the inner workings of something really old. A good mixture, me thinks!

  9. Sandra on May 18, 2017 at 1:32 am

    Fascinating and fun! Cross House is just full of goodies. But to think a company that still manufactures these! Remarkable

  10. Ham549 on June 24, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    “Yummy. Note also cast-iron range! I would LOVE to know where this kitchen is.” That is in a doll house.

  11. Jammin' Jan on September 28, 2017 at 1:30 am

    I’m wondering if the sink was in the basement? It seems odd that the dumbwaiter only goes from kitchen to basement, so maybe that is the explanation. I didn’t comment on the kitchen post about the sink, but I wondered if you had checked out the basement under the kitchen looking for pipes to take water up to the sink and a drain for it.

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