What IS This?

Yesterday, I finally toured the Gufler Mansion in Emporia, owned by Susan and Brad. The mansion is one of the three famous BIG houses in Emporia, the Plumb House and Cross House being the other two.


As Brad was showing me the third floor, I was struck by a tiny door at floor level. What, I asked, was that for? Brad said he was told it was so a person could sweep the floor, and then sweep the debris through the door… 


…where it would fall down the chute to the basement and into, presumably, a receptacle.


The chute has three metal bars preventing any larger object from falling into the chute.

The petite door was held by two incredibly powerful spring hinges. One could not just open the door and leave it, as it would instantly snap shut. No, one had to bend down, open the door, HOLD IT OPEN, and then sweep.

This seemed…unlikely to me. Although, a normal hinge would mean that the door could be left open, which would allow a baby or pet to get into the chute and…well.

So, perhaps it IS a debris chute?

Have you ever seen anything like this?




  1. Mo on December 9, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    I’m reminded of a whole house vacuum system. Perhaps this was a precursor to that?


    • Ross on December 9, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      The house had a whole house vacuum system originally.

  2. Marjie on December 9, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Is this anything that would have been noted on original blueprints? Just curious if you could look at other mansions of the time and see if anything would be drawn in? (I’m so intrigued.)

  3. Aaron Workman on December 9, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    Breanna and I toured the Hill house in Minneapolis a couple months ago. It not only had dust chutes but laundry chutes, central vacuum system and a elaborate electric burglar system that was all original to the house completed in 1891.

  4. Dan Goodall-Williams on December 9, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    I agree Ross, I do not completely believe the story. However, I don’t know what it would be for.

  5. Patsy on December 9, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Laundry chute?

  6. glenn on December 9, 2018 at 5:51 pm

    It looks like there’s a small threshold on the floor, which seems counter productive, if it is a dust chute.

  7. Brian on December 9, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    I agree with Glenn. And the threshold appears to be original.

    • Ross on December 9, 2018 at 6:27 pm

      There is no threshold, although I can see that there appears so in the images.

  8. Chris B on December 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    I really hope they were not the ones responsible for tearing out all of the original windows in that grand home.

    • Ross on December 9, 2018 at 7:03 pm

      Rest assured, they were not!

  9. Shondra on December 9, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    Yes! We live in Petaluma, CA and toured a very large late 1890’s mansion a few years back and the house had this same dust chute.

    We also live in an 1893 Victorian and like the comment above, our house had an old alarm system that we found when we had to remove the plaster in the kitchen!

  10. Miriam Righter on December 9, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    I wonder, since it is metal lined, if it wasn’t possibly for fireplace ash instead?

    • Eileen on December 11, 2018 at 3:56 am

      I also believe it was for fireplace ashes which were collected in a receptacle and used for making soap. The metal lined chute prevented fire from lit embers. The scullery maid would tap out the ash from her bucket or dust pan. Perhaps tools were hung from the bars that kept pets and children from falling.

  11. Suella on December 9, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Why would there be a dust chute on the 3rd floor and not the main 2 floors where I would expect more dust just from those floors getting more use?
    Maybe the servants took the rugs to the 3rd floor to beat them so the neighbors wouldn’t see how dirty they were. 🙂

  12. Pamela on December 10, 2018 at 5:55 am

    I would love to see the other end of that chute. It might make the story more clear.

  13. Marlon Mormann on December 10, 2018 at 7:43 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that the original intent is for laundry. I have seen this many time, never heard it was for dirt but for dirty clothes.

  14. Seth Hoffman on December 10, 2018 at 9:19 am

    I can’t say that it was not intended to sweeping debris, but it does appear an appropriate size for laundry. The laundry chute in our current house (circa 1926) is similar, and also constructed with galvanized sheetmetal. The doors are low to the floor, although not flush as this one. On the second floor, it’s in the main hall and about 5″ above the floor. On the first floor it’s inside a closet, and about 24″ off the floor. The doors on both floors have spring-loaded hinges.

  15. Kate on December 10, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Actually the hinges are necessary due to the fact that there were draft issues, a big concern with dust and ashes, as they would blow back up when the an other door was opened. See the website/book exert below.

  16. Cindy Belanger on December 13, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    Not sure if this was originally used for sweeping dust into, but I sure would love to have something like that.

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