Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Our Primitive Alarm System.

Can you imagine our shock when we first pulled up carpet and masonite panelling that was stapled to the floor to reveal a hardwood floor with long gauges running across the boards? Our first thought was that someone had dragged a refridgerator across the living room where we first saw the gauges. Then we noticed the grooves in the flooring in the dining room, the parlor, the upstairs hall, the bathroom and both bedrooms. At first we figured it was some kind of low voltage lighting system but it didn't make any sense. The picture below shows these grooves if you click on it to enlarge the image. This is in fact the bedroom floor which was sanded over the weekend. The side channels run to the windows. That ball of wire in the foreground is some of the wire removed from this floor. I have many scattered about the house!

When I stripped the paint from the exterior doors I found brass closet switches inserted at the base of the frames below the lowest hinge and noticed that the grooves in each room lead to the doors and windows. Unfortunately there are no patent #s on these things so I can't get any manufacturing information.

When the windows were restored I noticed a pair of brass plates on the left side of each sash that would touch any time a window was opened. (See picture below.) There were also channels leading to them with cloth covered copper wire embedded into the grooves that ran down through a small hole in the wood at the sill.

A hole would appear in the baseboard below this or in the floor and grooves would emerge leading off in the direction of the nearest window or door. A little poking around when stripping the floors and soon I was pulling up copper wire out of the grooves. Some sections were aleady missing, so the system must have failed long ago.

I have no clue WHEN this was installed. The evidence suggests that it is OLD. As in 1887-1890 when the house was modified. The molding over the channels in the window frames was held up with old square head nails and some of it had never been removed. Some research indicates that the first alarm systems were put in buildings in the 1850s. The wires of our system most likely terminated at a box that would light up if a window or door was left open. We know that the Volkenand family was having trouble with the neighbors "breaking in" during a time when the house was vacant and while it was being remodelled. They were looking for "treasure". The neighbors were in fact the benefactors of the former occupants estate (his daughters) and rumor has it that some stocks and cash was never recovered.

No one I have spoken to has ever seen anything like it before. The only hassle with it is that after sanding the floors some of the copper wire shines through (like in the picture above) and I have to pull the wire up and fill the groove with colored putty so that it doesn't appear as a distinct black line across the floor when it is finished. Most of the grooves will be covered by rugs, just like they were originally.

I am tempted to rig up some of the door swtches to a low voltage light or even a bell but I will do the modern thing and run the wires under the floor. Ooooh, I could have some fun with this at Halloween in a couple of years when Elizabeth is older! Every time the door opens I could have one of those haunting laughs or screams go off. Ooooh, ooooh oooooh, I can start planning now!


K said...

How interesting!

Anonymous said...

Hey this might give you some more clues about your antiqued alarm system:
Alarm Device

Just thought I would share. =)

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

Everyone elses eyes would have lit up at the sound of "treasure" but no, what caught my eye was the flooring. I'm surprised to see poplar being used for the floors. It's a wood I've always loved, and felt was quite underrated - the color is great, but durability, not so much.

How is it holding up? (I assume I'll learn the answer to this question as I read your future posts.)