I can honestly say that I never once in my life pictured an afternoon spent researching the history of the doorbell. But, it’s still cold outside (surprise, surprise), so what else am I going to do? Clean? Yeah… right.
Recently, local Belleville history enthusiast and President of the Belleville Historical Society Larry Betz contacted me and my husband saying he had something of ours. He went on to explain that it was the original doorbell to the Romeiser house. When we met up with him, he explained further.
The house has been mostly occupied since it was built in 1887. The Romeiser family owned it until 1919 when it was sold, converted to a boarding house, and then later changing hands a few times over the years. When the house ultimately ended up in foreclosure in the early-20aughts, the house was essentially emptied. The fact that so much of our beautiful architectural details survived that time is impressive to me. Larry told us how he came in and was able to procure the home’s original doorbell and he’s been holding on to it ever since. He expressed how it was time to return it to its rightful place on the walls of this incredible home.
The doorbell itself is, at its core, simple, though advanced for the time. The fact that the Romeisers even HAD a doorbell is impressive. However, knowing how Peter Romeiser was at the forefront of basically every advancement and was a very progressive thinker, I’m not surprised. His store, The Romeiser Company, changed the way businesses operate. He was one of the first merchants to use a set-price model for his items… the price you see on the tag is what you pay, no haggling. His store was the first in Belleville to use interior electricity. We know for a fact he had a home telephone in 1906– if not earlier. He saw the value in invention, the beauty in progress, and he wanted to be a part of that.
We fully believe this doorbell is original to the home’s construction. (It looks almost identical to this image I found on Wikipedia of an 1884 doorbell from Budapest.) Simple clapper doorbells work through high-school science. When you push the button, you complete an electrical circuit. This “push-to-make” switch powers a hammer that rings a bell. My husband (you know, the one I previously mentioned who just knows how to do everything? Yeah. Him.), he totally got this thing to work while tinkering with it down in the basement. We may wrap our heads around REALLY getting it to work but for now will still display it lovingly.
I am so thankful to Larry for thinking of us and being so devoted to preserving history and saving the details of these old homes. Without his dedication, this piece of Romeiser house history would likely be lost today and we’d have had no way of knowing it ever existed.
His work with The Belleville Historical Society, along with the work of other members, is inspiring and exciting. And it’s for those reasons that I’ve decided to partner with them and join as a member. I’m also really thrilled to be able to announce that they’ve nominated me to a position on their Board of Trustees which was approved at their membership meeting last week!
The way that the pieces of my life have fallen into place within only 7 months of moving here is nothing less than extraordinary. The ways in which people have embraced us and supported us and encouraged us to get involved have made us feel more at home than any place we’ve lived in a really long time. I am practically buzzing with excitement over the possibilities and wondering what the future holds; it’s exactly the kind of life I pictured for myself when I was a little girl.
To check out what the Belleville Historical Society is all about, visit their website and consider joining or donating! So here’s to many, many more years researching Belleville homes and families, and preserving those stories for years to come. Even if it means spending an hour reading about doorbells.