Up next on my favorite installment of Stuff We’ve Found are these beauties! Another glass bottle, a short rim cartridge, a frequent buyer punchcard from Romeiser’s, dominoes, and really, really old glass. Husband has been doing some rewiring work on our 2nd floor and to access some of those electrical lines, he’s been crawling in walls and prying up floorboards on the third floor. He’s started quite the little collection of items and I could not be more excited. Each piece just adds to the story.
I love to sit and imagine what happened on the days those items were placed there so long ago. Who thought to hide their glass bottle in the wall instead of burying it in the backyard? Who dropped their clothing punchcard between the floorboards and which curse word did they use when they realized it was gone “forever”? Was a child disappointed that they’d lost their dominoes? The endings to those stories are left to the imagination… but that’s my favorite part.
This Nehi soda glass bottle has a patent date on the bottom of March, 1925. It was bottled here in Belleville, IL. In 1924, the Chero-Cola company added Nehi to its roster of sodas, offering grape, orange, root beer, peach, and other flavors of soda. It was instantly successful (outselling the Chero-Cola name brand entirely), which caused the company to change its name to the Nehi Corporation in 1928. Sales boomed and, despite a dip in sales in 1931 due to the Great Depression, Nehi was widely a household name even through the 1940s.
When chero-cola was rebranded at Royal Crown cola, the company saw yet another name change to RC Cola, the same RC Cola we see in stores today. It’s likely that this bottle was enjoyed by someone who lived on our third floor during the time it was parcelled into wartime apartments. It’s in remarkable condition, without a single nick or chip.
This rimfire cartridge seemed pretty mysterious at first because the headstamp on the end resembles the German Cross (which would have been a no-no after about WWI…) but through pretty deep digging, we were finally able to track its source. This is a .22 short rimfire cartridge from the Western Cartridge Company based out of East Alton, IL. They used the Maltese Cross as a headstamp, later using it as their company logo. It’s not uncommon for the German Cross to be confused with the Maltese Cross, which is why we were a little confused in the beginning. The Western Cartridge Company transitioned to using a diamond stamp and logo in 1910, so this cartridge likely predates that.
One of the more interesting finds were these two fully intact sheets of plate glass. The label indicates that they came from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass company in Creighton, PA, the first financially successful plate glass company in the country. Established in 1883, they would become the largest manufacturer of plate glass in the world. Plate glass is different than other glass in that it is poured and rolled into shape, instead of blown. Extensive grinding and polishing operations–reducing the plate to half its original thickness–made the product smooth and shiny, free of optical distortion (AKA: no more wavy glass).
There’s no real way of telling if this glass was using during construction of our house in 1887 (with these being leftovers just being left behind) or whether Peter Romeiser was interested in using Pittsburgh Plate Glass in the windows of The Romeiser Company and had these sent as samples. Regardless, the glass itself is in perfect condition. The paper logo is worn but it’s at least 130 years old– what do you expect?! 🙂
Today Husband bought a giant high-power magnet to help grab up any other metal items floating around in the places he crawls through. Hopefully this isn’t my last update on things we’ve found in walls!
I’ve been woefully inferior about maintaining any sort of regular posting schedule, which I absolutely apologize for! I’ll get right on fixing that. 😉
This morning, I want to share with you an incredible photo from the Romeiser Company during their heyday!
These beautiful street fairs were wildly popular… and honestly, not much has changed. There’s definitely this running “joke” about What’s Going on in Belleville this Weekend? Becuase there’s inevitably some sort of festival or fair or parade.
The Fall of 1906 was not a good year for the Romeisers as a family unit and I have no idea when this photo was taken… whether it was Spring or Summer or what. It’s somewhat chilling to see the year and think about everything they were going or would go through come November…
I would really love to track down the story of this photo. Emil Geil was Peter Romeiser’s business partner, trusted confidant, and friend. They worked together at the company, with Mr. Geil carrying on his duties after Peter’s death. That this photo came from an employee of The Romeiser Company feels super special and I’d love to know who it was.
This photo is right in line with the theme of the 2019 Belleville Historical Society’s annual calendar, “Shopping Small on Main Street.” Naturally The Romeiser Company is featured in the calendar. It’s really beautiful and I’m proud to be able to offer them for sale. They’re $10 and if you’re wanting a copy, email me via our contacts tab!
If you’re local to Belleville, these are also for sale at the following locations: Artiste de Fleur, Dill’s Floral Haven, Peace by Piece Boutique, Circa Boutique, Happy Hop Home Brew, Eckert Florist, Local Lucy’s, Eckert’s Country Store, Papa Vito’s, and Keil’s Antiques.
We will also have some for sale this weekend at Garfield Saloon, home to the Bellevile Historical Society. On Saturday, Sept. 15, there will be a community tag sale filled with vintage and antique items (and calendars!) followed by the 7th annual Plein Air Art Auction. Local artists are painting historic sites around town and will then auction their paintings at 1:00. It’s a great fundraiser for our organization and I’m excited to be a part of it all.
Lots going on in Beautiful Belleville! Hopefully we’ll see you this weekend at Garfield Saloon!
Hey everyone! Today I had the pleasure of speaking at Belleville’s Museum Day activities. I was at the Garfield Saloon talking about how to research the history of your home. I figured these would be great notes to share with all of you. I don’t claim to be an expert in historical research whatsoever, but it is a hobby and passion of mine and we’ve had quite a bit of luck finding information about our house and the original family.
Researching the history of your home is a multi-faceted endeavour… it’s a little bit of determination, a little bit of stubbornness, a lot of patience, and a little bit of luck. My husband and I joke that we can very easily get sucked into an Ancestry black hole and not realize we’ve been staring at our computer screens for four hours until it’s 2 in the morning and our eyes are bloodshot.
The bulk of my research is done online. Today I provided all the guests with a handout of the websites I use… here it is in JPEG form so that you can save it to your phone or PC for reference. It is Belleville specific but no matter where you live, your city website and libraries should have similar information.
The first should come as no surprise: Ancestry. This is a subscription service that has proven itself invaluable. I gladly spend the $20 a month to use this service and have discovered photos of original residents of our home that hadn’t previously been connected to our house. They do have a free trial available to use and I highly recommend using it a lot during that trial to see if it’s going to be a good fit. Once on Ancestry, you can search by name, birth date, marriage date, and death date. The search pages will yield results and potential results, perhaps people with similar names or in some instances, cases where the people you actually ARE looking for had their names misspelled on official documents. I discovered that Emma Romeiser actually had three children, one that died at birth. She gave birth to Roland Pannes in September 1916. His birth certificate was written in cursive and had combined the two N’s to be read as an R and an M together, changing the last name from Pannes to Parmes. I’ve purposefully searched the most common misspellings of Romeiser to see what information pops up.
The two websites geneologybank.com and familysearch.org are also incredible resources. Geneologybank blends ancestry like results with digitized newspapers all over the country. Familysearch is free but geneologybank is not. It also offers a free trial. A lot of times you’ll discover that these free trials require credit card information to be entered when you sign up– don’t let this scare you off. I have NEVER had an unauthorized charge on my account and if you cancel within the 2 or 4-week trial period, no charge is ever made to your card. Cancelling free trials is really easy and can be done online through these sites– there’s not even a need to call customer service and sit on hold for an hour. So as long as you click before the deadline, there’s no cost to you.
Unless you’re okay with spending the money– sometimes you’ll find it’s worth it. Like I pay for Ancestry every month. I also paid the $75 fee to use Newspapers.com for six months because it is such a huge resource to me. On Newspapers.com I search each individual members of my home by name and porr through the results. I also just put our address in the search bar and see what comes up. I found classified ads looking for help with cooking and the laundry, yard sales, and interesting tidbits like a kitchen fire in the early 1900s.
The library will prove invaluable. The archives at the downtown branch are extensive and they have microfiche for decades and decades of archived newspapers. Some of those newspapers have been digitized and are available on a searchable database by keyword. This is also available on the library’s website if you prefer to search from the comfort of your home. All you need to log-in is your library card number, and of course, if you don’t have a library card, they are free to get.
For those of you local to Belleville, the St Clair County Historical Society has archives available and their curator, Will Shannon, has a photo collection to pull from that helped us find photos of some of the Romeiser daughters. The Belleville Historical Society has a similar resource available on their website that lists area museums that have photos, documents, and stories if what you’re looking for is Belleville specific.
Then, of course, there’s just plain old Google. When searching, search names of former residents (if you’re unsure, you can search at the Recorder of Deeds office) and your specific address.
By searching all of these places, you’ll be able to fill in some potential gaps. We’ve used the Belleville City Directory to name owners of pretty much every house on our street and have been able to expand our search from there. I even search those names on Ancestry and see what photos pop up. Sometimes you’ll be able to find photos of neighbors that might have your home in the background or even residents posing with those neighbors.
Like I said, I don’t claim to be an expert in any way and have honestly been very lucky in our research. It takes persistence and patience. Essentially, don’t be afraid to ask local historians and archivists for help, don’t be afraid to search something that may not be entirely accurate (like a misspelled name or your neighbor’s address) because you may end up finding something really interesting, and don’t be afraid to sign up for that free trial or even spend a few dollars for a month or two to give yourself time to find information.
Imagine the twinkle in a Father’s eye as he gazes upon his sweet children. Picture the care and devotion that went into nurturing tiny loves, joy felt in watching them reach milestones, the swelling of pride as they learned to read and sing and dance. Imagine an outing to a photographer in St. Louis specifically to capture those little moments forever. The year would have been sometime in the early 1890s- perhaps 1891 or 2…
I can see it now. Peter and Elise Romeiser rise for the day and, with the help of their house maid Lizzie, delicately clean and ready three crisp, white dresses, stockings, and hair ribbons. They bathe the three sweet, beloved Romeiser daughters and tie their hair in bows. Peter readies the carriage that will take them into St. Louis to photographer F.W. Guerin.
Fitz W. Guerin was a New York native and at the age of 13 set out for St. Louis to work for Merrill Drug Company. As a teen he joined the Union Army, later becoming the recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Civil War. On returning to civilian life, he became a successful society and celebrity photographer in St. Louis.
The Romeisers, being of high society, utilized his services on this day in the early 1890s. The photograph, preserved for over a century, comes to us via the St. Clair County Historical Society and the hard work of their curator, William P. Shannon IV. In meeting with him yesterday, he supplied this image that actually made me cry.
In the photo, you’ll see eldest Romeiser daughter Emma, born in 1880. She would be around 11 or 12 in this photo. In the middle is Petra, aged 8/9, and on the far right is Corona, who we haven’t introduced to you yet, dear reader. Corona was born in 1887, the same year Peter built this impressive house on Abend Street.
I look at these sweet faces and at once am both overjoyed and saddened. Overjoyed because I know how deeply they were loved. Saddened because I know of the harrowing and heartbreaking experiences they will encounter as they get older. Their life at this point is so charmed… I am comforted by the fact that they won’t yet experience the first of their tragedies for another 15-years.
It’s how I can also see this lovely photo of Emma from 1899 with still a modicum of joy. Also provided by Will at the SCCHS, this photo is dated and signed by Emma. Christmas, 1899. She would have been 19… she was living life as a new adult, enjoying parties, engagements, and life in high-society, even having been named to the court of the 1898 Belleville Flower Carnival.
Of all the Romeiser children, I feel a special connection with Emma. Perhaps in name, perhaps the fact that she’s the eldest of their three daughters, I don’t know why– I just know deep in my bones that I have to tell her story. Tomorrow (Friday, April 27th), I’m meeting with a reporter from our local newspaper so we can put forth a special article about Emma ahead of the anniversary of the crashing of the Hindenburg. (To read my full post on Emma’s life, click here!)
It’s the first step in a long, thought-out process of getting Emma’s story published, of securing her place in the annals of history, of ensuring that no one ever forgets what happened to her and her family.
But for now, I can gaze upon these sweet faces and think about what their lives might have been.
Endless thanks to Will Shannon and the entire staff of employees and volunteers at the St. Clair County Historical Society. They work tirelessly to preserve these pieces of history and we could not be more grateful.
Stay sweet, be grateful, hug your babies. Take their photo today and cherish it. The Brick and Maple Family ❤
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.
Last week, we introduced you to the connection between the Romeisers and the Belleville Public Library. Missed the first post? Check it out here! And here… is the rest of the story.
At the end of Part I, you learned about how monies from leftover Romeiser Company stock had been donated to the library by Peter’s children. It was the first public donation made to the library and (in today’s terms) totaled upwards of $20,000.
On the 2nd floor of the library hangs a portrait of Peter. There is a small mark in the corner designating the photographer (Strauss of St. Louis) and the year, 1917– the year after his death. The library was constructed and dedicated in 1916 and the donation from his children came shortly thereafter. It only makes sense that this print was made specifically to be donated to the library along with the endowment funds. It is the only actual photograph of him we know to exist… everything else is either a drawing or a newspaper printing.
The library is filled with photos depicting prominent people and events in Belleville’s history. After spending so much time there, Mr. Brick and Maple and I just all of a sudden realized that of ALL the photographs hanging, Peter’s was the only one without an information marker. All the others have little placquards explaining their significance.
Well, if you know anything at all about me, you know that just didn’t sit well. So, I reached out to the library director to see if they would allow us to donate a plaque with a description of Peter and why he’s so important. We were thrilled when Mr. Leander Spearman, Director of the library, agreed!
As it turns out, there was no plaque next to Peter’s photo because there never HAD been one. Mr. Romeiser’s significance, his story, his family’s involvement in the development of the library, had all been lost to time. Mr. Spearman went on to explain that the portrait– Peter’s portrait– has remained somewhat of a mystery to the entire staff.
Today we were able to deliver the plaque to the library and have this small part of the Romeiser’s story saved for generations to come. We were also able to submit a blurb for the library’s new website and newsletter and have been asked to compile an informal book to add to the library archives for posterity.
It’s these kinds of passion projects that I absolutely LIVE FOR. I spend everyday excited that we can contribute in this way, that we have a small part in making sure no one forgets.
Next time you’re at the library, pop up to the second floor and say hey to Peter. You’ll know it’s him by his smile lines and the kindness in his eyes.