They’re tourist attractions all by themselves. I’m sure you’ve heard of buildings said to be the “Home of the Future.” The problem with those houses, in today’s evolving world, shortly they become contemporary. Hell, after a passing generation or two, they’re outdated and probably out of place.
‘Why mention that?’, you ask. I came across a landmark that had that billing, and rightfully so. Today, it’s a symbol of the past, when our nation was benefitting from the triumphs and failures of the entrepreneurial spirit.
While Thomas Edison was trying to light up New York, only to lose out to Westinghouse’s AC current power grid, A man in Appleton Wisconsin decided upon a new technology. Mainly, he used the ingenious Idea of a Hydroelectric power plant. The result was the first private residence in the world to be lit by the means of hydroelectricity.
That house, Known as the Hearthstone Historical House Museum, stands today.
It’s absolutely hot outside. I can feel the air wrap around me like some unwanted thermal blanket. The heat causes me to ponder the wisdom of my choice. Would an old Victorian Era house have air conditioning? Doubtful.
As, I walk towards the front door, I am followed by a lady my age and what I assume is her daughter. I feel a tad bit embarrassed as I try the front door of this, almost creepy, old exterior, failing to open the door. Finally, after fidgeting with the knob to no avail, I notice the sign, asking that I use the electric doorbell to alert the docent.
So I ring it, then again. I feel a bead of sweat trickling down my temple as, after the third ring of the bell, a smiling elderly woman answers the door. She apologizes and explains that they’ve been struggling with the card reader, newly installed at the admissions table-seemingly a physical oxymoron in such a setting. Smiling broadly, I claim I didn’t mind.
As I enter, I’m struck by the sudden change in temperature, relieved in a much cooler environment. I ask the man tutoring card reader tech to the docent, “Is this place air conditioned?”
He flashes an electric smile, as my eyes gaze at the beautifully crafted woodwork of the foyer. “No, well, we have a few units in the house, but mainly it stays cool itself.” I’m impressed.
“Is the woodwork original to the house?”
Again, that enthusiastic smile greets my eyes. “Yes it is.”
He yields center stage to the elderly docent. We follow her to the library, which was the man’s domain in Victorian times. I mention the Victorian era because that is when this house was erected, the residents moving in on September of 1882. Yes, Electrical wiring was already installed when the house was constructed-hard to believe.
The library, along with most of the building, is incredibly ornate. Even the floor boards are arranged in decorative designs. Of course, besides the beautiful adornments of the room, there is the draw of the lighting fixture. Hanging in the center of the room is what is known as an electrolier. Four 7-10 watt lightbulbs are installed in the fixture, being the same type as the original bulbs- about as bright as today’s nightlight.
Along with the draw of electric lighting, the docent provides great historical footnotes. For instance, Do you know where the phrase ‘put a sock in it’ originated? Tour the house and you will. I’ll give you a hint-it had something to do with phonographs.
The rest of the house is just as cool, I’ll briefly highlight it.
We follow the docent into the parlor, the canvased ceiling and high walls painted in an replicated Victorian design. This room is probably my favorite. It is very vibrant and comes complete with an antique piano in the corner.
There’s also a great dining room, as the house served as a restaurant for many years, however, today it harkens back to its Victorian days. Different than the rest of the house, the kitchen was a place for servants-the crude wood floors versus the decorative designs of the other rooms is a tell tale sign. There’s even a scullery.
The second floor is full of bedrooms, guest bedrooms and a sitting room, all filled with Victorian furniture and décor. We’re not allowed on the third floor but are able to view a huge skylight fixed in the ceiling. I should mention that the furniture is not original to the house but is of Victorian design. I do like this place, as it has the feeling that someone wealthy lived here.
After we finish with the upstairs portion, we head to the basement. This is where we get an education on how hydroelectric power works. The demonstration comes complete with water wheels and lights. We learn that, in its early years, one man was in charge of regulating the current being provided to the city. After that, we’re allowed to peruse the other artifacts in the basement. Interesting facts, like Appleton being the site of the first trolley, fascinate me. Eat your heart out San Francisco!
I leave enlightened. The house is a significant landmark in the evolution of the technological world. With it’s detailed wood working and paintings, I didn’t even mention the beautiful Victorian fireplaces, it is an elegant and stately structure, being a symbol of wealth in the early days of Wisconsin.