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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Thanks to the electrical work going on inside Copshaholm Mansion, The History Museum has one more item it can add to its collection, a vintage risqué magazine found in the basement ceiling.

“I assume one of the workers left it when they were doing the work,” Copshaholm curator Kristie Erickson says about the renovation work that was done on the mansion in the 1930s. “I have it in an acid-free folder in my office. I will have to catalog it.”

The electrical work being done inside the mansion has turned up several interesting finds — construction workers’ names, addresses and phone numbers written on particle board installed in 1938, and window arches and doorways in the basement that had been covered up.

Erickson points out char marks on the ceiling of the basement, underneath where the den’s fireplace sits on the floor above.

“Nobody ever mentioned a fire in the house,” she says. “It probably didn’t make it up out of the basement because it was fairly quickly extinguished, but we had no idea.”

The electrical work also has answered the longtime mystery of why there were holes set into the wall of the kitchen by the basement door: It was the end point of a speaking tube, the other end of which is inside the carriage house.

The museum is offering a tour titled “Gaslights & Granite Boulders” this Saturday where visitors will get to take a look at the house’s basement and other spaces where work is being done. The tour is sold out, but there is a waiting list.

Electrical work on the house began in August in order to replace all of the wiring inside the house, which the Oliver family built in the late 1800s. It is expected to wrap up in October.

“So we’ve still got a lot of the original wiring in the house, the knob and tube wiring, which was the second type of home wiring system, which is not terribly safe,” Erickson says.

The project, which costs an estimated $350,000, is happening thanks to a $150,000 Arts Everywhere Grant from the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County and two anonymous donors.

The electrical system was found to be a top priority for the preservation of the home after an assessment by CTA Architects out of Bozeman, Mont. In the future, the museum will install a new HVAC system, which would replace the hot water radiator system original to the house, and renovate the veranda.

So where do you start when trying to rewire a home built more than a century ago?

“Kurt led the charge on us playing a game of almost hide-and-seek called ‘What does this fuse do?'” History Museum deputy executive director Brandon Anderson says about the project’s electrician, Kurt Hornack.

Hornack works for Martell Electric out of South Bend, and both Anderson and Erickson refer to him as a wizard of electrical lines and the “conductor of our orchestra for all of this.”

“(We were) going around the entire house with walkie-talkies saying, ‘Flip this switch, turn this breaker off, what happened?’ Third-floor plug, and a sconce, second-floor bedroom plug and a chandelier, first-floor corner of the main hall and a switch in the basement,” Anderson says. “This house is a spider web of electrical, and it just continues to grow. Now, this allows us to create a new map of the electrical system.”

Thus far, the electoral work, which started in the basement, has extended into the library, morning room and kitchen, all of which are now completed.

One of the more exciting developments is that now the lamps above the paintings in the library work.

“We thought initially with all these picture lights, which didn’t work for several decades, there was a switch that didn’t do anything,” Erickson says. She adds that they were afraid that in order to get the lamps to work they would need to move the bookcases that were bolted to the walls.

“Then we discovered that the wiring for these lights actually went into the bookcase and down through the bottom of the book case, because that makes sense,” Erickson says. So we couldn’t even move them out if we wanted to.”

Lucky for the museum, their electrical wizard was able to fish out the lines that went through the bookcases, and the lights above the paintings now work for the first time in decades.

“Now we get to see the paintings in the room as the family would have seen them, how they were meant to be seen,” Erickson says.

Working in the basement when asked how much wire it will take to finish the project, Hornack points to a spool and says he’s already well into his second, and each spool contains 1,000 feet of wire.

Although he hadn’t been inside the Oliver Mansion prior to the job, he quickly realized it was special.

“I actually loved this place when I went through it the first time. I realized this is going to be a very nice project. I may retire here,” he jokes.

With their electrical wizard on the job and paying close attention to detail, Anderson and Erickson hope that when finished, nobody will even be able to tell the work was done.

“Everything is being very closely and accurately monitored by Kristi and myself for historical authenticity and historical integrity,” Anderson says. “Our goal has always been, everything that we have to replace (and) anything that we have to redo, nobody except the people who were involved with the project would be able to know. We are bringing the rooms as they were before, just making the necessary changes in the house for the future preservation.”


Source: South Bend Tribune,


Information from: South Bend Tribune,