Sunday, October 5, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The Refrigerator

Everyone loves nostalgia.

When nostalgia ties into the Civil War, and local history, it becomes perfect nostalgia.

Consider this refrigerator.  Have you ever seen anything like it?

No, it isn't from the United States Civil War (1861-1865).  It is from either the late 1920's or early 1930's.  It is called a Monitor Top refrigerator, and, when it came out, you could buy it from your local utility company.  They used one of two refrigerants, sulfur dioxide or methyl formate, and there are still monitor tops working today, almost 100 years later.  (The way modern refrigerators are made, maybe I should consider buying a monitor top.)

 This model was displayed at Olums back in June. Olums is a local appliance store celebrating its 100th year in business.

The monitor top refrigerator was, I understand, the first affordable refrigerator on the market.  The first ones, in U.S. Dollars, cost $300 - about $4,000. in today's money.  It was a lot of money back then, too, so people paid them off in monthly payments to the utility company.

But what is the link to the Civil War and to local history?

When I was growing up in New York City in the late 1950's and early 1960's, one of the few things I remember about my elementary school studies on the U.S. Civil War was a battle.  It was the Battle of Hampton Roads, Virginia, where, for the first time in history, two ironclad vessels fought each other.  One of these vessels, the U.S.S Monitor, was built partially from wood that came from an area just a couple of miles from where I live.

This refrigerator also reminded me of a small local mystery (mystery to me, anyway) surrounding a missing historical marker. I blogged about it back in 2011.  With some edits, that post follows.

And the refrigerator?  See that refrigeration unit on top of that refrigerator? It reminded so many people of the turret of the U.S.S. Monitor. So it became the "monitor top refrigerator", named after a Civil War vessel.

That vessel, by the way, can be viewed (what is left of it, that is) at a museum in Virginia, where I hope to visit next spring.

Now, today's mystery, which I still haven't solved.

Civil War Sunday-The Mystery of the Monitor Marker

I am trying to solve the mystery of the Missing U.S.S. Monitor Marker.

The 150th anniversary of the battle, off the coast of Virginia of the Union ironclad U.S.S. Monitor vs. the Confederate ironclad Merrimack (not the Merrimac, which was another ship put into service around 1864) won't be until next March.  But I am hoping to solve this mystery before then.

The wood from which the keel of the Monitor was cut came from this area, now occupied partially by a site called Finch Hollow.

The site of the sawmill where the keel of the U.S.S.Monitor was milled is in walking distance of my home near Johnson City, in upstate New York.  The site is, in the present day, occupied by an enclosed shopping mall, the Oakdale Mall.

Apparently, back around 1998, there was a historical marker in the Oakdale Mall commemorating the history of the Monitor.

I have no idea what has happened to the marker.  My spouse, who has a very good memory, doesn't remember ever seeing the marker.  So now I have a little mystery on my hands.

Re Finch Hollow, it still exists.  If you drive north on Oakdale Road (which runs north and south, just to the west of the mall)  from the mall, you will find a  nature center. I haven't been there in many years, but I remember going there with my then young son.  I don't remember any commemoration of its role in the Civil War on the site, however.

The Monitor (what is left of it) was discovered in 1973 and parts have been brought to The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA.  The keel, I am sure, is long gone.  Restorers are in a race against time to preserve the remaining metal parts and guns.  I hope to visit the museum sometime before the end of the Civil War 150th anniversary commemorations.

I could have solved the mystery of the marker (perhaps) last Wednesday, as I was given a brochure inviting people to the opening of a new Civil War exhibition at a local Binghamton museum, Roberson Center.  Broome County historian Gerald Smith was supposed to be there at a small reception.  I wasn't able to make it, although I do hope to get to the museum next weekend for the official grand opening.

Or, I could email Mr. Smith.  But that wouldn't be as much fun as trying to research this out now, would it?

Do you own an appliance from years ago that is still working? (I do - a waffle iron that is older than I am.)


  1. Fascinating how our modern inventions, that we take so for granted, came to be! A brilliant share.

    1. Thanks. The store had several displays of antique appliances - it was so enjoyable. Maybe I'll blog about some of the other appliances they had on display.

  2. Gosh, this is awesome, Alana!
    :) What an interesting item. You tell a story so well.

    1. Thank you, Sophie! This post was fun to research.

  3. You've got your sleuth work cut out for you! I've never seen a Monitor Top Refrigerator before but I love the look of it. It's so dainty and stylish. How unique it would be to have one in a modern kitchen. We actually have an old oven from the mid sixties in our house. The oven belonged to my grandfather and he kept it in perfect condition. I've prepared many Christmas and Thanksgiving meals with it and it cooks perfectly every time. My husband thinks the mustard yellow color is disgusting and is begging for a stainless steel upgrade, I love it though and am not budging. The oven has character!

    1. Do I date myself when I say I owned some of those mustard yellow appliances when they were brand new? Avocado green, too. We did some strange things back in the late 60's and early 70's with color! I love the look of the monitor top. It even had a foot pedal that would open the door for you-great if your arms were full of groceries.

  4. Wow, If only I am on those days of invention of appliances.

    1. I love old technology. It amazes me that a 70 year old refrigerator can still operate when five year old refrigerators break down and can't be fixed.

  5. My grandparents had a monitor fridge... Which they replaced with a Frigedaire (which may have been owned by GM)... a walk down memory lane

    1. Thank you for your memory. I can vaguely remember my mother using a wringer washing machine. I well remember the rounded single door refrigerator of my youth, with the tiny manual defrost freezer that could barely hold an ice cube tray and a pint of ice cream. But, until I saw the unit I took a picture of, I had never seen (or heard of) a monitor top. I would love to own a working one.


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