By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
I will bet that, from the title, you think I’m going to tell you a story about something stupid that Irwin, the most wonderful GPS in the world, Joann, or I have done in our travels. If so, you’d be wrong.
I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime after Joann switched from film to digital, she became obsessed with doorknobs. Obsessed to the point that in 2013 we planned a route in Ohio to be sure and get a photo of a doorknob on a church. Not necessarily the church (I didn’t even know what the church itself looked like), just the doorknob!
It was my fault actually, for showing Joann how cool the doorknob was. Once she saw it, she wanted to visit the church… badly. It was a very ornate doorknob with a double keyhole. Even I have to admit, it was very unusual, so I didn’t mind trying to include it on our trip.
We didn’t get to the church until later in the trip, and by then, Joann had asked several times if we might get there. Luckily, I had other things marked near the church, and we found even more interesting things along the route.
And there have been doorknobs on outhouses. In Iowa, she was gone from the car at a church and cemetery for so long that I was beginning to wonder. Finally she came back all excited and said, “Wait until you see what I found!” I figured it was something in the cemetery, but no, it was a doorknob on the outhouse.
Then there have been doorknobs on old houses. As we travel around, we try to hit as many historic areas as possible. We’ve travelled portions of the National Road, which we can highly recommend. In one town, we found a treasure trove of old buildings, and some doorknobs on the old doors.
There are also doorknobs on various other buildings; lumber buildings, farm outbuildings, old schools, mills, creameries, feed stores, and even several sauna buildings in the Finnish area of Minnesota.
Just for fun, I typed “history of American Doorknobs” into Google, and came up with an interesting read! It turns out that, in the beginning of our country, colonists were discouraged from manufacturing finished goods. They were supposed to order their doorknobs from the mother country. As late as 1838, ninety-five percent of hardware used in America was imported from Europe.
By the 1830’s, the Northeast had many small builders’ hardware companies. They were small companies owned by entrepreneurs in major cities, and the doorknobs were handcrafted.
As more industrial machines were patented in America, production moved to factories. With this, there was increased production and products became more standardized. This resulted in more profits on the mass-produced doorknobs than on the former “hand-made” ones.
Through the Victorian era in America (1860’s to early 20th century), doorknobs were very ornate, and were considered decorative art. There is even a group called the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America, and several museums feature entire exhibits of doorknobs from our history.
I guess that’s something we can do when we’re too feeble to drive the backroads. For now, we’ll be hitting the backroads and finding our own doorknobs to photograph.