Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Root Cellars also known as Storm Cellars

Not many people today know what a root cellar is. Sometimes they are called storm cellars. When my siblings and I visited our "growing up" home over Thanksgiving, I took several photos of the old root cellar that was on the farm when we moved there in 1951. I have no idea when it was built. But it still stands and with a bit of help it could be returned to its former useful condition. However, the farmstead now stands vacant and that is not likely to happen.

Even though my photos are poor I think you can get an idea of the construction of the walls and arched ceiling. The lower third of the vertical wall was cement. There is more cement on the higher/outer sides that acts as a retaining wall for the dirt covering the cellar. The thick dirt acted as insulation from summer heat and winter cold. One year we planted moss rose over the cave and it self-seeded every year thereafter. This made for a rather prolonged job of weeding which always seemed to be assigned to me.

Two wood doors, one at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom, provided access to the cellar. A wood bin once stood in one corner for the year's supply of potatoes for a family of eight. Along the walls were wood shelves (now gone) that held the year's canned goods. A simple stack pipe in the roof that allowed for ventilation in the summer was stuffed with a rag and covered with an upside-down bucket in the winter. Without the seal of the rag and bucket, freezing cold air would drop into the cellar causing freezing temps.

Since cold "drops" it was important also to seal the two doors in the winter with an old piece of carpeting laid over the outer door. A thermometer hung on the wall and we would check the air temp during trips to retrieve food. If the winter was brutally cold, Dad would light a kerosene lantern and set it on the floor to take the nip of frost out of the air. Freezing temps would ruin our winter's supply of potatoes and cause them to turn to stinking mush.

In late spring we cleaned out the remaining potatoes which had begun to spoil and which had grown long sprouts as they searched for sun. The shelves would be cleaned and fresh newspaper laid down for shelf paper for the coming year's crop. Empty fruit jars that had been returned to the cellar would be lined up in one area and any remaining canned fruit would be rearranged at one end, awaiting the newly canned jars of garden produce.

The cellar served a second purpose as a storm cellar. During raging wind storms in the spring and summer when we thought we detected tornado clouds on the horizon, our family would scurry for the cellar carrying a flashlight or kerosene lantern. I can distinctly remember huddling in the near-dark, hearing the wind roar and the thunder boom. When the noise subsided of what we were certain must be near-destruction overhead, Dad or a brother would bravely open the first door and peak out the top door to ascertain whether or not it was safe to once again step above ground.

This was an unusually well-constructed root cellar. The builder, whoever he was, was a fine craftsman indeed.


Scott said...

You have perfectly described the construction and use of my parents own root cellar, potatoes, canned goods and all including the bucket and rag in the chimney. Only difference - they still use theirs to this day for all these reasons. My Dad has had to replace the first door of defense, My oldest son especially liked to run up and down on the slanted door using it like a slippery slide until he received to many splinters. The pictures even look like my parents. Their house is on the edge of town and over 100 years old.

Sheri said...

That is a very well built root cellar.
When I was growing up some of my friends had them (not that nice). We didn't have one on my parents farm I suppose because we had a basement.

Debra said...

I loved this post because my grandparents had a stone root cellar. They didn't need it to double as a storm shelter, and I know it was smaller than yours, but still very beautiful. I don't know if 'our' root cellar is still standing, as other people now own the property. As kids, my brother and I would view the little stone building with awe-it was the only one we'd ever heard of. And to this day,(I'm 54) it's still the only one I've seen in person. It would be very interesting to write a book about these buildings, and take photos of them!

Thanks for the comment on my blog about The Shack. I just now found it. I'll be back here-you have a nice blog!
Love, Debra

Angoraknitter said...

Wow, this is cool! One of the houses we considered renting has a cellar in the basement, sounds neat, but the kitchen is so not updated I don't know how anyone ever functioned in it. And the one upgrade is an electric stove, but nearly no counter space to speak of...Any tips on old time kitchen routines? Did they prep food on the dining room table or what?