I'm stumped? I found a pit in my back yard

faylonJanuary 12, 2009

I have a house that was built in the 1950Âs. I know that the previous owners were big gardeners. This last week I was walking in the back yard and a low spot in the yard started to give way. Yesterday, I grabbed the shovel and now have opened a hole into a pit that had been covered with approximately 5/8" thick wood. This pit is deep enough having 3" the handle of a shovel sticking out when putting the shovel into the pit. On top of the dirt that fell in to pit when the roof collapsed. Without fully opening the pit it appears to be about 4 feet by 4 feet by about 5 feet deep. Other than the wood on the top with about 3" soil on top there is a rectangle just below the wood on the south side of the pit, and on the west side of the pit is a 3" clay tile on top of a brick. I donÂt know what rectangle is made of. I stuck the digital camera through the hole into the pit and took pictures. All I see smooth walls that are clay dirt without any reinforcement. Does anyone have an idea what this might be? I am thinking it might be a hatch cellar, or possibly a dry well but everything is wet. We had a snow fall and it is cold out right now. Not to mention that I have a 7000 lb camper parked right next to the pit, otherwise I would be doing more digging and investigation.

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Because of the brick, I was thinking a pig roast pit, but 5 feet is too deep. Good luck with your search.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 8:58AM
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Possibly a dry well, assuming the clay tile comes from somewhere. But who knows for sure? (Anyway, there are some things you don't really want to know about.) Be glad you didn't fall in! I knew someone who was having a late 19th Century home renoed. A worker using a jackhammer to break out the old basement floor suddenly broke through into an old well, fortunately, only losing the jackhamer.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 9:29AM
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As I said, count yourself lucky!

There's a lot worse that could have happened.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 9:39AM
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A grease pit probably. Sounds like the right depth to stand in to work on the car or truck.
I wish I had one.
The clay drain keeps it dry.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 10:54AM
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We have a grease pit made out of cement. Your description sounds similar to what we have. Our grease pit is located under a car port whose roof extend from our carriage house/garage.

I think all our pit is used for now is hatching Black Widow spiders.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 1:33PM
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Even though your house was built in the 1950s, there could have been another property there previously that was removed.

What you are describing, it sounds like a Root Cellar. They were quite popular before the advent of refrigeration, particularly in the northeast.

I grew up in a house built in 1701. We had a root cellar. It was about 7ft. deep, walls were all brick and stone and had stone steps walking down to the bottom. It also had a wood peaked roof matching the roof of our house. However, most were not that fancy.

If not a root cellar, my other guess would be old ceptic tank or well.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 1:58PM
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I have no real worthwhile guesses, but I've always dreamed about finding a stocked bomb shelter. Something build in the 1950's with something mysterious dug in the backyard screams that to me. This clearly isn't one, but you could pretend! In the real world, I vote for the grease pit.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 9:11PM
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I'm changing my vote to the former home of a small septic tank.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 10:24PM
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Where do you live? This information will be a big clue.

In California, this could have been an oil pit, an old mine entrance that is collapsing (this happens here...) or cold storage for fresh fruit/veggies back in the day.

If you live in the land of storm cellars (where my relatives all lived), I need to think differently.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 12:22AM
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Thanks for all of your ideas. I live in Ohio, but it is much to small for any type of storm cellar. I have contacted my local extenion office agent. He basically told me that I would need to get down in the pit after removing the rest of the top and checking the floor to make sure it was solid. One of my friends thought it might be the pit for a old smoke house. We just got 5 inches of snow and the temp has dropped into the single digits so anything out doors will be on hold. I will post my findings when I can get in the pit.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 9:53AM
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That reminds me of my septic tank about 15 years ago. When I was having it pumped out, the "honey dipper" operator told me that the lid on the tank was cracked, and was an a dangerous condition. I shovelled the dirt off the top of the tank and sure enough, it wasn't just cracked; it was a mosaic. A wonder it hadn't collapsed and someone hadn't already fallen in. I carefully removed the broken pieces, managing to allow only a few hunks of concrete to fall into the tank. I temporarily covered it with a sheet of 3/4" plywood.

I called several companies in the area, and they all told me there was no way I could get a replacement cover; I would have to have the whole tank dug up and replaced with another one to the tune of thousands of dollars. I continued calling around, and found an out-of-town ready-mix company that was willing to pour a new lid to my specifications. I gave them the dimensions, and had the new one made a full 6" thick, reinforced with re-bar. They delivered the completed lid on-site and dropped it in place. The total bill? A little over $100! That septic tank is still functioning perfectly.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 12:46PM
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"He told me...I would need to get down in the pit after removing the rest of the top and checking the floor to make sure it was solid."

Tell him to jump in first!

Seriously, tie yourself off to something substantial and a keep a spotter topside.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 3:18PM
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I also think it's a root cellar for storing fruits and vegetables by taking advantage of earth's cool temperatures. The walls are deliberately left as soil to keep moisture levels high.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lost art of pantries and root cellars

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 9:42AM
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Faylon where do you live in Ohio? I am in NE Ohio and we have old mines here. Our neighbor had a perfect circle of a hole collapse in here yard it was about 3 feet in diameter, scary enough though! We went to the county archives and requested info on the property around us and this is how we found out there are coal mines running below us. Scary enough back in 1900 they say a horse vanished in a field and come to find out a mine shaft gave away and swallowed the horse! I wouldn't go crawling down the hole if I were you. I would get someone with a camera (sewer techs have this equipment) and let them do it that way.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 4:39PM
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See link for info on abandoned mines in NE Ohio.

Here is a link that might be useful: Abandoned Mines

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 8:19PM
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I live in Appalachian Ohio in mine country, and in some parts of our county you need a rider for mines on your home owner's policy. I have to have one at a property I own in town since that section was built over old mines. I also have an old coal bank on my rural property. It was mined privately by an individual, by pick and I'd expect it not to have conventional looking excavating, either.

There may be no rhyme or reason why this wasn't just filled in and a piece of wood thrown over it and left to rot. It could be anything, actually including an old dug well or spring or rain water cistern where the bricks had been removed and used for landscaping or something, lol. That's almost the exact measurements for my spring cache basin near the house.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 3:08PM
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We have a concrete bomb shelter that was built in the 50�s in our backyard. I would like to ask you where I might inquire as to finding more information regarding the shelter, the possibility of selling it, digging it up, the value of it, etc??

If you could give me any information at all, please email me.

Sharon Bunch

Sharon L. Bunch
Compliance Coordinator
Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge
Phone - 225.709.7754
Fax - 225.709.7746

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 2:57PM
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Faylon, depending on your section of the country, I'm wondering if it could also be a "storm cellar?" In north Alabama, my grandparents had one dug on their farm very close to the house. It had dirt covering it, and they regularly used it for keeping milk cold and foods from going bad. When tornado weather approached, that is where they headed.

So if the land your house was built on had a prior residence there, could be a storm cellar.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 1:49AM
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