Trough in cellar

mattr54February 21, 2008

I have a offer pending on a 144 year old brick farmhouse. The cellar has a concrete trough on the floor attached to the west wall. There is a small (maybe 2x6 inches) slot in the bricks above one end of this trough. Any ideas what this may have been used for?

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Here's a link to some pictures of the house:

    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 9:33PM
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    Bookmark   February 21, 2008 at 11:32PM
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In one of the old houses I had, the trough was for spring water piped into the cellar. You put your dairy products into this trough to keep them cool. It was common if you were lucky enough to have a spring, instead of a well. The water stays a constant, cold temperature ..... year round. Just as good as an icebox.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 9:06AM
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I'm with Calliope.

It's your pre refrigerator refrigerator.

And that has got to be the slowest loading site I have ever seen.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 3:05PM
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How would it have drained? I didn't notice any way to get the water out of the cellar.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2008 at 5:58PM
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Beautiful house, beautiful land.

I'd think a hole in the wall for a pipe would be round, not oblong, but maybe it had two pipes side by side? Still, is there any kind of drain or pipe set in the trough? Like you, I'm having a hard time imagining a trough to pipe in spring water with no way to empty it for cleaning of for freezing weather. What's on the outside of the house where the slot in the brick is? Is it filled in, or is there evidence of an iron frame having been attached at one time? (look for holes drilled into the masonry around the opening, or a rust line.) If there *is* a cast metal cover with a door, does it have any writing on it?) Where is (was) the furnace in relation to this trough?

The link below shows antique manhole and coal chute covers in NYC. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, then back up four rows; the white oblong shaped one that says Armstrong Plumbers. I think that could be a coal chute cover, but the wenmaster doesn't give the sizes.

Maybe you could get a picture of the trough and slot in the wall?

Here is a link that might be useful: manholes and coal chute covers

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 2:21AM
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Great idea! I will be there sometime this week with camera in hand. I will post pics shortly.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 7:55AM
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Coal does not go into a trough on the side of a cellar wall, it comes through a coal chute and directly to the floor, usually in a coal room or "bin". I grew up on coal heat, and have crawled through many a coal chute when I was a kid and we forgot our house keys.

You do not do ANYTHING about cleaning a spring trough or to protect it against freezing weather. Our spring pipes run under the frost line and year around, and it never freezes up at the springhead or spring overflow after it leaves the house. Spring water stays a constant temperature. What's to clean? Your food was in heavy clay stoneware when it went into the trough. I doubt the prospective home buyer looked closely enough to check for a possible closed over drainhole, especially if they didn't even know the trough held water to begin with.

Answer me this........what is your foundation made of? Sandstone? That's the typical masonary material for a house that age here.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 8:29AM
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Caliope, no need to SHOUT, I'm sure everyone can read English. ;^)

I've heard of a Spring House, but never a trough in a celler. I Googled and came up with this: which shows both the detached spring house I'm familiar with, and a trough inside that worked the way you describe. That one seems to be much larger than the one the OP is describing, as it runs around three sides of the room (I guess it was the "Side by side" of it's day) and does have a place for the water to exit. Looking at the photos,it appears the room with a trough is at the same level as the kitchen, it's just well insulated. (Wow, just think how small a moder appliace like a refrigerator is! Once upon a time, to keep the milk fresh,it too a *whole room* LOL)

Anyway, the home in the link was built on a hill so gravity would move the water through pipes into the house, around the trough, and then out of the trough into a cistern at the bottom. But if your home wasn't set on a hill, or your trough was already set in the lowest part of the house, what happened to the overflow water from the trough? I suppose you'd pump it into a cistern (how?), but wouldn't it eventually fill the cistern and you'd again have an overflow problem? As an aside, I wonder if there is an old cistern somewhere in the OP's celler?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 11:45AM
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Ok, just got back from taking a few pictures. Upon closer inspection, that "slot" I described is simply a missing brick. Very observant of me! Anyway, as you can see from the picture links, this trough was full of water at one time per the rust line. There is an iron pipe that enters the cellar slightly below grade coming from under a wooden porch and terminates above the trough. I've yet to be able to locate a cistern on the property, so I wonder if it rests under this porch. Why there would be an overflow pipe running into this trough in the cellar is beyond me!

As far as drains, there doesn't appear to be any coming out the sides of the trough. I guess there could be one hidden under the debris on the inside of the trough; I didn't have time to dig through it today. Any other ideas???

Here is a link that might be useful: Trough pictures

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 12:43PM
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Not knowing anything about them, I'd say it looks like the trough thing Calliope said because of the pipe. That one looks alot deeper than the one in the photos at the Spring Hill Ranch, but maybe it was only used to store really big crocks, or maybe the water level was never supposed to be that deep? I wonder if the drain wasn't accidentaly blocked with crud before the intake pipe was capped off or the spring completely dried up which would explain why the water level was at the top edge. (like an overflowing bathtub...)

When you get the trough cleaned out, it would be interesting to see where they did divert the water to. I've seen old cisterns with an opening *on* the porch, but not under them. How would you get to it when it needed to be cleaned? All hand dug wells and cisterns needed to be cleaned (swept down) occasionally.

Anyway, if the water was piped into a cistern, I bet it would be in the celler. What about the floor area directly under the kitchen? (assuming they would pipe the water straight up beside the kitchen sink) See any patched places?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 1:32PM
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I'll add that I'd be very surprised if there was any kind of spring feeding this house, based on the little I know about the topography of the area.

This porch I'm referring to is a relatively recent construction. There has always been an entrance in this location, but the current structure looks like a modern wood deck. Perhaps the original porch had some sort of cistern access?

As far as the floor area under the kitchen, it's a VERY tight crawlspace (limited view of what's under there). The kitchen floor has been covered with slate tile and is in a current state of a severe sag. No way to assess any patched spots.

This house isn't even ours yet, but I find this so fascinating! In general, I get bored quickly if one question doesn't lead to another. I think this house would be a good fit for both our personalities!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 1:52PM
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I wasn't shouting, littledog, sorry if it came across like that. There were "spring houses" as well as the set-up like I described in the cellar. It's typical of spring houses to have troughs all around the periphery and they were located at or near the spring head, and sometimes above ground and sometimes (often set into a hill) beneath the spring and they had troughs all around the sides and the whole enclosure stayed cool as if it were air-conditioned.

The set-up you are describing, Mattr sounds a lot like the system we have in our own home. It was engineered at least a century ago and has been in use continually on our property. The pipe coming into our cistern below the kitchen window is gravity fed from the spring. It's source is only inches below water level at the spring head. That is in the side of a hill, and has a brick cache basin built under it, and for walls on three sides, so it's enclosed to protect the clean water from critters/leaves/soil. The rest of the flow becomes a stream in wet weather and meanders along the property, and some of the flow coming out of the hill goes right back down into the ground and travels underneath it for an acre or two.

The water feeds the little cistern (which I imagine used to have a hand pump in it) and then has another outflow pipe which lead underground to the stock watering trough and artesianed or fountained up and filled that, and another pipe served as an overflow and it ran the length of the property and fed into a stream. IOW the pipes wended here and there and the overflow from one cache basin drained off to fill another. We installed a 1500 gallon second resevoir and put an electric pump in it to the house, and we also fed a pipe into the little cistern under the window, ran it through our foundation and I have a pitcher pump in my kitchen.

The pipe coming into your trough is I'd almost be certain a pipe from a spring. It won't be from a well. No, spring head should never need cleaned. We haven't in the thirty years we've owned this house.

Farmers were very, very lucky to have springs on their property because they have obvious advantages over dug wells and not too many people are familiar with spring systems, because when electric became available to rural areas (sometimes as late as the forties), things like spring systems and windmills fell out of favour. If I didn't have a system of my own we are still using, I wouldn't be so familiar with them. It's just a way of everday life for us.

My father told me what the trough was in my other little farmhouse. He knew right away, it was a common method of refrigeration in his lifetime.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 2:12PM
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You may not even have a cistern, or that trough could be used as one. The cistern for a spring, or rain water diversion is just used as a cache basin to have someplace to pump from. If this is located under a kitchen, a pitcher pump may have drawn it up from the trough in the basement. No, our cistern doesn't need cleaned often. We've never, to be factual. Spring water is extremely clean source, as it comes up through porous water permeable rock layers and is essentially already filtered. The bottom of our cistern has a little sediment buildup but almost negligible.

You do not need hills to have a spring and pipe water from it. Depending on the impermeable rock overlaying the water bearing rock where the underground stream flows, the water may have natural head pressure as it's source could be very, very far away from your property. That's called an 'artesian' well. We have several artesianed spots on our property and the overlaying soil is little more than quicksand as the water bubbles up through it.

If you do not have a rural background, you may also want to poke around the farm forum because you are buying into not only an old home, but a farm home with all it's wondrous little bits.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 2:29PM
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I hadn't considered this maybe a cache basin of sort; seems very plausible. It would be fairly easy to pump from this location upstairs to the kitchen. I'm still confused about the source of water...cistern, spring, etc.

Here's why I have my doubts regarding the presence of a spring. The property sits on the ridge of a stream that has meandered over about a mile wide path over the course of the last several centuries. This ridge elevation is about 30 feet or so above the old stream bed. Much of the land around this property has been used for gravel and sand pits and is currently being reclaimed and developed. I'm guessing that the water table is pretty even with the lakes formed during the gravel/sand mining process. These lakes are about another 10 feet below that grade. Since the soil has such a high degree of permeability, I'd be surprised if the water table (and any springs) would be above 40 feet of depth or so. I could be way off here, just my first instincts.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 2:59PM
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Oh yeah, I would consider my background to be somewhere between urban and rural, probably closer to rural. After seeing the wealth of information in the other forums, I would be very interested in checking out the farm area as well, but I can't seem to find it. Do you have a link?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 3:15PM
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Here you go.....

Here is a link that might be useful: Farm Forum on Gardenweb

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 5:01PM
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It looks like it would be just about the right size for milk cans...

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 9:12AM
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I'd be doing some research on the previous owners, especially the first owners you may get some answers that way. I know we've found a few unusual things in our house inside and out and by knowing who lived here before us we were able to solve several of our mysteries.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 7:36PM
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calliope We installed a 1500 gallon second resevoir and put an electric pump in it to the house, and we also fed a pipe into the little cistern under the window, ran it through our foundation and I have a pitcher pump in my kitchen.

So you drink this water with no sterilization treatment at all?

I grew up in rural Ohio and remember my mother using a pump at the kitchen sink, but I never really thought about where that water was coming from!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 9:14AM
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Sure do. The water actual quality tests on the spring water are danged near perfect. Better than our irrigation well. Some sources consider a spring as ground water, but our source is sheltered from emergence to delivery and after reading the warnings the municipal water sources send out on occasion about boiling, I'll take my water any day. LOL.

Back on the family farm years ago, my MIL would switch over to cistern when the well had problems, but it was gathered from run-off off the tin roof. Needless to say there would be detritus in it, like leaves, and possibly bird droppings. That's an whole different story. It was not used for drinking.

I've lived with a private water supply most of my life, and our wells have always tested safe without chlorination, thank God. I would always recommend however, that purity testing be done not only to anyone coming into a private water source, but occasionally on an established one because contamination can occur under certain weather conditions, and for other reasons.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 1:16PM
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I grew up on a dairy farm in N.E.Ohio and we had a spring about 200' from the house that had been dug out to form a square pit about 4' x 4' and 9' deep then the pit was lined with 6" thick slabs of hand hewn sandstone.

In 1962 a team of anthropologist from Ohio State University examined the pit and based upon tool marks on the sandstone and artifacts found in the immediate vicinity of the spring they determined that it had originally been dug out and lined by Native Americans about 1500 years ago.

During my earliest childhood our notion of running water was to come into the kitchen and have Grandma hand us a pail and tell us to run out to the spring and get a bucket of water.

Although long before I was born, in the early 1920's Grandad had run a 3" iron pipe from the spring to a small masonry building near the barn which was known as the "milkhouse".

Inside the milkhouse there was a pit about 4'wide, 12'long and 3.5'deep. The pipe from the spring filled the pit on one end and on the opposite end a pipe ran out through the wall and feed a huge cast iron horse watering trough, then on to a creek which ran down through the pasteur.

In those days milk was shipped in 10gal milk cans and the cans were stored overnight in that water pit, which maintains a year around temperature of 36 to 45degF.

In 1961 the state passed a law which said that all farms selling grade A milk had to install refrigerated bulk tanks and you had to have both hot and cold running water to clean the milking machines and the bulk tank.

in order to comply with the new regulations we ran a 1" Polyethylene pipe from the spring to the basement of the house where it was attached to a shallow well pump then one line was run to the kitchen and a second line was run to the new milkhouse at the barn area. (it was 3 years later when they built an addition on the house and added an indoor bathroom, thus retiring the old outhouse..LOL)

To this day the water is still supplied from that spring.

Every other day a bulk truck comes to the farm to pick up the milk and with each pickup they take a sample of both the milk and the water which is tested at a lab at the dairy. About three years ago we got a nice wall certificate from the testing lab stating that in 30 years of testing every other day our water supply has never once failed to meet the standards for pure potable water, and in fact, it has shown to be more pure than many sources of bottled water.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 11:56PM
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"In 1962 a team of anthropologist from Ohio State University examined the pit and based upon tool marks on the sandstone and artifacts found in the immediate vicinity of the spring they determined that it had originally been dug out and lined by Native Americans about 1500 years ago."

Isn't that exciting? I know from my customers that the little one room school house down the road used to send a couple boys every morning with buckets to pull up water for the day's use each morning at our springhead. There was a large Indian village up the road north west of us who were there until the very early 1800s, and one of our local history books say those Indians used to frequent Three Mile Spring, as did the early pioneers who traversed past it. Our property is located exactly three miles from the oldest road in our county, and although I have not set out to prove it, suspect our spring is the three miles spring mentioned. The intermittent stream emanating from our spring head shows up on maps dating from the 1830s.

According to reading and study I've done concerning our watersheds, the destruction of spring heads both by farmers and development is a serious issue. They need to be identified and preserved.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 9:44AM
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I spent some more time at this house this morning. I've answered a couple of my questions including this trough situation. I mentioned the pipe coming into the cellar from under the porch. I removed a couple boards from the porch and found a 30 foot or so brick lined well. (see link for pictures) The pipe going into the cellar is not connected to the well currently, but was surely was at one time. There are still two pipes going into the well, but they don't really come close to the water level. Not sure how they got water out of the well. I'm guessing the water was somehow pumped out of the well into the trough to cool the dairy products, as mentioned. Very interesting!

In a couple of the pictures, you can see a brick ridge at the top of the well. This is the bottom of the foundation for an exterior wall of the kitchen.

Here is a link that might be useful: Well pictures

    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 3:29PM
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Along with what Calliope said, I grew up in a house in a small town in PA and our cellar had such a trough that had been used to keep dairy foods cool. The spring had long ago vanished, but my dad went searching for it in the 1950's, found it again and we had our own water source for a very long time.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2008 at 2:31PM
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Marvin Forssander-Baird

This thread makes me really wonder about the area encircling most of my coal room. I just cleaned in there today and this area is like a trough, just filled in with soil.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2009 at 1:25AM
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