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Saturday, November 27, 2010

MARGARET'S HILLSIDE ROOT CELLAR -- BUILT 1971

FRONT VIEW OF MARGARET'S OLD ROOT CELLAR
MADISON COUNTY, KENTUCKY
Margaret's husband built the above concrete block root cellar in 1971 -- thirty-nine years ago when she was thirty-seven. Today, Margaret is seventy six and  no longer uses it. 


Our recent chat revealed that they once had a very large garden where they grew a wide variety of vegetables. She canned huge amounts of the harvest. One year she canned about 500 quarts of green beans. She gave lots of her vegetables away. Now she only grows a small patch of tomatoes as her husband helper passed a few years ago.


Some root cellars are inside houses, usually the basement. My mother had one in our basement that she called her fruit cellar. Maybe it is just a matter of semantics whether one calls the cellar -- fruit or root?

Most root cellars in the U.S. are built into sides of  hills. The idea of root cellars was born in 17th century Europe and traveled to the U.S. They became a traditional part of rural living. They are not used in great abundance anymore but still can be found in some country areas.

SIDE VIEW OF MARGARET'S HILLSIDE ROOT CELLAR

This particular cellar was built by Margaret's husband of cement block. He lined the walls with shelves to store the glass jars of canned goods. The floor space was saved to spread out  potatoes. It was kept chock full. 


The cooling and insulating properties of the surrounding ground preserve the freshness of the fruit and vegetables. 

CLOSE UP VIEW OF UPPER FRONT DOOR AND CEMENT BLOCK ROOF

The temperature of these outside root cellars remain slightly above freezing during the winter which slows down spoilage. Produce stored in indoor cellars, usually the basement type,  do not have the same storing qualities as the outdoor cellars. 


A wide variety of food could be stored in Margaret's cellar if she desired -- cured meats, milk, cheese, dried foods, canned food, fruit and vegetables. 

GHEEN, MINNESOTA, FARMER PUTTING DIRT ON ROOT CELLAR ROOF
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, LEE RUSSELL PHOTOGRAPHER 1937

Here are a few Farm Security Administration photos of root cellars in the western part of the country. Photos were taken by the photographer Russell Lee who worked for the FSA during the depression years. 

I have captioned my post's last three photos with information known about each one. These pictures represent the "hey day," of root cellars.



HOMINY THOMPSON IN DOOR OF THE ROOT CELLAR HE BUILT
SHERIDAN, MONTANA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, LEE RUSSELL, PHOTOGRAPHER 1937
Root cellars appear to have had their peak periods during the 1800s through about 1950. Modern refrigeration put an end to the popularity of building such structures. That is except Margaret's husband who built his in 1971. Recently, with the back to land movement, there has been renewed interest in root cellars.


For a good discussion site on root cellars click here on nativestones.


OLD ROOT CELLAR ON FARM NEAR NERTHOME, MINNESOTA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, LEE RUSSELL, PHOTOGRAPHER, 1937

25 comments:

  1. We've never had root cellars here in Oz but I like the idea and can see how it would easily take off again :)
    Love the photos and thanks for sharing this great subject :)

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  2. Love the old pics of the cellars. I own my Great Grandfathers property and he had a cellar dug into the ground with a smokehouse on top of it. My wife still uses the cellar to store her canning each year.

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  3. My farmhouse is over 100 yrs old and we have the cellar that was used to store food goods. The previous owner stored her home canning in the cellar, but I confess that I rarely go down there! On our farm we have the remnants of a springhouse, by the natural springs, for storage of cold items.

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  4. I've known folks to bury a barrel in the side of a dirt bank and store potatoes in straw through the winter.

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  5. Jayne -- It seems like I read something about root cellars in OZ? If I find out where I read it I'll let you know. Perhaps, I misinterpreted the material I read? Thanks for stopping by -- barbara

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  6. Joe -- glad you enjoyed the old root cellar photos -- I thought they were wonderful. Nice that you have a cellar. Can't understand how a smoke house would be compatible with a cellar. One space is cold and the other warm? Thanks for telling me about your cellar. -- barbara

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  7. Farmchick – It sounds like your house has a cellar something like the one in my childhood home. The one my mother called the fruit cellar where she kept her canning goods. Nice that you have a natural spring on your farm. Would be nice to get a history of the springhouse from a previous owner if possible. Thanks for sharing the information of some your farm’s history. -- barbara

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  8. Vicki – That’s a good simple idea to accomplish a winter storage area. I have heard of trenches, mulched mounds, and in Oregon where the temps don’t get so low – ventilated storage sheds. Thanks for the info -- barbara

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  9. I've long loved the idea of a root cellar, even though I've never lived in a house that had one. Unfinished basements or basement rooms often did the trick, though, including in our current house. The room we use stays cool and dry all year, and we are so glad to have it for storing yams, potatoes, onions and squash.

    We bought the book Root Cellaring three years ago in our enthusiasm for the concept! :-)

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  10. My grandparents had a huge root cellar. One side was for vegetables and the other side served as an apple house. I just loved going down in there with my Grammy.

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  11. Laloofah -- I feel your storage room is a good alternative for a root cellar -- I have used cold rooms or attic space for storage in the past. Sounds like you have quite a selection of produce to store -- barbara

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  12. NCmountainwoman -- I can just imagine how grand a root cellar that must have been for a child. Or anyone. Your grandmother took her storage seriously. -- barbara

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  13. They're almost all organic goodies we buy at the local health food store. We have a little 10x10' organic garden, but mainly because of a grasshopper plague for the past two years we haven't had any harvest lately. We tried to plant some greens last year, but the second they poked their little heads up out of the soil, the grasshoppers devoured them. :-(

    I love your new blog header with the stone wall!!

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  14. Laloofah -- I am familiar with critters getting into a garden and devastating it. I lived in New Mexico for a short period and tried to raise a garden one summer. The prairie dogs had veracious appetites and ate every green stem that appeared from the soil. Grasshopper plague would be tough to deal with.

    I eat all organic -- hoping for good health for myself and all life forms. Glad to hear you also do.

    Thanks for the compliment on the stone wall header. If you are familiar with KY you might know that stone walls were built eons ago by laborers for many of the large KY landowners and still stand in many place around central KY. They are beautiful.
    -- barbara

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  15. We have one here at Willow Manor! I must admit, I had no idea it was a root cellar. We always assumed it was a bomb shelter of some kind. Who knew?!

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  16. By the way, your beautiful new header looks like it could be right here at the manor. Our property is surrounded by old limestone walls just like this.

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  17. Well, I guess an old root cellar could be used for a bomb shelter or -- one can also use it for tornadoes like you see folks running into in the movies or -- a stock of farm goods would be nice too? Your home must be an old one as these rock fences were constructed quite early in our states history. How wonderful that you have such beautiful fencing! Thanks for the nice comments -- barbara

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  18. I love cellars. When I was growing up, just about everyone in the holler had one. They were usually built back into the hillside and earth was on top of them or what we called a cellar top (a little room built on top of them). They were so cool to go inside of in the summertime.

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  19. Janet, What a great experience for you as a child living around such structures. I remember them from places I visited with my parents -- was fascinated with the idea of entering a structure built partly in the ground -- but was told the cellar was not a place to play. Darn! -- barbara

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  20. Hi Barbara:

    Excellent post. I just finished our new root cellar this past fall and am very pleased with it. I used the tractor to dig out the earth at the base of our northeast facing slope and built the walls of the cellar with tires. We stacked the tires like bricks and packed each one with soil. The front of the cellar has an outside door leading into the anteroom, then another door that leads into the cellar. The anteroom serves as an insulator for the cellar. I'll get a picture of the cellar soon and post on my blog.

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  21. We had one very similar to the one you've pictured first, Barbara, when we lived on Vancouver Island BC. It was wonderful! Built right into the hillside.

    Elora

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  22. Thomas -- Oh I would like to see your finished cellar on your blog! I believe it would be not only interesting to me but your readers. You put some good ideas to work with its construction. Thanks for telling me about it and hope to see it on your blog in the future. -- barbara

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  23. Elora -- Have you ever had any posts on living on Vancouver Island BC. I think they would be so interesting. I know you have mentioned various places you have lived but I don't know if you have blogged about the places? -- barbara

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  24. I just loved reading this. I am going to ask around Maine to see if there are root cellars here.

    Thanks so much for this great post.
    my first visit.
    yvonne

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  25. La Petite Gallery -- Welcome and glad you stopped by. I believe that you will find that Maine has some type of root cellar construction left from the age when it was popular -- pre-refrigerators.
    Please visit again -- barbara

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