Thursday, February 9, 2017

Back in Time - Cellar

John S.
collapsing cellar
approx. 1984
I don't know when my parents built the cellar on the farm, but I'm guessing it was in the late 1940s. The cellar walls were dirt and almost smooth. On the west side of the narrow path down the middle was an open area to store potatoes, hard-shelled squash (acorn and huge hubbard), gourds, onions, and other root vegetables from the field and garden. Other items were also stored in the northwest corner, like empty lard buckets and empty wicker baskets and wire potato baskets. The east wall had narrow shelves to store numerous Mason jars, filled with tomatoes, tomato juice, corn and creamed corn, green beans, apples and apple sauce, sauerkraut, pickles (sweet and dill), peaches, pears, cherries, jams and jellies, apple butter and other fruits and vegetables if they were available. What we didn't eat out the garden was canned and taken to the cellar.

The steps into the cellar were wide and deep and cut from the earth. In the spring, it was common to find salamanders on the steps or at the bottom of the steps. The cellar door (seen in the photo) was heavy and made from wood. The only light that reached the cellar was when the door was open.

It was possible to stand upright in the cellar. The ceiling was probably two foot higher than the shelves, and in the middle was a small air vent that looked like a birdhouse on the top of "cellar hill."

From the photo, you can see the wooden frame of the roof and the depth of the dirt mounded on the frame.
collapsing the cellar
approx 1984
Cellar hill was probably only three or four foot high, but it was a good place to get some air on a bicycle and for little kids to slide down on their sled. On the northeast side of cellar hill was a large anthill of red ants that my oldest nephews liked to torment with firecrackers. The ants remained until the cellar was collapsed.

I don't remember why my brother John decided it was necessary to collapse the cellar other than my Mom didn't use it much: her canning days were over and the grocery store provided her with preserved fruits and vegetables.

The mound of earth was not missed and the flatten area provided more parking for equipment and visitors.


  1. Makes me kind of sad but time changes things. I just think being able to go get some of those canned things must have been a real treat.

  2. I'll bet it took a whole lotta dirt to fill in that cellar.

    Was it used for storm protection too?

  3. How interesting! And to have photos - wow! We had a dirt cellar under our 100 year old house, but the door actually opened into the kitchen. The thick walls were made of field rocks and there were steep wooden steps. By the steps was a ledge where mom kept her potato and onion bins. And there was a set of rough wooden shelves down there filled with Mason jars. I absolutely HATED going down there even as an adult. It was creepy and we had the occasional rat, salamander, and who knows what else.

  4. Nancy,
    So interesting to hear about a real cellar. Our neighbors in glenveiw had a cellar in the basement area. The floor was dirt. The house is still standing and I think the cellar was giving them water/mold issues? Did you have a tornado shelter?

  5. My Grandma's house in rural Nebraska also had a dirt cellar. The door was outside the house but attached to the house frame. Does that make sense? I loved going to get the jars of fruit and vegetables from the root cellar. It also doubled as the tornado shelter and we kept flashlights and blankets down there for those instances. Did you use your cellar for tornadoes too, or did you have another shelter for that?

  6. Oh Nancy, your wonderful posts never fail to touch my heart. The cellar was such a huge part of farm life. We bought and moved into a farm in Wheaton, Illinois and lived there for 18 years before we came to Texas. There was a big basement and shortly after moving in we discovered in one corner a heavy wood door that was locked and seemed to be impenetrable. When we finally broke the lock and almost broke down the door we found a root cellar, still stocked with preserves and vegetables--old, old, preserves and vegetables! It was like finding King Tut's tomb! I loved to go there and just look at the things kept there, and soak in the smells and cool air. Thanks for the the memory!!

  7. What an interesting post. I would have been sad to see it filled in and I also would not have wanted to go into it! I'm thinking snakes...

  8. What a cool post. The underground cellar set away from the house is something I have only ever read about and not seen in person. Very cool!

  9. I wonder if it was also used as a storm shelter? You described it wonderfully I could almost see the fruits and vegetables in their jars:)

  10. This is so far from my life knowledge. We always lived in suburban areas with no dirt cellars. If we lived on the East Coast we often had basements. If we lived on the West Coast the house was on a cement slab. I imagine collapsing a cellar was a safety issue. And just doing it was involved. Interesting post Nancy.

  11. This is a very interesting post. What a wonderfully useful area that must have been!

  12. Loved this post! Thank you for sharing your photos and memories of growing up on the farm - I so enjoy them! In some ways we have made so much progress, but in others, I'm not so sure. We had a cellar in the first house we moved into after we were married, but it was under the house. It was dirt too. Wish I had taken pictures of it.


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