Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Houses

A spring house is not a season-specific home one occupies like a summer or winter home.  In fact, it isn't really a house at all.  Before modern electricity made refrigeration possible for the homeowner, farmers relied on shed-like structures built directly on top of natural springs or on one situated near the bank of a creek to store their perishables.  The house was usually made of stone (at least here in the Delaware Valley that seems to be the case) and was no larger than a small room.  If the farmer was lucky, he would have built the spring house against a hill to take advantage of its insulating properties.

Depending on the design & how elaborate the land owner wanted it to be, a small channel was usually built along the inside walls to direct the flow of water around the structure.  This allowed the spring house to maintain a cool internal temperature (somewhere in the mid 50° F range), making it possible to keep dairy products, meats and fruits that would otherwise have spoiled rapidly.  Milk-filled pails or large joints of meat usually hung from rafters, while stoneware crocks filled with pickled vegetables, fruits and corned meats sat on the floor or on built-in shelves.

There happen to be a few spring houses near our home, so I invite you to take a look at them. 
This small Spring House in the woods of a large property, which dates to about 1860, is approximately 200 yards from the main colonial house.  Although that particular home did originally have a keeping room (it's now a mudroom), the Spring House was used for larger amounts of food storage.

As one approaches the one room structure, it is immediately apparent how the stone wall on the right hand side is built into the bank of the hill.  The same principal of temperature insulation that went into the building of Bank Barns was used for this spring house.

Originally there would not have been a door here.  The cast iron door with scroll work is a modern addition to keep critters out. 

Walls between 1-2 feet thick were constructed from stone found on the property.  If you look closely, there is a small trickle of water emerging from the rear of the house. 


Although there is a creek only a few feet away from the structure, it is obvious that this house was built directly on top of a natural spring.  It's quite a soothing sound to hear the burbling water emerging from the ground & emptying into the creek. 


In the foreground of this neighboring farm is another spring house (built in the 1840s).  The covered porch is a modern addition.  


Sunken into the ground, the spring house is built on top of a spring as well.  This empties out into one of the several creeks that run through our town.  The spring house on this property has been converted into a little private one room sanctuary.


This is the rear view which shows 2 windows; I'm not so sure they were originally there.  It must be nice spending quiet moments inside.



A tiny spring house graces another property just a few miles from our home.  These owners have left the entrance unobstructed, which is what it would have looked like in colonial times.  I honestly don't know when this particular spring house was built, but it's well preserved. 


Just a few feet from this verdant scene is yet another creek.  Built to sit against the hill, the tiny spring house is very cool inside.






I think it's important to recognize & understand the role spring houses played on a property a few hundred years ago.  Just as chicken coops, barns, smokehouses, workshops or even butteries were important to any working farm, so too were spring houses.  This made keeping possible and practical for rural America.  I hope you enjoyed viewing these photographs of some of the spring houses in my area of Pennsylvania and can come to appreciate their significance to the American working farm of yesteryear.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you; your information on the spring house was quite interesting. I remember as a young child being intrigued by a visit to a spring house on a farm in VA. I used to wonder about barns usually being built on a hill on one side; now I know why!

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