Skip to main content

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.


  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!

  2. Beautiful historic outbuildings! I so enjoyed your photographs and the details you shared. Thank you.

  3. I am working on a display about springs and spring houses at a small museum. I would like to talk to you about using one or two photos from your post. Could you contact me to discuss?

  4. Hello David. I'm really enjoying your site. Also enjoyed the Springhouse story. I'm presently collecting photos/geo coordinates of Springhouses in Southeaster Pennsylvania and Northern Delaware in hope of some day photographing these locations for an exhibit. I find it a good excuse to ride my motorcycle along the back roads looking for these treasures of the past.

    Keep up the good work, take care and be safe.

  5. Hello David! Thank you for sharing! I’m so glad I’ve stumbled on this piece as I’m currently collecting data and retracing deeds and other information on my York County property which has a Springhouse. The Springhouse is in need of significant restoration, missing its roof, but walls still intact. Your story gives me hope that others still marvel in the beauty and importance of our PA history!


Post a Comment

Thank You for Posting!

Popular posts from this blog

Antique Salt Cellars

There was a time when salt cellars played an important role on the dining table for the host or hostess.  As a result of it being such an expensive commodity several hundred years ago, salt was seen as a luxury and it was the well to do that made salt cellars quite fashionable & a status symbol for the home.  A single salt cellar usually sat at the head of the table and was passed around throughout the meal.  The closer one sat to the salt cellar, the more important one was deemed by the head of the household.  Smaller cellars that were more accessible and with an open top became a part of Victorian table settings.  Fast forward to the 20th century when salt was no longer a luxury and when anti caking agents were added to make salt free-flowing, and one begins to see salt cellars fall out of fashion.  Luckily for the collector and for those of us who like to set a table with Good Things , this can prove to be a boon. Salt cellars for the table come in silver, porcelain, cut glass

How to Paint a Chair

If you have ever felt the need to spruce up a set of chairs or give them a new look, why not try a little bit of paint?  Our tastes in decor and color will probably alter throughout our lives, and at some point, we may find ourselves wanting to change the look of our furniture without having to spend a lot of money.  That's where a few handy tips, some tools from the hardware store, and good-quality paint come in handy.   I know I'm not alone in paying visits to local antique shops, antique fairs and flea markets, and falling in love with pieces of furniture that would be perfect if they were just a different color.  You don't have to walk away from a good purchase simply because it's the wrong color.   My dear friend, Jeffrey, is forever enhancing his home with collectibles from flea markets and tag sales.  However, certain items aren't always up to Jeffrey's tastes when he brings them home.  He is the type of person who won't hesitate to chang

Vintage Wilton Wedding Cakes

Wedding cakes have certainly evolved over the decades just as tastes and styles have in our American way of life.  There was a time when elaborate & very formal towering feats of sweetness were the standard for every bride & groom.  Growing up in a household where I witnessed several wedding cakes take shape from start to finish, I can tell you  that every single one of these was a true labor of love.  For mom, Wilton was the go-to supplier in every aspect of cake baking, including the wedding cakes which flew out of our house every single year for friends & family.   Vintage Wedding Cake Toppers It’s fun going back and looking at Wilton’s methods and styles for wedding cakes during the 1960s and 1970s.  Back then, the shapely cakes were not simply stacked and covered in perfect fondant the way they are these days, but were iced and decorated with real buttercream, along with a multitude of accessories.  There was even a working fountain available that could b