Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Mystery Patch

It's been cold and icy outside. I've been trapped inside. This inevitably leads to me spending time contemplating things. Always a little dangerous.

There is a concrete patch on the floor in my basement. It is hollow underneath the patch. You can tell by tapping your foot in the patch. It's round....maybe 3 feet diameter. I'm pretty sure it is an old well or cistern.

In no particular thoughts:

1) This is odd, I think. Over the years, I have toured probably close to 1000 old houses in my city and have never seen an old well or cistern. Never. The city water line dates to the 1800's so very few houses in the city have been without city water.

2) I see no evidence of a feeding system for a cistern on the outside of my house. In fact, I believe the downspouts currently on my house are original.

3) Is there a difference between a well and a cistern? I see the terms used interchangeably, but they seem different.

4) I assume because this mystery patch is near the laundry room, that the water was used for things like washing clothes. I have searched high and low for a photo of what this contraption must have looked like back in the day. Was there a hand pump to pull up the water? Was there an open hole? I have no idea and can't picture what is must have been like. I need a visual.

5) Could this have anything to do with the faint lines I can see on the floor a few feet over that I had been assuming was either a work bench or part of a coal chute?

6) Can something like this restored? Would I even want to?

7) Could this mystery patch have anything to do with the fact that the plaster and the windows in the bedroom above it have been redone?

8) Have I totally missed the boat on identifying this?

9) Is this one of those discoveries that will find me next summer knee deep in dirt in my back yard?


Joe said...

I love a good mystery! I bet you could find more clues if you tear-up the tiles all the way around the patch and see if it is completely circular. My basement floor has a patch that was only partially exposed at one point. Once I tore up all of the tiles I realized it is where the oil line had been retro-fitted (and subsequently abandoned) into the original concrete floor.

Joanne said...

A cistern holds rainwater, while a well (in our area at least) taps into the aquifer.

Let us know what you find.

dav3 said...

This looks like a patch from where an old gravity furnace was removed. Just a guess.

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

This is a really long shot.

I can't remember what type of heat you have, so this may be totally irrelevent.

In my house, there are a couple old, unused pipes for the hot water return for the boiler that go through the basement floor. If it wasn't for the relatively close proximity to other pipes which remain in use, I'd seriously consider removing them, so that I could have more open space in the basement. Perhaps a previous owner removed them and cut them out of the floor, but did a less than excellent job of filling and patching the area, hence the hollow nature of the patch?

Gary said...

Cisterns were used to collect rain water for laundry since rain water is soft. They were obsolete by the 1930s since city water was available in many places. Ours are a pair of brick lined circular pits about 8 feet deep. I have seen engraved pictures in a cistern advertisement in one of our city directories showing concrete cisterns side by side. They are generally placed outside near the kitchen. They could feed into the basement via a pipe and a shut-off valve or have a small hand pump at ground level. They tend to also have an overflow channel feeding the back yard. We have patches in our basement. They are circular because holes tend to be circular. They sound hollow underneath because they are not concrete patches but rather some kind of portland cement and sand based patch and only about 2 inches thick over dirt and rubble. They are there because at some time the main drain has had to be accessed to install a Y and a floor drain. In your case there may have been a sump pump.
If you think there is a body under there, dig it up!

StuccoHouse said...

I'll post some additional photos & info. later today (my camera's battery needs to be recharged). Thanks for the comments!

Jenni said...

I too was thinking....body. Too much TV for me.

We have a weird concrete patch in our yard.

Derek said...

It could be an underground oil tank, we had one in our backyard, which we had to remove. Looks kind of small for that though. My neighbour has something similiar under his front stairs, to collect rainwater, the rain water just soaks in to the ground at the bottom of the cistern though.

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