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Thread: Cisterns and sink holes

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Cisterns and sink holes

    Earlier this year we got a crack in our drive and it started to dip a bit. Then a few days ago we had a huge rain and the concrete fell in far enough that I couldn't drive my car in cause I would have fallen in.
    So we call a friend with a backhoe to come get the concrete out.

    They did today. There was a cistern under the driveway. How crazy is that?
    Our house was built in the 1950's, there was no rebar in the concrete. The concrete was barely 4 inches thick I am surprised that it lasted that long...

    I guess I thought that our subdivision was the first house here. I would not have thought about another house being on that site. The older houses 1 1/2 blocks away were big mansions built 1880's. Then past that they were all built in the 1950's
    Things that make you go hmmm....

    Have any of you ever found stuff like this?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    Earlier this year we got a crack in our drive and it started to dip a bit. Then a few days ago we had a huge rain and the concrete fell in far enough...

    Have any of you ever found stuff like this?
    Cistern or dry well? Not uncommon up to the 50s or so, depending where you are. Nor the rebar issue, or the 'only' 4" of concrete lasting for 50 years (rare to water it down to go farther).

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    Earlier this year we got a crack in our drive and it started to dip a bit. Then a few days ago we had a huge rain and the concrete fell in far enough that I couldn't drive my car in cause I would have fallen in.
    So we call a friend with a backhoe to come get the concrete out.

    They did today. There was a cistern under the driveway. How crazy is that?
    Our house was built in the 1950's, there was no rebar in the concrete. The concrete was barely 4 inches thick I am surprised that it lasted that long...

    I guess I thought that our subdivision was the first house here. I would not have thought about another house being on that site. The older houses 1 1/2 blocks away were big mansions built 1880's. Then past that they were all built in the 1950's
    Things that make you go hmmm....

    Have any of you ever found stuff like this?
    When our family moved into our 1830s farmhouse in 1960, we found a metal vat/tank in the attic area over the kitchen/utility room/bathroom and a cistern in the cellar beneath where the kitchen sink was. Apparently, they collected rainwater and had it flow down to the cistern so that it would be easier to hand-pump into the kitchen sink. It probably also provided "running water" for indoor plumbing.

    The vat was a long, low rectangle to fit into the short space in the attic -- and had to have been put in when that part of the house was built (probably in the 1850s or later) since the only access was a small square trap door. When my father remodelled the house around 1980, he took the vat out by cutting it in two and taking it out through a hole in the roof -- with the assistance of several friends and a couple of large tractors!

    A few years ago, on the other side of town, I spotted a similar vat/tank on the front lawn of another old farmhouse similar to ours that was being remodelled. Apparently, somebody in and around Gowanda, NY in the 1800s had devised a means of providing running water to homes in the days before electric pumps made this practical.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The neighbor to an office I once worked in (former library, 1910) was built in the 1840's and substantially rebuilt about 1870. A hole was discovered, and a brick-lined section of tunnel. The house had previously been documented as a stop on the underground railroad.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I am so excited. Last night I went over to my neighbors house and he ran into the house and brought out pictures. They were of the subdivision "up on the hill" above me.
    The pictures started in 1926 when the roads were just getting laid out. They followed the progression of building through July 1930 in a set of 6 panoramic pics.
    Then the final one was an aerial it showed off in the distance one lone house. Right where my house is today from our best estimates.
    How cool is that? So my next guess. They had to have water. We have been told that there is no water in that area. Hmmmm. A private well would really be awesome.
    The pics helped to explain why there are so many 50's houses mixed in with the 1920's models. Those lots were never built on when the depression hit. It took another 20 years before building started again in that area.

    I asked if he would let me make copies or at least scan them into the computer. he said no he had promised that he would never allow that to happen. Puzzling isn't it. But at least we got to look at them.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    As an inspector of houses for buyers I have thrice found old hand-dug wells in crawl spaces. Two of them were capped by four-inch concrete "lids", that, in time had caved into the pits. As the caps hid the view, I have no idea of the depths of these.

    One of them had a block pier on a spot footing that used to rest on the cap, but now was somehow hanging, pier and footing, in the air.

    As for sinkholes, a friend in a fifteen yr old subdivision has what must be an old construction waste pit that is caving in as the material has rotted thru time.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    I am so excited. Last night I went over to my neighbors house and he ran into the house and brought out pictures. They were of the subdivision "up on the hill" above me.
    The pictures started in 1926 when the roads were just getting laid out. They followed the progression of building through July 1930 in a set of 6 panoramic pics.
    Then the final one was an aerial it showed off in the distance one lone house. Right where my house is today from our best estimates.
    How cool is that? So my next guess. They had to have water. We have been told that there is no water in that area. Hmmmm. A private well would really be awesome.
    The pics helped to explain why there are so many 50's houses mixed in with the 1920's models. Those lots were never built on when the depression hit. It took another 20 years before building started again in that area.

    I asked if he would let me make copies or at least scan them into the computer. he said no he had promised that he would never allow that to happen. Puzzling isn't it. But at least we got to look at them.
    A lot of old hand dug wells were lined with rocks so they would resemble cisterns or dry wells, especially in areas like the Northeast and Great Lakes where the glaciers deposited lots of them everywhere!

    There was a big residential construction boom between the start of WW I and the Great Depression. Much of the developable land within city limits was built up during this time, and the first suburbs based on the new automobile technology were built. In some ways it resembled the housing bubble that we've just been through.

    The Great Depression put the kabosh on large-scale building projects, and many subdivisions were left half built until after WW II. My neighborhood is like that: a mix of 1920s houses interspersed with 1950s capes. Then, as you go further south, the housing stock changes mostly to 1960s ranches.

    One of the interesting aspects of the real estate market collapse in Jamestown in the 1930s is the existance of "paper" streets. In the 1920s, the neighborhood was intended to be much denser. A street was supposed to run between my street and the next one over, but it was never put in. Apparently the developer defaulted and the extra land ended up being owned by the city. After WW II, the city apparently sold it to the adjoining lot owners, so the lots in the neighborhood are of various lengths, ranging from around 90-100 feet to 160 feet to 200+ feet. This gives my city neighborhood a definitely suburban cast, which is fine with me and a big reason I bought where I did.

    On another nearby street, the paper street still exists, creating a neat grassy area to walk your dog or ride your ATV. The lots facing this street were apparently sold off to the developer of the next street who combined the lots, so most lots are 300 feet long.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    The City just recently purchased half a block where there are 8 old houses sitting, most dating back to the late 1800's and early 1900's. Behind one of them was what looked like a "cover" of some type, about 12 feet from the foundation wall of one of the older homes. It turned out to be a concrete cover attached with rocks over an old cistern. It had to be about 12-15 feet deep and at least 8 feet wide. Pretty big! Somebody had been doing some cooking down there, evidently, as there were some old saucepans and skillets found down there. Strange.
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

  9. #9
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    I recently purchased a 1889 vernacular farmhouse with Queen Anne porch in upstate NY. The cellar has 2 cisterns. In the laundry room which was originally the back porch there's a small hand pump. My wife likes the old pioneer days and wants to collect rain water and get the pump working again. There is also an indoor privy in this room.

    Just never know what you're going to find.

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