Photo of the once cistern of Springside Hall by Linda Seccaspina-Do You have an Archaeological Find in Your Carleton Place Basement?
Earl Monro from Almonte once said: “Half a century ago there was no pasteurized or homogenized milk, no waterworks in town, except some private systems operated from their own wells or cisterns, no television, no ploughed road for automobiles, no snow tires, no school buses, no gas or electrically heated homes. However, in the humble opinion of the writer, the majority of the people were happier and more contented than they are now, even with all the comforts and luxuries of this fast moving day and age”.
After the fire in 1995 our whole basement had to be gutted and we noticed that there was a two inch open gap at the ceiling level on the far side of the wall and open space behind it. Ange and his father removed the stone wall, and low and behold there was a small room. The walls were also 3 ft thick and we figure it was once a root cellar. The dead space now joined part of the house as an official room. It became a wine cellar – but it has not been used in a decade. We found out later that it was a former cistern.
Most older homes have them hidden away somewhere- and what they actually were were “subterranean” reservoirs built to store rainwater. Some people had cisterns outside their homes, and then there were those under trap doors. Before the fire there was a trap door in our living room which was right over the cistern- but I had no idea what it was then. After the fire of course the floor was redone– and now I regret I did not tell the restoration company to put another one in.
There are stories that some fathers brought home live fish and dumped them in the cisterns. Those fish grew and multiplied and a cistern full of fish had to be great pride in a small town- “but I am wondering how fresh that water tasted “.( please note that this is just a humorous comment:). Stories were told not to fool around with the trap door and sometimes tragedy happened in cisterns as noted below. There were stories of a local big brother falling in the cistern and so disliked were they by their younger brothers that flat irons were put on top of the trap doors to make sure they didn’t come out. I know some should have thought about the fact that it had been a dry summer that year the brother was locked in there —and there was only 3 feet of water in that thing. Heck would reign once the older brother got out.
Spring used to be a time when you got the ladders up high and cleaned the gutters and then put the ladders down low and cleaned the cisterns. Having the biggest and deepest cistern in town with barrels full of rainwater from the roof of the house for housework was nothing prestige. It not only provided water with a few strokes of a sink pump, but the water was also very soft for all the housewives needs.
If a cistern was beyond the financial ability of the household, a rain barrel at the eavestrough of the house was a must. When the rain barrel and the cistern fell out of mode- that was when the soaps and water softeners came into play with the hard water that came from the taps. Some said they missed hearing the water dripping into the cistern after a rainfall and the girls never waited for rain anymore as there was always water in the cistern.
January 2 1880 Almonte Gazette
On Sunday last Miss Sarah Green, daughter of Mr. Samuel Green, of Landsdowne, who lives three miles from the station, was drowned in the cistern in her father’s house. The parents had gone to church and did not return until after the accident occurred.
The only member of the family about the house besides Miss Green was her brother and he was engaged looking after horses for a short time previous. This work he finished at 2 p.m and started for a neighbour’s house, but had to pass his father’s in order to reach it. As he passed be saw his sister standing at an upper window looking out They exchanged words and he went on.
When the parents reached home they found the door of the cistern open and at once shut it. The mother supposing Sarah to be upstairs called her a number of times and receiving no answer, began a search for her. It was not until the house had been thoroughly searched that she thought of the cistern. On looking into it they discovered Sarah lying on her face quite dead. The supposition is that she had let go the rope attached to the pail, with which the water was usually taken up, and in reaching for it- lost her balance and fell in. As there was a braise on her head, there is no doubt but she fell heavily against the bottom of the cistern, which contained only two feet of water, and being rendered insensible by the fall, was unable to help herself and drowned without a motion. Miss Green was an estimable lady twenty-three years of age.
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun