Thursday, October 31, 2013

of syrup and cisterns

Things have been somewhat quiet around here the past couple of weeks, as family visits and a last minute Halloween get together here have not only kept us busy, but the cleaning required has prevented us from working on much of anything with risking undoing all our hard work. In the almost three years we've been here I think we've only sat in our dining room a half dozen times, so it was somewhat thrilling to sit and enjoy a Halloween dinner with friends, finally putting our big old house to good use (Guinness Beef Pie, Bourbon Slushies and Mulled Wine helped, I'm sure, as did a Nightmare before Christmas and Rocky Horror Picture Show double header projected on the wall)!

We've always taken Halloween quite seriously - for us it is The Holiday, so not being able to decorate (our bins are buried in the disaster that is the 3rd floor, not to mention it's a bit hard to work around decorations) has caused us more than a little grief. At least our house is more than terrifying enough on it's own, even with minimal decorating our neighbors told us that the majority of trick-or-treaters took one look at our house and kept walking. Guess that just means I get to keep the Costco bag of candy all to myself.

I'll also go ahead and blame our neighbor and good friend for the slow down in progress. We mentioned our cistern to him a few weeks ago, and his curiosity got the best of him.

We've looked in it before, but couldn't make too much out as it was filled with water. We were hoping to find out where the overflow was located, as well as which gutters still fed into it. As it turns out, he used to work for a pool company, and now that it's fall they were happy to loan him a monster pump that got it drained in just a few hours. What we learned is that it's a somewhat circular vaulted brick cistern, about 10 feet in diameter and 12 feet deep. The water was crystal clear (although there's a few inches of silt in the bottom), and it looks like three downspouts still feed into it, all of which are partially clogged with small roots which may explain some of the moisture in the basement.

We also learned that our hips are bigger than they seem - it's lucky that we brought out a tape measure before trying to climb in or else we'd have had a real Augustus Gloop situation on our hands... Luckily we have a very tiny cousin, but I'm still inordinately disappointed that I won't be able to get down there myself (it may be the perfect excuse for a diet).

The rain we've had the past few days will make borrowing the pump again necessary before anyone gets down there though... Judging by the fact that it's in excellent condition I doubt there's any cool stuff to find, but I'd like to take a pruner to those roots and get a better idea about an overflow. We were able to see the pipe in the bottom of the cistern that went into the house. For those not familiar with how cisterns work (or at least not familiar with how "we think" ours worked) - the copper gutters and downspouts flowed into the cistern, which connected to a pipe that flowed to a pump in the basement. This hand pump pumped water into a smaller cast iron cistern in the attic, from which our plumbing was fed via gravity. Thus an 1886 house that seems to have always had indoor plumbing.

that's the cistern on the left, you can see the disconnected pipe

None of this is particularly interesting I know, but look, we're starting to plan the front porch! The syrup made for a great gazebo stand in . . .


  1. I think your cistern is FASCINATING, but I'm most interested in your attic cistern. So, so cool. These people were clever.

    1. Seriously right? It's made me obsessed with figuring out things like the original laundry room and such in the basement, but sadly there's really not much left to decipher...


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