Thinking back many years to my Grandfather Pettit's home in North Bloomfield, I have memories of trudging down the hill south of their house to the spring house. Some of you have memories of old spring houses while others may be asking the question, what is a spring house?
The one I remember was located at the base of their slope where water was found seeping out of the ground. A little house was built over this seeping water or spring that was piped into the house. To collect the water coming from this vein seeping out of the ground, if I remember right, a pipe with a screen on it was driven into the side of the hill.
Spring houses, so named because they were built over these springs, were made from different materials. As I remember, my grandfather's was built from wood with a concrete floor. It had small concrete tanks built into the floor for water storage and places to hang food to keep it cool. Others were built from stone because it was readily available and would keep foods colder than wood.
One of the priorities of our early settlement was a good supply of clean, pure water. They would sometimes develop these springs or seeps for a supply or dig, by hand, a deeper well where they thought they could get water.
Another priority was to have some way of preserving food so it wouldn't spoil. They wanted some type of refrigeration and the spring house was one way to provide a cool place to store food. Milk, cream, homemade butter and eggs from the farm flock were usually found in the one I remember.
Water from the springs was usually at a constant temperature, around 54 degrees. If the spring house was built right, the water would keep the temperature cool all the time in the spring house.
Foods like milk, cream, butter and eggs were often stored in glass or earthenware jars and suspended in the cool spring water. This was a good kind of refrigeration that was provided by nature. Today it would be called "green" storage because it didn't take any form of energy like electricity.
I also remember visiting my wife's grandfather's farm down in southwestern Virginia in the small community of Ab's Valley back in the mountains. He had a fairly large spring house with a flowing spring running through it that was very cold. This spring was at the base of a mountain down there.
He had a big farm with lots of acres, but very little of it was level and tillable. The rest was mountain pasture, and I remember wondering how the cows stayed on the side of those mountains to graze. He was a progressive Virginia farmer and found ways to fertilize some of those mountain pastures to improve them.
His spring house had a good size concrete tank where he put his 10-gallon milk cans to cool the milk before it was sent to market. He also had an area for food storage, and it did a good job of keeping everything cool.
History says that where there were no springs to develop, early settlers would divert water from a flowing stream through a small building to provide for cooling and food storage. They were ingenious and found ways to provide for themselves without today's modern conveniences.
Spring houses are mostly a thing of the past today. With modern refrigerators, they are no longer needed - unless someone wants to try living completely off nature again, as a few want to do. Might be good not to have an electric bill, but on the other hand, I don't want to trudge down to the bottom of the hill on a cold winter day to get a cold drink of milk.
So do some of you remember a spring house in your neighborhood?
Parker is an independent writer for the Tribune Chronicle.