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The Evolution of the Root Cellar to the Storm House

Updated on May 15, 2020
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth, born and raised in the South, resides in Hamilton, Alabama. He enjoys sharing his unique perspectives on life through his writing.

The inside of  a well-organized root cellar.
The inside of a well-organized root cellar. | Source

The Humble Root Cellar

is really a construction of controversy. When the first people (in the 18th century) used a root cellar, those around them scoffed at them and tried to put-down what would be a monumental building that would help sustain life while doing little or nothing. The term, “construction of controversy,” is tagged this because the root cellar and itss designers couldn’t settle on a good name, root cellar or storm cellar, so the people just left the root cellar name and all, to its own.

Root cellars and storm cellars (or in the early south, “storm houses”) were set apart with one minute difference: the building was either halfway underground and the other, a storm house, was built totally above ground, but the cellar and storm house were used primarily for the main reason: to keep vegetables, fruits, nuts, or other foods stay cool and not easily-spoiled.

Stepping Backward

the root cellar had its roots in the 17th century in England as 40,000 circa years ago, Australians saw the value of using a root cellar, and sure enough, their foods were kept a a constant temperate and it took longer for their foods to spoil. That wold be “the” main focus of a root cellar or storm house. Yes, those of higher-mental faculties would argue that the root cellar was the “world’s first refrigerator.” I cannot argue against that.

Foods that early English, Australian and American settlers found-out early the foods: turnips, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and other crops (when stored) made it possible for the families to be able to look forward with a settled peace that said the food was last a lot longer if a root cellar was used. Root cellars stood for more than just a few walls of dirt and a few gravel and pieces of lumber and tin (if possible) were simple to build, but root cellars were really “life savers” many times during the bitterly-cold winter months.

People built root cellars into a bank of dirt and supported it with large stones.
People built root cellars into a bank of dirt and supported it with large stones. | Source

The Root Cellar in The Early South

gave way to (a) new term that many people of my age could enjoy. Enter the Storm House. True to my words. Storm House was the norm when now, the lowly root cellar grew into a more-sophisticated mindset, but the uses remained mainly the same

But as we can see, not only were families in the early south used to protect themselves from dangerous tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in order to allow them to live longer, but storm houses were still used to store foods to keep cool with a constant temperature that otherwise would ruin before they could be used.

My Personal Spin on Storm Houses_____

began in circa 1957 when my family and I lived the middle of nowhere. In “the sticks.” No joke. Our home atmosphere was no laughing matter. Our house was built from lumber and had two bedrooms, no inside plumbing, but a wood stove that my parents had secured when they were first married, so there the four of us were to live as best we could regardless of the living conditions.

Many is the time that my dad (who had a high-respect for storms) would summon all of us in loud tones to get-up, dressed in two-minutes and go with him to the storm house. Even in the worst storms, we would hit the storm house like wet rats. Most of us were scared at the scary winds that could easily take our lives unless God governed them. My mom put me to bed on this bunk-bed and she gave me a home-made quilt or two and I was to lay still per her soft instructions.

As I lay there listening to the howling winds and driving rains to accompany the loud thunder and sharp lightning, was I scared? Not to boast, but not really. Frankly, I enjoyed the thunderstorms because for some reason, I felt a certain peace while the storms were gong on. And I enjoyed another side of the storm house: I got to see those big brown well crickets who lived above n the storm house roof and although they were not poisonous, dad’s kerosene lamp light made them look like those huge monsters we used to watch on black and white TV. Those, my friends, were the days.

As I grew-up, I took something priceless away from my life (in) our storm house. Each time I began to reminisce in 2020, about the storms, quilts, mom, dad, sister, the kerosene lamp, and huge crickets, I stop, enjoy the memories all over again and I have countless times since then and again, proclaim . . .”These were the GOOD old days.”

May 15, 2020_____________________________________________________

Boyer Ranch, Gilbert's Storeroom, 44 miles east of Fallon, on U.S. Highway 50, Fallon, Churchill County, NV.
Boyer Ranch, Gilbert's Storeroom, 44 miles east of Fallon, on U.S. Highway 50, Fallon, Churchill County, NV. | Source

© 2020 Kenneth Avery


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    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      14 months ago from Beautiful South

      Spoken like a true Southerner, my friend Kenneth. When I was small, there was no cellar, root or storm, on my grandparent's farm. When my dad moved us closer to the city, our little place had a root cellar on it, and my mom kept her home-canned vegetables and fruits in it. At that time, I was only nine and thought it was a storm cellar. But the door was so flimsy that it was a wonder that it survived high winds.

      Later my uncle had a real storm cellar built on grandpa's farm, and one evening of bad storms and tornado warnings, we went to the cellar for several hours. So I can say that I rode out a tornado in a storm cellar one time in my life. After the winds died down about 10:00 o'clock, we went back to the house. Thinking back, sometimes those cellars, including grandpa's, were so far from the house, the family could have easily been blown away just trying to run to one if they waited until the last minute.


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