Thursday, July 30, 2015

Making Use of the Cistern...

Do you know what a cistern is?

It's a tank for storing water.  In our case, it's an underground tank made of concrete, which is fed by the rain spouts on two sides of the house.

Our house was built a little over 100 years ago, and I have no idea when the cistern was put in...but it's a handy thing to have.  We've been regularly putting it to use ever since we moved to the farm in 1994.  We try to use it about every 4 - 6 weeks, depending on how much rain we have.  The water is not suitable for drinking, so when we plan to use it, we fill up enough water jugs to last a few days.  If we run out, our neighbors are glad to let us fill a few jugs from their faucets. (We all have wells, so no one is paying a water bill!)

You'd never know it's there if you don't know where to look.  See the spout coming down the side of the house, angling down to the left under the window?

That spout collects rain water and runs it directly into the cistern, which is under what we call the "shop".  That corner has become a bit of a catchall for some garden tools, but you can see where the spout goes down into the concrete.  There's another spout on the north side of the house as well...

The heavy !! metal grate covers the cistern...

The lid is heavy for an adult to lift, so we had no worries about the kids removing it and falling in...

The cistern is made of concrete and is probably around 7' deep.  To be honest, I don't know the other measurements.  A few years ago it was leaking, and we had it pumped out, cleaned, and the concrete repaired and sealed.  At that time, Jim was down inside, and I looked in to get an idea of the size, but I'll suffice it to say that it's big...probably at least as big as our farmhouse bathroom, which is pretty big...

Why do we use it?

With all the water that we use on the farm, our well pump gets used hard, so using the cistern occasionally gives it a break.  It also keeps the cistern pump in good working order in case of an emergency.  I remember one very hot summer, our well pump gave out, and we had trouble with the new one not working properly.  We had a load of water brought in and dumped into the cistern, and the thirsty cows were very happy!

The water is also great for doing laundry, as it's naturally soft, so when we run the cistern I do as much laundry as I can find!

I guess the rain barrels that folks are getting these days are a similar thing, except for the size and the manner in which the water is accessed.

Do any of you still have a working cistern on your property?


  1. very handy to have, i am certain! here in texas summers, it'd run dry, though. :)

  2. My granparents had one. It also served as their refrigerator and source of non-drinkable water. The lid was light. Lots of neat things lived in there as it was not sealed very well at the surface. Ah, the good old days before electricity and running water! It also had the old fashioned handle pumpon top.

  3. I've never seen a cistern to hold lots of rain water like that. What an ingenious idea.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Oh that would be soft water..Everyone around here has a cistern except us but we have two wells both have hard water though. Hug B

  5. My grandmother had one on her farm. Sometimes, if we didn't get much rain, she would have it filled. A gentleman would come out and sit under a large tree in the front yard while the cistern filled. Good memories for me.

  6. No cistern here, but I remember the one in the basement of my grandparents house. They had two old hand pumps on either side of the sink in the kitchen. One brought up soft water from the cistern, and the other brought hard water from the well. Near here a number of houses have to have an underground tank for water, which is brought in by truck. Not exactly the same, but sorta....

  7. Don't have one, but I wish we did! I have buckets and other containers under all of our downspouts though, so I can use rainwater to water the plants. -Jenn

  8. I would love to have a cistern. That is an amazing idea. When we do get rain, it would be so awesome to be able to collect it., At least to be able to water the lawn.
    That is ingenious.

  9. My oldest son, his wife and my two oldest grandkids lived in the country with a cistern. Every week, Jim would go with Chris about 8 miles to fill a water truck, and home they would come, up their bumpy and crooked (and steep) drive to fill the cistern. It cost them (then) about 8.00. Their cistern had it's own clean little pump house, and they kept things very clean... but yes, they were limited as to how much they could bathe, etc. while they lived with the cistern.

    1. There is never enough credit given to people back in the day. What a good way to use rainwater and to be prepared during an emergency. My grandfather had a cistern the size of a grain bin buried in the hills above the house. It came in handy more often than not. It didn't need an engine to run, gravity was all that was required.

  10. Nope, we do not have a cistern here, though it would be nice if we did!
    There are still cisterns in use currently around here, and mostly the cistern water is used to water lawns and gardens etc..
    Until just a while ago, our state didn't allow folks to catch water with rain barrels! Some nonsense about it affecting the water tables... pah~shaw. Now, we can use rain barrels if we want to. Living in the desert, I would like to get a few rain barrels and use next summer.

    Thanks for sharing your cool cistern with us !


  11. My grandparents (your great-grandparents) had a cistern built about 1930 at their home at "Truce" on Route 272, north of the "Buck". Since the house has been remodeled to a duplex, I'm not sure what happened to the cistern and wash house and our 2 pumps.


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