Construction workers at the Lesmeister Guesthouse project made an amazing discovery yesterday. The bedroom in the southeast unit will be downstairs 1/2 level below the main floor of the building. The old concrete floor of that lower floor is uneven and out of level, so the plan is to jackhammer it all, remove the old concrete, put down a “vapor barrier” and install a new, level concrete slab.
Yesterday a worker started with his jackhammer in the center of the room and as soon as he broke through the 4-inch thick concrete he almost lost his jackhammer into empty space under the floor!
We had noticed that there was a concrete rectangle in the center of that concrete floor, and the general contractor had speculated that the rectangle could be the closed-up hatchway to what was once a cistern. For those who don’t know what a cistern is, it’s an underground reservoir. In the days before Pocahontas had a city water system, people built cisterns underground to hold rainwater for drinking. Imagine a water well, but bigger in diameter and not as deep, with water-tight plaster walls so the water would not escape.
Well, the contractor was right, and the cistern under the Lesmeister is HUGE! They measured it as an underground silo 8 feet (2,44 meters) in diameter and 16 feet (5 meters) deep. It’s the size of the trailer of a tractor-trailer truck, turned vertically! I calculate it would have held 6000 gallons (23.000 liters) of water. I cannot imagine why they stored that much water, unless they were selling it to their neighbors.
The contractor plans to open it up, pump it dry, insert a long ladder, and send a brave young man down to see if there is anything at the bottom! No telling what might have been thrown in there 100 years ago! His plan is then to fill it in with sand and pour a concrete slab over it. I really hate to do that. The craftsmanship of the thing is amazing. Lesmeister was German, and everybody knows that means quality engineering! I’ve asked the architect if we can save it, put a sump pump in the bottom to keep it dry, and make a way for Lesmeister guests to go down there and see it. What a wine cellar it could make!
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