A cistern is a water reservoir, similar to a well, but instead of extending down to ground water beneath the water table, a cistern is a container for rain water. Generally, gutters carrying rain water from the building roof were directed into the cistern. Such is the case with the Lesmeister cistern. The fresh water was then pumped as needed, generally using human power to do the pumping.
The Lesmeister cistern, long ago forgotten, was re-discovered during construction of the Lesmeister Guesthouse in 2012. It had been capped over long ago by the concrete basement floor of the building, and the guesthouse construction men nearly lost their jackhammer into the cistern when they were removing The Laurel apartment’s old, irregular concrete basement floor in order to pour a new, level floor for the apartment’s bedroom.
The workers pumped the cistern dry and put a ladder in so they could climb down and investigate their discovery. In the bottom of the cistern they found just one old, broken glass Mason jar. The next time it rained, the cistern had water in it again, ready to continue serving as it had been intended to over 100 years ago.
In one photo above, taken the day the old cistern was discovered, the surface of the water was 10 feet below ground level, and the water was 6 feet deep, meaning the cistern is 16 feet deep, and it is 8 feet in diameter. Some basic π r2 math shows the capacity of the huge cistern to be 6000 gallons of water.
Since the Lesmeister building was built in the days before Pocahontas had a municipal water system, they built a cistern, just as many of the town’s buildings and homes had cisterns to hold water for drinking and bathing. We can only speculate as to why the Lesmeister building needed such a large water storage capacity. Since the south half of the building originally housed a grocery store, perhaps the water helped keep the vegetable produce cool, prolonging its shelf life. Or perhaps they sold drinking water to their neighbors.
The 100+ year-old cistern is still in pristine condition, without a single crack in the plaster that covers its brick walls. We added lighting and brought in engineers from Little Rock to design the steel and concrete that now caps the cistern, and we imported from California the “bullet proof glass” floor that creates a window so guests in The Laurel apartment bedroom can safely view the cistern’s excellent craftsmanship.