“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Brentwood in Williamson County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)

Cistern and Root Cellar

Cistern and Root Cellar Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, February 6, 2021
1. Cistern and Root Cellar Marker
Innovation and Sustainability in the 1800's
Ravenswood plantation had great examples of the latest in water harvesting and refrigeration during the 1800's. Cisterns and root cellars played very important roles in the day to day life on many early farms and plantations.
• Settlers realized the value of harvesting and saving rainwater below ground in storage containers called cisterns.
• Fresh foods were kept from spoilage by storing them in underground root cellars that acted much like modern-day refrigerators.

What's a Cistern?
This structure provided water for drinking, cooking, and bathing on a daily basis. A cistern is a man-made water storage system that was important for daily life at this busy 1800's farm operation. Ravenswood's cistern was hand-dug, about eight feet in diameter and fifteen to twenty feet deep and lined with brick. When it rained, gutters on the house carried the rainwater to the cistern by channeling the water through downspouts to a trough or pipe which fed the underground masonry storage tank. A metal cover fit over the top opening to prevent
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people and small animals from falling into the water.

Most cisterns during that time used a simple bucket and rope. But Ravenswood, a very wealthy plantation, had the best in new inventions such as the Boss cistern pump with a pulley system to remove the water from the storage area.

What's a Root Cellar?
A root cellar is a man-made stone room built underground and used primarily for keeping food at a low temperature and steady humidity. Like most, the Ravenswood cellar was hand-dug into the ground then reinforced with stone and wood. The cellar is ten feet by twelve feet and has six foot high stone walls that extend above the ground approximately one foot.

Root cellars were used to keep food from freezing during the winter and cool during the summer months to prevent spoilage. Vegetables such as potatoes, onions, carrots and other food supplies including fruits, home canned foods, and salt/cured meat were usually placed in the root cellar in the autumn, after harvesting.

• The cistern and root cellar were constructed at the same time (1825) as the Ravenswood Mansion from bricks made on site.
• Based on evidence, it appears that the Ravenswood cistern and root cellar were strategically located on the south side of the house near a former door (now filled-in)
Cistern and Root Cellar Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, February 6, 2021
2. Cistern and Root Cellar Marker
The root cellar is on the left, and the cistern on the right.
that connected to the basement rooms which were used as a winter kitchen and quarters for the household servants.
• Ravenswood's root cellar, like many constructed during the 1800s, was later converted into a greenhouse.
• Root cellars are currently experiencing a rediscovery, not merely because of the pleasures of eating self-grown food, but also because of the actual possibility of reducing expenses and providing for significant food storage.
• Records indicate that over 40,000 years ago Native Australians developed the technique of burying their produce in order to preserve it for future use.
• Present day cisterns in our country are used mainly for irrigation due to concerns over water quality.

Top left: Cistern pump before restoration in 2012.
Top right: Looking through the root cellar roof before restoration.
Erected 2014 by City of Brentwood, Tennessee.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: AgricultureArchitectureEnvironmentWaterways & Vessels.
Location. 35° 56.779′ N, 86° 46.278′ W. Marker is in Brentwood, Tennessee, in Williamson County. Marker can be reached from Marcella Vivrette Smith Park Road. Marker is located
Root cellar (left), cistern (center) and the main Ravenswood house (right). image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, February 6, 2021
3. Root cellar (left), cistern (center) and the main Ravenswood house (right).
about 25 feet south of the Ravenswood mansion. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1825 Wilson Pike, Brentwood TN 37027, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 3 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Spring House (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Clovercroft Road and Wilson Pike Area / Breezeway (approx. 1.4 miles away); Seward Hall (approx. 1.4 miles away); Primm Historic Park (approx. 1.4 miles away); The Boiling Spring Site (approx. 1.4 miles away); Boiling Spring Academy (approx. 1½ miles away); Carothers Family (approx. 2 miles away); Forge Seat (approx. 2.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Brentwood.
Credits. This page was last revised on February 7, 2021. It was originally submitted on February 6, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 686 times since then and 316 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on February 6, 2021, by Duane and Tracy Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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Dec. 6, 2023