Life
Long forgotten root cellars were once crucial for American settlers’ survival
It's humbling to see how different things are today compared to just a few decades ago. These were once a fundamental part of life.
Rebecca Reid
11.10.21

You may or may not be familiar with the concept of a ‘root cellar’ but not long ago, these ‘fortresses of food’ were fundamental and an important means of survival.

From colonial times to the 1940s, root cellars were extremely important.

They were often the only way to store food.

Library of Congress
Source:
Library of Congress

Root cellars kept a moderate temperature.

Without a root cellar, food and other dry goods were susceptible to extreme cold or extreme heat.

The cellars offered the perfect climate for keeping goods viable.

Library of Congress
Source:
Library of Congress

Early Americans learned fast.

The cellars were often built under a home or in a separate building near the home.

The early settlers who came from England realized fairly quickly that they needed to do something in order to deal with their new climate and the increase in humidity.

With Colonial New England homes being built with root cellars below ground, the practice became standard across the entire country in the 1800s.

Library of Congress
Source:
Library of Congress

A root cellar made a house a home.

Some families even built a separate cellar for animal feed and another as a washroom.

Early settlers who built root cellars were planning on sticking around the area. A reliable, permanent root cellar was a great reason to stay put.

National Archives
Source:
National Archives

A continuous 45 ℉.

Farmers may have liked to keep their food stored separately, however, many people had to make do with storing their dairy, vegetables, meat, and fruits together.

The best climate for a root cellar is an air temperature that is cooler than 45 ℉.

This was doable by digging the root cellar at least 4 feet below the ground level.

Library of Congress
Source:
Library of Congress

Cellars remained a necessity till the 40s.

Since most families didn’t have a refrigerator until after WWII, canning and drying meats were still prevalent long after the pioneering days.

Fruits were quickly canned and meat would dry on hooks on the ceiling. A stocked cellar meant a happy, well-fed household.

Library of Congress
Source:
Library of Congress

Hard work and patience resulted in a stocked cellar.

You can imagine the work that went into preparing the food for canning. Organization and preparedness kept people from running low on food so there was really no other option.

People were told to use up their existing food during the Great Depression and WWII by the Office of War Information and the Farm Security Administration.

They strongly encouraged people to make use of everything they had, right down to the last scrap, and that meant people needed root cellars.

People started to use up their stored food and not to keep food as long as possible. – dustyoldthing.com

Library of Congress
Source:
Library of Congress

A thing of the past?

While canning and storing food are here to stay, root cellars are mostly a thing of the past. As long as humans have a refrigerator to keep their food from spoiling, there isn’t a need to have a designated root cellar.

But people who are interested can still have a root cellar, and they can have it a lot easier than the pioneers did with a few simple (and budget-friendly) modifications.

National Archives
Source:
National Archives

You can’t help but marvel at the steadfast, intrepid dedication of the early pioneers. These people found a successful solution to their food storage problem with the building of a reliable root cellar.

Learn how to create a makeshift root cellar of your own on the cheap in the video below!

Please SHARE this with your friends and family.

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By Rebecca Reid
hi@sbly.com
Rebecca Reid is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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