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Secret concrete room outside of barn

Hi everyone,

I just bought a 140 yr old farmhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Right outside in front of the barn is a 18" square "lid" that lifts up and underground is a 12 foot x 12 foot concrete room that has a drop of about 10-15 feet. You would need some type of ladder to get down. Above ground is the only access to this room. I was told that this area used to be a throughway for the Underground Railroad. I tend to think maybe it was a panic room during Prohibition. Any thoughts? I haven't been able to find any imformation about the house from the library.I'm going to try to take pictures of it and post them. I have no idea when the barn was built.One of the walls in the room is the wall of the barn's bottom floor. (the barn sits on a hill- and the bottom level entrance is in the back only)

I appreciate any input.

Views: 128

Comment by M. O'Neil on August 6, 2010 at 4:32pm
My immediate guess, since you note the walls to be concrete, is that this is where the milk cooler was. In the early parts of the 20th century, farm purity and agricultural standards were implemented, and it was a requirement to have a cool place, separate from the dairy barn, to store milk until it was either delivered to market or picked up. It was commonplace to have either a spring-fed (natural) refrigeration area, an isolated room/building with a stainless steel tank, or, as in your case, an underground cavern-type area that would keep the milk cool. But only my guess. I would dismiss the underground railroad/prohibition stuff, although realtors love to propagate that stuff.
Comment by jane on August 8, 2010 at 9:54pm
no concrete walls for foundations before the 1920's.We didn't even know about Portland cement in the US until 1875, and then we used it for stucco.
If it was built in the 1920's the form walls - to hold the concrete in place when it was poured - were made from boards and the imprint of the individual boards would be visible on the concrete, unless a skim coat was added. Plywood was not used until after WWII.
It might be a fall out shelter...

I have seen sunken milk rooms, but most of them smell of milk! and have drains for cleaning the space.
Comment by Lair Tienter on August 9, 2010 at 10:19am
Where I grew up in Minn. we had a room like that between the barn and the house. It had a well in it. It was down in the ground so it didn't freeze in the winter. Every fall we would stack hay on top of it for more insulation. This was in the days before they had submersible pumps and the pump was on top of the well. You might check to see if there is any trace of pipes going out through the walls or an old well coming up from the floor.
Comment by Michele Campbell on August 12, 2010 at 6:13pm
It could have taken the place of a refrigerator, or a place to store butter and cheese, but it doesn't sound very convenient, and since I've lived on farms and read much about old ones, I know convenience is always on a farmer's mind. What I will tell you is do not ever go into a structure that is not vented--there's no air at the bottom. In a county where we lived a whole family died trying to rescue relatives in a brick-lined well. It sounds really interesting, and I wish you luck on finding out what it was. :)

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