New London Triptychs
From My Porch
Babson Boulders, Dogtown
Questions for a Stony Landscape
Looking for John Winthrop Jr.
Connecticut / Rhode Island Color
Time, Tide and Place
Green Fall Watershed, Color
Green Fall Watershed, BW Panoramas
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Of the some 700 underground chambers known to exist in the Northeast, Southeastern Connecticut has a large share. They are often referred to as root cellars. Amusing if unenlightening are the other terms I have heard describing them: stone houses, hermit caves, ice houses, Viking caves, hobbit houses, wolf dens, sheep birthing shelters, sweat lodges and even Underground Railroad stations.
Found deep in the woods as well as residential backyards, a great deal of time was put into their massive stone construction. Although frequently associated with colonial era farmsteads, references to their planning or construction in letters or journals from the period are difficult to find. There are many differences in their size and sophistication. Some resemble caves or tunnels, others rooms as large as a one car garage or as small as a dog house. Entry to some through a narrow passage or small opening would seem to be very inefficient in terms of loading vegetables for storage.
Among them, details vary in how the ceilings are supported and the finish level of the interior, perhaps an interesting clue as to their builders. There are examples showing later repairs to the typical dry stone construction using mortar. Some are fitted with doors, jams and hinges of various age.
I have included several examples of paired exterior and interior views shot from the back to give a sense of construction styles.
Solar or lunar alignments may imply a calendar function at others. There is an intriguing similarity to a few early accounts of Native American hot houses or sweat lodges, although most of these we know were constructed of bent boughs and covered with bark, skins or leaves.
As an opening to the underground, an entrance to the earth, should we read them symbolically, functioning like temples, or do they have only more practical purposes?
All photographs © Ted Hendrickson
Chamber One, Gungywamp, Groton, CT, 2010
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