Created By: Maryland Agricultural Resource Council
Root cellars were an integral component to agriculture, one that those who were born after the invention of the refrigerator know little about. Right now, if you did not know what you were looking at, the root cellar would seem to be nothing more than a pile of stones set up against a hillside. Walk closer, through overgrown bushes, and you will see a hole in the hill with a stone staircase leading down. If you are brave enough, and have a flashlight at the ready, what you will find at the end of the staircase is a stone room with a clay floor measuring approximately 20 feet by 20 feet by 10 feet. This is the root cellar.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, every farmstead had a root cellar. They were the first refrigerators. Using the insulating properties of the soil, food stored in a root cellar stayed cool in the summer, reducing spoilage, and kept above freezing in the winter, again preserving the food. Typically, a variety of vegetables are placed in the root cellar in the autumn, after harvesting. Vegetables stored in the root cellar primarily consist of potatoes, turnips, and carrots. Other food supplies placed in the root cellar over the winter months include beets, onions, preserves/jams, salt meat, salt and salt fish. In addition to feeding humans, farmers used the preserved vegetables to feed their livestock through the winter. By the middle of the 19th century, people were also using root cellars to store crops for market until the middle of winter when they would bring higher prices. And some root cellars were used to hide fugitive slaves as stops on the Underground Railroad.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Maryland Agricultural Resource Council Trail Blazer