My Surprise Basement

May 20, 2012 — Last August, I cleaned up the two-story, barn-sized outbuilding that takes up about 10 percent of the small property that I call my small property. The building’s about 120 years old, and in just the two years that we’d lived here at that time, we’d already stuffed it to the point of reality-show intervention.

In the course of so doing, I uncovered a rectangular plank in the floor about 1 by 3 feet in size that stood out from the surrounding floorboards. Lifting it, I found a basement, which, technically, is exactly what one should expect to find below a ground floor. Still, it was a surprise because the previous owner hadn’t told us about it.

The light through the chinks came out more prominently
in these pics than they look in real-life.
It was nighttime, and too dark to really see anything down there, so I promptly forgot about it because, well, forgetting is kind of my thing.

Yesterday, about nine months after the discovery, we decided to finally check it out. Because I had a few deadlines for personal improvement goals for the day and I wanted to do anything except meet them.

I’ve only been a home-owner for a few years, but I assume we all have a lot in common: Sweaty nightmares about sinking most of what we’re going to earn in our lifetimes into a single structure that is constantly being besieged by forces of nature, decay, and market devaluations. But leavening all that, the same fantasy of finding long-hidden treasure on the property to validate the purchase.

Finding a hidden room is about half-way to finding a hidden treasure, I reckon. I lifted the plank, felt a cool breeze waft from the depths, and squeezed myself down into the dark hole, landing softly on the dirt floor below.

It was about 10 degrees colder down there. The room was about five feet in height, so calling it a room is a bit bombastic. However, its massive granite walls stop me short of just calling it a crawlspace. The room only stretched from the back wall to about half the length of the barn, so it was about the size of a bedroom, but a hole in the front wall allowed for a peek into a one-foot-tall space that continued the rest of the way to terminate in another granite wall.

In the daytime, the place was actually somewhat dimly lit due to numerous chinks at the top of the wall, which itself extended about a foot or so aboveground, enough, in fact, that it made me wonder why I hadn’t noticed them from the outside. I'm guessing they're somewhat hidden under the exterior siding somehow. I mean, it was still dark enough that I had to use a flashlight (and a camera flash and a steady hand to take these pics), but somewhat comforting to know that it wasn’t too much of a tomb. Random debris littered the dirt floor, nothing carcass-y thank God, but there were enough spider webs to make me wish I’d researched the distribution of black widows in New England first.

The one-foot crawl space beyond the room
(with Sprite can).
For these next two observations to make sense, you’re going to have to understand that I’ve never seen two of the sides of this barn. We’re having phase-dimensional problems in this area of New Hampshire, although the world’s smartest physicists are still trying to fix everything.

Or, it’s because those two walls abut my neighbors’ yards to the point of questionably drawn property lines, with one hitting up against a fence and the other in a place that I’d have to overtly trespass to see due to a long, tall hedge that continues the wall as a property border.

The telltale window.
As a result, I’ve never seen the tiny boarded-up window in the back wall that would have tipped me off to the possibility of a basement. Also, that this space is apparently where I’ve been backwashing my pool and, I assume, slowly eroding the dirt floor until the whole edifice tilts and capsizes. That’s going to be a fun day.

So if you ever come over my house, I’ll show it to you, but other than a 1990s-era Sprite can, there was no treasure, no real adventure. Just a place to hide from the Gestapo if I ever need it.

Dr. Jones, you choose the wrong
friends. This time it will cost you.


  1. This is great! I adore somewhat forgotten spaces, and this is definitely that.

    Several years ago, some friends and I were renting a house in Haverhill, MA, and one day we discovered a crawlspace, completely tiled in bluish tile, with odd pipe openings and drains all over. It was large enough for a few people to stand comfortably, though we had to stoop. This crawlspace, mind you, was discovered under the basement, which was just a dirt floor with rock foundation. From then on we referred to it as "the meat locker" as we were pretty sure the only use for a space like that would be to butcher bodies.

    Luckily, your secret crawlspace is much more easily explained.

  2. I'm sure your crawlspace would make a good food cellar what with being several degrees cooler than the space above. Living in New England, tho, maybe your barn was part of the Underground Railroad. Now you have a good wine cellar if it isn't too far away from the main house.

  3. To answer the question you didn't really want answered: neither the black widow nor the brown recluse spider are native to our states. However, that doesn't mean they're not here; sometimes these spiders are brought in with produce, on a truck, in a car or in boxes after people visit or move here from other parts of the country. Being as your cellar likely doesn't attract larger insects, chances are whatever spiders do take up residence there are proportional in size to the food supply, and relatively innocuous.

    But I've been known to be wrong. Cool cellar, though. Enjoy.

  4. Was that Al Capone's vault I saw?

  5. I am so jealous. The only thing I found at my house was that the original owners wrote scripture behind the baseboard. Not sure what THAT was all about, although it did help me put the pieces back in proper order after I had painted the room. Maybe that was the only purpose... Still, it was kinda strange.