Cellar Holes and Stone Walls

15 12 2009

Sue from Life Looms Large asked a great question in the “Old Dunstable” comments:

One thing I wonder, that has nothing to do with this post, or your blog, or even the mission of your blog, is why NH has so many cellar holes in the woods. I didn’t know about them til I’d lived here about 10 years, but it seems like once I knew they existed, I’d see them often. I thought that there must be cellar holes all over the world. Then I posted a picture of one on my blog and learned that people from Pennsylvania and England were shocked that there would be cellar holes in NH. And they said they didn’t have any around them.

So if you know the scoop on why we have them and other people don’t, I would love to hear about it!

As best I can tell, there’s not a marker dedicated to Cellar Holes.  But they are pretty common all over New Hampshire.  Beyond the coast the early settlers were farmers.  In the late  1700s and the 1800s most of the forests you see today in southern NH were farmland.  That required clearing huge tracts of forests, building homesteads and outbuildings, digging up the rocks (lots of rocks) and planting the land.  The wood from the trees was milled into lumber or ship masts and sold back to England or used to build here.  The rocks turned into cellars for homesteads or underground storage.

Most notably, the rocks were turned into stone walls that lined pathways and divided fields and property boundaries.  I have one running on the front end of my home here in Hudson near the road.  They are everywhere!

Through the years, as New Hampshire shifted away from an agricultural economy (which headed into the midwest) to a more industrial economy, the farms dwindled in number, the population moved to the cities, and the forests reclaimed the land (much of it now under state or federal control).

A short bit from the NH Division of Historical Resources:

Settlers laid out roads, built houses and lived their lives. Over two hundred years later all that is left are the abandoned artifacts of that early life: their roads, their walls, their cellar holes and their scant records. Their pastures now largely reclaimed by the forest, cellar holes are a reminder of the families who worked, farmed, thrived, and struggled here before us. Their stone walls, roads, wells, and foundations offer a glimpse into a fascinating past and a dramatically changing landscape.

As you wander through the woods of New Hampshire and come across a cellar or wall, you are seeing first hand the fields and homes of some of out earliest settlers.  They are the remnant of farm houses and field boundaries, roads and lanes that the first settlers left behind.  The people that built New Hampshire lifted and placed those stones, and in the process helped build our country.

As this blog goes along, I’ll document a lot of the transition from agriculture to industry.  Hopefully, in easily digestible bits. 

There isn’t a Historical Marker for cellar holes or stone walls, but maybe there should be.  Hmm … if we can get together 20 citizens and a suitable location ….

Thanks Sue for a great question!





3 responses

24 02 2010

I don’t know if this will give you any insight, but Roger Ward Babson in Gloucester, MA commissioned the Babson Boulders in a village on Cape Ann known as DogTown. There are a lot of cellar holes. The stone walls you find weren’t just borders, they were there at the edge of the property to clear for farming. If you want someone to do some treasure hunting /metal detecting and would be willing to split the finds, let me know.


Some of the important reasons the houses were abandoned were economics, war, sickness, and famine.

24 02 2010

Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by.

This post was a response to a reader comment, I haven’t ever really gone hunting for cellar holes. I understand they are pretty lucrative for metal detector enthusiasts. In googling around for researching this I came across a NH man that had really uncovered some amazing stuff, including gold coins.

Town maps from the early 1800s in todays rural NH seem to be the best source of finding them, but I haven’t actively ever gone looking for them.

Be Well,

9 04 2010
Maggie's Farm

Treasure hunting with a metal detector…

Apart from blenders, toaster ovens and computers, another realm the microchip has improved immensely are the new state-of-the-art metal detectors. Metal detectors have been around for a long time, about seventy years or so, but until relatively recentl…

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