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Wells, Cisterns, & Well Caps








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Wells & Cisterns


This is a typical 18th and 19th century New England well. It is a circular shaft with a stone lining to keep it from collapsing. This one is located on Bugsmouth Hill in South Hampton NH. Based upon surface ceramic shards the farm dates from the 1790-1820 period. It had two wells on site. the two wells were needed because the farm was a stop along a stagecoach route. Both wells were filled in with stone probably with the idea of re-opening them. The house was in the process of being renovated in crica 1850 when the work stopped and the farm was abandoned.

Modified Wells

The late 19th and early 20th century saw several types of modifications added to wells. This examples from Fish Road, East Kingston NH shows a brick and mortar extension on top of umortared stone well. The brick extension on the top right suggests that brick work support some type of wooden structure over the well.

The house at this site was built on a slight raised knoll just above a large swampy area. The well tapped into the water table which supplied the swamp.  To make access to the well more convenient the height of the well was raised to the level of the bottom of the foundation. A mound of earth with flat terrace topped was built around the well. This was common practice in the 19th century.

This another example of a modified well. A 19th century unmortar stone line well outfitted with a galvanized iron pipe. The pipe extended to house. Either a hand pump or electric pump drew water from the well. This was an early 20th century modification.

This 25 foot deep well is located in New London, CT. This well dates to the late 1700’s. The upper six feet of the well was rebuilt, probably in the 1800’s. The upper section flares out wider than the lower section and its stones were laid in mortar. It has a thin square schist well cap.

Unusual Well – Ledyard Connecticut

This well was dug to the bedrock ten feet down. The shaft is nearly circular in shape and constructed of Connecticut brownstone. The stones in the shaft were carefully laid in layers and many of the stones show chipping marks from a mason’s hammer.  The stone mason carefully shaped the stones to fit the interior curvature of the well shaft. There is no evidence that any other tools (chisels, drills, etc) were used except for a mason’s hammer.

At the bottom of the well a cylindrical hole 2-3 feet deep was cut into the brownstone bedrock. The chipping marks on the walls of the cutout indicate it was likewise worked using a mason’s hammer. The side walls also indicate that bedrock broke apart in layers, which explains why it could be cut using a hammer alone. The cylindrical cutout was of sufficient size and depth to allow a bucket to retrieve water from the well even if the water table dropped to only a few inches depth on the bedrock layer. These photos were taken in September 2007 during the drought conditions affecting portions of New England. It is clear this well experiences low or no water under drought conditions and reinforces the wisdom of the well’s design.

Photographs used with permission. The photographer and land owner have asked their names not be posted to protect their privacy.

Close-up of cut hole in bedrock showing chipping marks

Well Ledyard CT

Well Caps

Well caps come in square slab and circular slab, and one piece and two peice examples. these three photos show a two piece square slab well cap from Governor’s Island (privately owned), Hampstead NH. It was the summer residence of Governor Wentworth. The center hole was cut rather crudely using a mason’s hammer. There are no quarry marks on the cap. The residence was built in 1741 and burned in the 1850’s. This well cap most likely dates from circa 1740-1790 period.

Well cap
Well South Hampton NH

Bugsmouth Hill, South Hampton, NH
Circa 1790-1820

Well East Kington NH

Fish Road, East Kingston NH

Well East Kiingston NH

Same well, showing the raised terrace built up around it.

Well Newbury MA

Burns Wildlife Management Area,
Newbury, MA

Well New London CT
Well Ledyard CT

Undisclosed Private Property - Ledyard, CT

Well Ledyard CT

Cylindrical hole cut in bedrock at bottom of well

Well Ledyard CT
Well Ledyard cT
Two piece stone well cap

Governor’s Island, Hampstead NH
Two piece well cap, circa 1740-1790

Two piece well cal

Two additional views of the same well cap at Governor’s Island, Hampstead. NH

This is an example of one piece square slab well cap. It is located near Sky Pond in New Hampton, NH. It is on a 19th century farm. It shows the typical features of a 19th century well cap. The hole is truly circular, it is centered in the slab, and quality of the stone cutting is quite good. An unmortared stone line well can be seen underneath the cap.

Single piece well cap

Sky Pond, New Hampton, NH

Single piece well cap

Sky Pond, New Hampton, NH - Close Up

Two photographs of a slab of granite taken from the surface of the bedrock. It has well formed center hole. It located on the Babson Farm Quarry (Halibut State Park), Rockport MA. According to the interpretative huide for the park, this was used as a boat mooring. A tree stump with its roots was inserted into the hole. A hole was drilled in the trunk for a mooring rope, and the whole thing sunk in the harbor. We currently do not have independent confirmation of this theory.

Wells-Unfinished-CapUnfinished Well Cap

This photograph was provided by Steve Dimarzo Jr. It was taken around 1990 in Massachusetts, possibly Westport or Dartmouth. If you know its exact location please contact us.

This was a well cap abandoned before the center hole was completed. The fracture patten on the side of the hole suggested it was being chipped out with some type of hammer.


Cisterns are used to collect rain water generally from the roof of a structure. This example dates from the later 19th or early 20th century. It located on fish Road in east Kingston NH. It has a downspout pipe directing water from the roof into the cistern. It has a second pipe for pumping water out of the cistern into the adjacent house.

It is made of mortared bricks in a bell shape. It has wide top opening for access to cistern for cleaning and maintenance.

Cistern, Fish Road, East Kingston NH

Interior of cistern shown “bell” shape.

(Above) Downspout pipe from roof. It is galvanized iron pipe.

(Left) Galvanized iron pipe from cistern to house used to draw water from cistern.

Above ground cistern Haverill MA

Above Ground Cistern

This above ground cistern dates to the 1870’s. It is located top of a hill overlooking Kenoza lake. An 1870’s map shows this property to be part of Sanders Leather Co. and Sander’s residence. It has exterior of stone masonry, line on the inside with bricks, and then a thin layer of waterproof hydraulic cement.

Above ground cistern Haverhill MA

Across the top of the walls are some surviving iron bolts. These indicate the cistern had a wooden roof over it.

The fill pipe is still visible. What the source of water was (i.e. well, rain water, etc) is unknown.

Cistern - Indiana

This cistern is located on US 6 and near SR 6 in Indiana. It is an above ground bottle shaped cistern. A terra-cotta clay pipe was used as man-hole to access the inside. Water was pumped into the cistern with windmill. A metal overflow pipe can be seen on the left side near the top.



Kevin Mellott is in the photo (to show the size of the cistern compared to an average sized adult) and Tina Mellott took the photo. Kevin does historic restoration work and is a self-employed marine contractor. They live in a home which is on the National Register in Goshen, Indiana.


The interior of the cistern is on good condition and is lined with hydraulic cement to waterproof it. Two drain holes are noticeable in the bottom.


A water spicket for cistern is located adjacent to the windmill.




Copyright (c) 2005-2008, James E. Gage & Mary E. Gage. All Rights Reserved.