Friday, April 16, 2010

The Basement Steps


Someone commented last week about their basement stairs being 100 years old and well worn. They knew their house would be dozed one day for something new and shinny and the stairs will be destroyed as well.

I have an affinity for old basements. The house I grew up in was old. The basement was dug out by draft horses. Local field stone was mortared and stacked as the foundation. When my father bought this home in 1959 he improve the basement by replacing the divided windows and he had a concrete floor installed.

To enter the basement from inside the house one had to go through a proper door, which we never used, or there was also a hidden door in the hall that didn’t really look like a door. The steps were always dusty and no matter how often you cleaned you were constantly confronted by webs and dead daddy long-legs. Descending the stairs one could feel the temperature shift as your body went below ground level. One could also detect a dry musty basement smell. It wasn’t a bad smell; though it would have latched onto any thing of value such as furniture had we ever used the basement as storage.

The basement had a work bench and some shelving to store tools. I had a darkroom down there. I spent many hours in that dry musty basement smell and I became quite fond of it. My parents weren’t basement people. I actually don’t recall ever seeing either of them go down there, but my brother and I spent nights and rainy days down there. He’d always be down there building something and later I spent hours down there every day developing film and photos.

There aren’t many basements in homes here in Oregon. The ones that are here are usually block or poured concrete, but when I rarely see a home with a stone foundation I think back and wish I could go down my old basement stairs just once more.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Papa said...

The basement that I grew up with was in Catskill Mountians field stone walls sand stone steps. What I liked most every time I went down there as a kid it was an adventure. The holes in between the rocks were great places for bats,frogs,toads and other critters to hide.Every time that smell of damp musty dirt is in ths air I think of that basement.

Papa

5:33 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Catskills? I used to go fishing up there. Pretty country. BTW Glad you're still checking in from the high arid region.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The house I grew up in was old. The basement was dug out by draft horses."

They don't have thumbs. How did they hold the shovels?

5:47 AM  
Blogger darev2005 said...

When my mother first moved into the house on Mt. Tabor it had a nice big basement that became my bedroom until I went away one summer and my sisters cats infested it with fleas. The following year a pipe burst and the basement flooded and all of my stuff got ruined. But it was a great bedroom while it lasted. The stairs were old and worn and almost straight up and down like a ladder. Don't know how many times I almost took a header down those damn things.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Peter Huhtala said...

My home was built in 1900. The foundation is one of my favorite parts - stacked basalt mortared in place. The mortar joints are finished on the outside, but roughly leveled on the inside of the basement. The concrete stairs are worn, but they'll serve well for many, many years.

3:13 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Anon, No their shovel looks kind of like a back hoe bucket that they drag along the ground. After a couple thousand passes you have a deep hole and then you need to back fill.

Darev, your sister and her pets are still causing trouble.

Peter, more than likely that stone was quarried from the site where the new building is at the college. That must have been some hillside since so many houses in Astoria used that rock for their foundation. There is nothing like the cool of a stone basement on a hot day.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

Most of the houses here in town have basements, as do we. It'll never be dry, and I doubt it'll ever be pretty, but it's a good place to keep the water heaters on the high end, and SH's tools.

6:53 PM  

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