Cistern and Gas Lamp: Historic Finds in Old Town Alexandria Home

September 14, 2016 | Historic Finds

While renovating historic homes in Old Town Alexandria, we often discover, or uncover, original features and artifacts. These historic finds make us ever more curious about Old Town’s rich history, and a way of life before modern plumbing and electricity. We would like to share some of our recent finds from an Old Town Alexandria home built in 1780.

A Centuries-Old Cistern and Pipe

We were digging out a 30” deep crawl space to create a finished basement when we uncovered this empty brick cistern. The 48” wide cistern was full of dirt, with no bottom. Today’s homeowners are considering having a mason repoint the cistern as an interesting feature of their newly finished basement.

Cistern (1) Cistern (6)

The cistern may have been used as a well. This lead pipe we found could have pumped out water or, the inhabitants may have opened a hatch to drop a bucket into the cistern.


An Antique Brass Gas Lamp

While renovating this historic home, we also discovered this antique gas lamp still connected to a gas pipe in the ceiling. Made of solid brass, this antique gas lamp may have had a shade or globe.  Some gas lamps had a glass tube or chimney, around which could be placed a larger glass or silk shade.

Gas lighting of buildings and streets started early in the 19th century. Baltimore was the first city in the United States to have gas streetlights, starting in 1817. The design of gas lamps for streets and homes, as you can see below, was often elegant and embellished.

historic gas lamp found in Old Town Alexandria home detail of an historic gas lamp

Note: Our comments on these historic artifacts represent our opinion and have not been evaluated by a historian.


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