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I don't know how common they were in other parts of the country, but when I was growing up in Eastern PA, cistern chain pumps were ubiquitous. I've never seen one in operating condition - until last week. I shot some video of it when I returned to pick up the radon monitor. The seller wasn't supposed to be home (but she was), so I wasn't dressed all that nicely.

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My pleasure, Bill.

Two days earlier, as I was telling the buyers that they should secure the lid in place or fill it in, I gave the handle a turn, which normally would either turn with no resistance or be frozen in place. I was surprised to find resistance. When water came out, I had to stifle an 'oh sh*t, it works!' exclamation.

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I did an 1870 house last year that had two cisterns.

One had been opened up with a hatch in the basement when the kitchen was built over it. Rats were using the inlet piping to get in, several didn't find a way out.

The other was being used as a patio off the mudroom adjacent the kitchen. The pump was seized and the lid bolted down and freshly painted. I didn't open it.

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They did years ago, Marc, but the owner of this one said she uses it to water her flowers. Back when they were in use, cisterns were generally filled with roof runoff from the downspouts. There was a diverter in the downspout feeding the cistern. One branch directed water to the ground. At the beginning of a rain event, runoff was directed to the ground, to keep dirt and debris out of the tank. Once the water was running clean, the water was diverted to the tank.

I've done some inspections that had active cisterns, using electric pumps to supply the water. Most were used to fill swimming pools or for irrigation. One was used for the domestic water. The water that came out of the faucets had a greenish tinge. It was disgusting. It was an estate, the seller having died in her 90's. Perhaps she had been chlorinating the water while she was there.

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Consider the alternative. The hand dug well in my yard is less than 20 feet from the original septic system. It consisted of two 4' cubes, the first was dry laid stone and the second timbers that resembled railroad ties. Fill em up and let em perk. That system was installed in mid 1890's, 60 or 70 years before the municipal water supply was conceived.

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People drink that?

Documentation from throughout the 19th century mostly indicate the water from a cistern was used for "tasks" and not drinking, unless some type of filtering system was installed. I find many cisterns at homes that are/were served by hand-dug wells.

Here's a pic of the downspout diverter: http://www.oldhouseweb.com/blog/cistern ... servation/

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To provide adequate supply.

Mom's house has three wells. The smallest driven casing was abandoned long before we moved there. The 10" casing for the house is 125' deep and I recall several summers that it ran dry. The 12" casing for the barn is closer to 200' deep. There was a bypass rig in the basement to connect the house to the barn well in dry seasons. The galvanized pipe between them rusted away when I was a teenager.

As the farm land around the homestead was developed the house well became less reliable and the water quality dropped. They switched solely to the barn well a few years ago.

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Heck, there's lots of places around here that still rely on cisterns for a water supply. Though now, most the actual supply comes from hauling water in and filling up the cistern instead of downspout diverters.

Other's that kept the cistern after "city water" was available, keep them filled from the downspouts for mundane tasks like watering the garden, washing cars, etc.

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