MOUNT VERNON -- At the Knox County Agricultural Museum, there is a wealth of displays featuring artifacts from rural life.
In addition to numerous farm implements, the museum also holds a collection of buildings saved from locations where they would not have survived. The buildings were moved to the grounds of the museum, which is located in the Knox County Fairgrounds, by dedicated volunteers.
One interesting relic of past days is the Blubaugh spring house, donated by the Paul and Carol Mickley Family. A spring house is literally that, a small house built to encompass a natural spring.
Water coming out of the ground in a spring is typically going to be normal ground temperature, around 52 to 54 degrees. For thousands of years, humans used this guaranteed temperature to help preserve food during the hot months of the year.
Refrigerators as we now know them were invented as early as 1834, but a practical home model was not available until 1913, and affordable models did not come out onto the market until much later. Until one of these machines could be afforded, they only had two options: cut ice from a pond in winter and save a huge number of those chunks in an ice house that may or may not last the summer, or find a spring.
Locations of springs dictated more than anything else where pioneers built their homes.
The building displayed at the Ag Museum, estimated to date from around 1850, offers a perfect opportunity to examine how a spring house worked. The building either straddled the spring so that the cool waters came directly inside the structure, or stood adjacent to it, with water directed into the building by a pipe.
The Blubaugh spring house was the latter type. The water filled up a stone trough. Ceramic crocks could be lowered into the water to keep their contents cool and prevent spoilage.
Without this cooling, items such as milk, butter, and eggs spoil quickly in the heat. The large milk can immersed in the deep end of the Blubaugh spring house's water trough has numbers on it, which is how farmers were identified if the milk were being sent to a dairy for distribution or cheese making.
A rock or lid could be used to keep the crock sealed, which was a good idea, for the water trough would be a natural collection spot for frogs, toads, salamanders, crayfish, and snails. The outflow for water could be a ditch or a pipe leading to a watering trough for animals.
At Malabar Farm State Park, one can see the unusual design of writer and conservationist Louis Bromfield, who directed the outflow from his spring house into a large water-cooled vegetable stand before it flowed under the road to watering pond near one of the barns.
The upper room of the Blubaugh spring house could be used as a relatively cool work space for such tasks as churning butter or separating cream. Dairy processing tools are on display there, reflecting the activities that might have taken place there long ago.
The spring house at the Ag Museum is a rare surviving example of structures once so commonplace, no one thought to preserve them until they were mostly gone. The museum is open every time there is an event at the fairgrounds, and it can also be opened up for group tours.
For more information, visit their website at www.theagmuseum.org.