“Secret room under my basement”

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoPville,

My wife and I recently closed on a house in Woodridge. During each walkthrough, we saw a sheet of metal on the floor that we assumed covered the access to a crawl space under the house. After closing, we decided to move the metal and discovered a room approximately 200 sqft and 8 feet deep. There are no access stairs or ladder and the previous owners didn’t mention it during closing. It’s completely underground and seems to be completely dry. The walls look to be constructed of concrete block.

secret room

We were wondering if anyone else has heard of such a thing in DC and know what this space could have been used for. This may be irrelevant but we were told the house used to be owned by a Billy Stewart (a blues singer from the 60’s).”

61 Comment

  • PDleftMtP

    No idea, but you should absolutely make up a story.

  • Do you really want to risk your gimp escaping? Yea, thus the whole “no door” policy.

  • Booze, probably. You could always turn it into a little walk-down wine cellar!

  • Sounds like your house might have been part of the Underground Railroad.

    • Possible, but unlikely. That part of the District (then distinct from the City of Washington) was largely rural and undeveloped before the Civil War. Civil War fortifications were actually among the first things built there.

    • it would have had to have been built before the 1860

  • Pictures Please!

  • It puts the lotion in the basket.

  • Talk about a find… With a few* more bucks this could add sqft on the cheap* increasing the value to your home!

    Have Structural Eng. take a look at it to ensure that the dig has not affected the foundation walls and that the footings extend below grade beneath the house.

  • Tornado shelter? Hootch stash? Sump pit? In our old house on the Eastern Shore we had what looked to me to be a bizarre room with a door bell INSIDE and a door that bolts from the inside, dug out of the earth and line with concrete. It is clearly a tornado shelter. The basement ALSO has a concrete slab with metal rings that can be raised to reveal what might have been a well once but is now just a really deep sump pit, and it is full of water since the water table out there is so high.

  • How old is the house? Maybe DIY fall out shelter from the Cold War years?

  • goaldigger

    You might want to check out the Washingtoniana collection at the MLK library- http://dclibrary.org/node/35928 (they have a real estate section)

  • Sounds like a root cellar for storing food

    • This was my guess – a root cellar or “cold room.” My grandmother’s house had one off the laundry room – it was basically a hole built into the foundation that went straight into a reinforced dirt room, no insulation. It was where she kept her pickles, and was always about 60*.

  • Depending on how old your house is: to hide alcohol during prohibition; to hide people during slavery; or perhaps a fallout shelter from the Cold War.

  • The oubliette conveys.

  • justinbc

    Sounds perfect for a speakeasy, contact DCRA to get your license.

  • Not sure if anyone will get the Saturday Night Live reference but here goes… “You put your weeeeed in there.”

  • Homeowners around town often call these dark, cold, windowless spaces underneath their homes “english basements”

    • +1
      “Historic English basement with real vintage charm! If you’re looking to get back to basics and enjoy preserving your own food this is the place of your dreamS! Just make sure to stay lotioned up!”

  • Bought a house like this in the 90s – was a grown room for marijuana. Kept it in use for a while 🙂

    • Yes! Especially now that grow your own is legal in the district. Be the envy of all your friends. 🙂

  • 200 sq ft, completely underground, cinder block wall… should go for about $1250/month, utilities included.

  • Tsar of Truxton

    My friends have one of these and just use it for storage. It wouldn’t surprise me if, historically, it was used to store food before refrigerators.

  • I’ve watched WAY too much Criminal Minds to answer this question in any helpful way.

  • very cool!
    contact the Historic Preservation Office, and/or MLK Library Washingtoniana Room to research more about it. The House History Workshop might also lead you to some good info on your house.

  • My first thought was part of the Dyar tunnels, but wrong part of town. Maybe an old coal storage bin?

    • Ah, good point on the coal storage bin. You can still see the coal door that dumps into the basement on the exterior of quite a few older rowhouses around town. The owner would sweep the coal into the hole and then cover it with a panel. Easy to clean up.
      Otherwise, it’s probably a food storage area. The original owners could fill it with ice during summer and store dry and pickled good during the winters.

      • We had this in the house I lived in growing up, which was built in 1849. there was the basement, then a separate room that had a tiny, narrow staircase descending another 15-20 feet , with a sort of ledge running across the edges. It was a coal cellar, and the coal would be dumped via a little door. There was also, off to the side with a small wall around it, a hole in the ground that went a couple more feet into the ground, and was used to store root vegetables, salted meats, etc. It was also interesting in that they may have hidden runaway slaves there, because the house was on the historical register as being part of the Underground Railroad, with a small tunnel connecting it to another very old house about 1.5 miles up the road.

    • It is a storage bin for coal and wood to heat the house.
      When the coal wood truck could not get to you in the snow.
      You had fuel for heat and cooking. YOUNG PEOPLE PLEASE!!!!

  • Ask your neighbors if they have anything similar. Is it possible that the stairs to the basement were removed at some point? Other homes may still have regular access to this room.

  • AirBnB as a “coffin” room. Plenty of goth kids would rent it. I bet you could get $95 per night just for the novelty factor.

  • On a serious note, the space was probabbly used as a storage cellar or a place to store coal. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a coal chute along the back of the house that has been covered.

    Also the concrete blocks were of the 20th century construction.

  • my mind went straight to human trafficking, which is sadly, a problem in DC

  • So, during each walk through you saw this metal covering what you thought was a crawl space but you never inquired about it at the time?? Even if I thought it was a crawl space, I would still want to open it up and check before buying the house.

    • This was my thought, too!

    • I do not understand how people can invest a huge sum of money to buy a house without looking at everything, particularly the foundation.

      • Unless the buyer is a structural engineer (or someone else with knowledge/expertise), any flaws would have to be really obvious.
        The home inspector is supposed to look at things like that. I’m surprised that the OP’s home inspector apparently didn’t look (?) at the supposed crawl space.

      • Our house inspector MISSED the door to the crawl space and told us it was blocked off. The rat exterminator found it for us just this year. Maybe the house inspector missed it?

  • Anybody else google “Dyar Tunnels” ?

  • Could be tied to Catholic persecution. Perhaps the current house was built on the footprint of a much older house. See this blog post: http://bygonebrookland.com/brookland-roads-just-where.html

  • A lower level unit I rented in Dupont Circle had the same thing (although it did have stairs to access the space). We lived in the house for two years before the newish owners heard about it from a neighbor and we discovered the hidden door under the refrigerator.

  • Storm shelter?

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