In the Delaware Piedmont, springhouses played a critical role in the survival and development of farmsteads. Historically, springhouses were one of the most common agricultural outbuildings in the Delaware Piedmont, likely outnumbered only by barns and privies. Today, these buildings are significant for their persistence on the landscape and transformation into icons, which represent the farming heritage of the Red Clay Valley. These small buildings acted as tools, providing protection for a vital water source used by the family, hired hands, and livestock while keeping perishable food items cool. Springhouses in the Red Clay Valley of Delaware vary in form and materials, but all have undergone a functional transformation over the past three centuries, from outbuildings essential to sustaining farm families to decorative and symbolic icons of a bygone era. Today, these significant buildings deserve to be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Springhouses in the Red Clay Valley were one-to-three story buildings, constructed of log, frame or masonry materials with minimal fenstration and gable, shed or flat roofs. Patterns in the architecture and use of these buildings were influenced by the topography of the Red Clay Valley, available building resources, ethnic heritage, and building traditions of owners and builders, the dairying industry, gender roles, urbanization, and water technology as well as untold choices made by the individuals and families who used them. These same factors, along with the introduction of electricity, suburbanization of former farming operations, and the arrival of alternative water supply methods in the Red Clay Valley led to a decline in their use. Today the majority of springhouses in the Red Clay Valley are no longer used for any purpose, but have transformed into glorified lawn ornaments. They are semi-threatened buildings, primarily from deterioration and suburbanization. As with any historic building, education may be the key to their preservation.
This thesis aims to document extant springhouses; identify and describe patterns in form and setting in the context of building function; explain commonalities across space and over time; craft an historical context that enables one to look at the factors, forces and choices that produced variability; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, illuminate the significance of these forgotten outbuildings in hopes of encouraging their preservation.