Profile picture for RonaldEdwardKipling

strange foundation

I was planting a tree in an area behind my property when I found a small strange foundation in the ground.  It is small, and was buried under several inches of soil, so I assume it is very old.  How can I find out what it was?
Thanx.    Ronald Kipling
  • March 28 2011 - US
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Answers (14)

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Profile picture for blue screen exile
The initials only mean who worked on the project...  With 5 sets it was likely a "family project".  Are they the same lettering style and height?  Or 5 different sizes/styles?  If the style and size is the same, it is likely the dad that did it.  You can search past ownership records with the county to see if any of the initials match one of the past owners' names.  That would give you an approximate date of construction.

Yes, it could be a barbecue, or it could have functioned as an incinerator and barbecue.

With studs on 3 sides, it likely means the 4th side was the "opening" for putting things in...  (one of the longer sides would be the typical opening for a barbecue as well as in incinerator)

It is a little unusual to leave the studs sticking up.  Usually, after using a sledge hammer to remove the walls, any re-bar or similar sticking up is pounded down flat 90 degrees so that someone won't step on it and get impaled.

If there was no ash anywhere around, it was more likely a barbecue; but even then, one often buries the remains of charred wood or charcoal.

At 4' x 5' is is likely too small for a storage shed, and it is likely too big for an outhouse.

If it had rebar or similar, it likely wasn't brick.  More likely concrete or concrete block.

If it was concrete block, it would have been newer (likely 1950's or 1960's, or 1970's).
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for blue screen exile
If it was a "boy scout project", the initials would not have the same last initial.  But then the lettering style would all be different.

As a family project, it still could be the first and middle initials; but then they wouldn't be helpful for looking up in the public records.

If no toys and no charred remains and no ash, then there is the possibility the slab was only for storing the trash cans and the bolts at the sides we only for holding fence brackets for fencing the area, with gates at the front.

Another clue may be the finish work of the slab, and if there is any slope to the slab for water drainage.

Form boards are usually removed after a slab is poured, but wood stakes would be used to hold the form boards in place, and sometimes the concrete spreads under the form board and holds one of the stakes, so they would just be broken off, leaving splinters.

A close up photo of the threaded "rod"/bolts, rebar... at the edges could help give some clues.  Have you rinsed the slab off yet?

It took me about a week to figure out mine... and with the tile work, I kept thinking it was a backyard grave.. but it wasn't, and those haven't been legal for many many decades, so it really wasn't surprising that it wasn't a grave.  And for mine, after removing it, I dug down further.  it turned out that the structure had been replaced more than once, and that the foundation was just built on top of each time with a new foundation.  And nothing interesting after removing the lowest layer of brick.
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for RonaldEdwardKipling
Have you ever considered moonlighting as a detective?  :)
I will continue to dig around the structure as I have somewhat, but haven't found any remnants of ash or char.  I do believe there is some old wood pieces that may have served as a form around the edges I have fully exposed. 
Regarding the initials my son and I found:  There are 4 or 5 sets....Likely the family?  However the folks only left two letter initials, with the last letters NOT matching.  I will continue  to clean it off and hope for a date.
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for blue screen exile
"It's just that the area seems to just be a buffer between my property and the property behind mine." -

That is the typical place that the incinerators were placed, and sometimes the barbecues.   Away from the house where the smoke won't get in the house.

As for brambles and other rambling plants (including the trees that look similar to the pecan tree but grow 18" a week without water and never produce any nuts..), that it typical of the areas that typically get neglected, especially the areas that used to have incinerators.  That would make it a bit less likely for a playhouse, since parents like the playhouse near the house where the mom can see it from the kitchen window.

There is also a possibility that it was a firewood storage bin.

Soda cans likely means that teenagers hung out back there.  That seems to be from a much later time period than the construction.  Again, you need to dig around in the dirt around the foundation to look for other remains about the same age as when the structure was in use.

But, since you have initials, I would start there.  If it was a contractor, there likely would have only been one or two sets of initials for such a small project.
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for blue screen exile
By the way, at 4' x 5' it could also be a slab for a wood playhouse, especially if threaded bolts were sticking up in several places to hold the sill-plates of the playhouse walls down.

Usually the door would be in the middle of one of the long sides, and often for a small playhouse, they wouldn't bother to anchor the front wall, but only connect it to the sides and back that would be bolted down.

If it was a playhouse, you would expect to to find small toys in the dirt around it instead of ash and burnt remains.
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for RonaldEdwardKipling
I would agree with your theory most likely!  It's just that the area seems to just be a buffer between my property and the property behind mine.  This area is covered with snags, shrubs and smaller trees. There are no signs of anything else, however I did find some buried trash....Some soda cans from the early 80's I think. Somehow, I want to find out more.
Thankyou!
  • March 28 2011
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Back in the 50's my father built a brick bar-b-que in the back yard ... it was another popular thing back in the day.
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for RonaldEdwardKipling
No.  I didn't "call before I dug".  I was planting a small seedling tree when I discovered the slab.  It measures about 5'x4' and has threaded studs sticking up out of it on the edges of 3 sides. There are also 5 sets of initials scratched into the surface. 
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for blue screen exile
By the way, one of the indications that mine was an incinerator was the amount of ash and burned remnants found in the immediate vicinity, including tin cans.

I did take pictures at the time, but it was before digital, so it would take much effort to find them and digitize them.
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for blue screen exile
There was no record of the incinerator in any of the building department records for my property...  but all the houses in the area had them from the 20's through the 50's.  Most of them are gone now.

There also was little record of the "out-house" in most of the public records for properties built prior to the 1900's....  but where an out-house still existed in the 1980's, it shows on one plot map in the public records as an auxiliary structure, but no documentation of what it was nor when it was built.  And it was take down in the early 1990's without permit, simply because it was not structurally sound to remain standing.

The local building department is not always a good source for historic information, especially for auxiliary structures.
  • March 28 2011
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Ronald, please go to your local building dept, or better yet, county records to see what the history of this land has on record
  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
It may have been a foundation of a shed, or an old top of a septic system.

  • March 28 2011
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Profile picture for blue screen exile
I had a similar one in my back yard; about 12" down... you need to remember:
1) soil gets built up over time
2) it used to be very common to burn the trash in the back yard, in what we would call back yard incinerators.  Many different designs were common, but it is very unusual to remove the concrete base when removing the structure.

Mine also had some interesting tile work, and there were all kinds or remnants of various "history" items; but none looked in good enough condition to be worth doing anything about.

Though I don't have the measurements handy, I believe the measurements of the foundation for mine were about 5' x 8'.

The best way to find out what it was is to dig to expose it all.  Even then, you still have to make some assumptions.

Some of the existing older concrete incinerators that I've seen are only about 30" diameter.

In my area, it is not legal to use them anymore anyway. so this "piece of history" even if intact has very little value.

Also remember, that prior to 1900, it was very common to have "out-houses" instead of indoor toilets.
  • March 28 2011
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Did you "Call Before You Dig"? In many areas it is the law that you should contact local utilities to inform them you will be digging so that you don't hit any hidden lines or pipes. If you contact your local utilities it just may shed some light for you. If it's not a utility easement of some sort, it's hard to say what it would be. How big is it?
  • March 28 2011
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