The Old Storm Cellar

Some of these still linger on in Kansas backyards and some are still used when the sky turns ominous and a tornado funnel starts to form. This particular one was in the yard where Gail’s daughter, Karen, lived for a number of years in El Dorado, Kansas. The house dated back to 1918 and perhaps the old storm cellar was of that vintage too.


Possibly, the doors had been replaced a few times over the years. It’s been painted but then that weathers away over the years.

It’s a fact of life if you live in Kansas, you need to know where the nearest tornado shelter is. Living in tornado alley means learning how to read the clouds and recognize a tornado funnel forming. It means knowing the siren tones to know which is a tornado alert and which is a “take cover.”

A vintage storm cellar like this one might have a dirt floor or could have been improved over the years. Some people stock them with chairs, a lantern, a weather radio, and other comforts to get through dangerous times. Sometimes the walls are lined with rough shelving to hold canned foods from the vegetable garden and have bins for potatoes and other root crops.

There’s a handle to make it easier to pull open the wooden doors. Fear lends you strength to haul it open as the wind howls around you and the rain pelts down.

Memories from Other Folks of Storm Shelters

  • Sara Sluss – We had one at the farm – long gone. I hated going into it – for potatoes, onions, or apples or because there were tornados in the area. Spiders, dark, dank, ick.
  • Nicholas C. – My grandparents had one in Maple Hill, Kansas. A lantern hung on the back porch to take when it stormed at night. It was used for canned goods and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) and crocks of sauerkraut. There were always toads! There was a vent in the top which made the wind and thunder sound strange and ominous! Thank heavens, I never saw a snake! I fell down the concrete steps when I was 5 and broke my left eardrum. Lots of memories!
  • Mary M. – My Aunt has one inside an outbuilding (which was a smokehouse at one time) in her backyard in Towanda. It started to cave in so she had to fill it with dirt.
  • Mike M. – We had one in western Linn County where I grew up. We kept our potatoes and onions from the garden in it and I learned to ride a bike by coasting off the top of it.
  • Beverly M. – Some called them ‘fraidy’ holes.
  • Robinette G. – We still have our cellar on the farmstead of my great-grandparents. The 6th generation now lives here. When I was a kid, this was my playhouse in the summer because it was cool in the western Kansas heat. We’d always go through the doorway really fast to avoid spiders, then checked for snakes! It’s covered by a silver lace vine.
  • Dorothy L. – We called them caves. Although we had a basement, our neighbor had a cave. During one tornado scare, several people from town gathered in that small space. I was in grade school and counted twenty-four people taking shelter while our local policeman, Officer Holder, drive through town in his police car sounding his siren or horn as a warning. No Shawnee County sirens in those days.
  • John F. – My grandparents had one just like it. I loved the smell of brick and earth and the dozens of mason jars full of fruit and vegetables. This was in the late 60s early 70s.
All Concrete storm cellar 1910 -

The Daily Republican 
Burlington, Kansas 09 May 1910, Mon  •  Page 8

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