I heard lots
of tales when I was a kid growing up in West Bristol. Here's another one Junior Chapman told me and , what I discovered
as I grew older.
|Trail to Cistern from the "big hollow."
One day as Jr. and I were prowling the knobs he informed me of "iron doors" , deep back in the knobs,
and set into the sides of a hill, that concealed the entrance to a cave. This cave supposedly ran westerly through the entire
ridge and exited near Steele Creek at another iron door. No one knew who placed the doors nor why.
Of course, by this point in time, I had learned
to suspect Jr.'s stories as he liked stretching the truth and embellishing events. BUT: there was always some basis in fact
in Jr.'s tales.
Jr. lived on Windsor Ave. across from where Alder Street entered, and
near a small "Mom&Pop" neighborhood grocery store or market. At one time these small stores were located allover
Bristol, but the arrival of the Giant Food Markets chain in the early 1960's spelled their end. At the store is likely
where Jr. heard the original tales and he added his own twist to every one.
Sometime afterwards, my brother Mike & I were
prowling a section of the knobs we hadn't been in before. We had began our usual trek up the ridge from Windsor Ave., proceeding
west to where the trail forked and then taking the left fork down alongside the ridge. After a couple hundred feet another
trail went left and down into the hollow to a small wet weather creek. Following this creekbed down the hollow lead into another
larger hollow that one could follow all the way to Deer Lick Rd. off of Vance Dr. As the creek made its way from its beginnings
and on down to Vance Dr. , it became more of an actual creek, as it was being fed along its route by various springs.
We'd hunt frogs, snakes, salamanders, crawdabs(crawdads,
crayfish), build small dams, wade and even lie down in the cold water. A few times we even drank the water ,but made sure
it was running over rocks and not from a still pool. It's a wonder we survived.
|First sight of Cistern
back to the "iron door." There was another wet weather creek that joined the first , coming in from an north-easterly direction.
One day, we decided to follow it back to its source. After a long trek following the stream bed up a hollow, we saw a structure
ahead of us. It looked like a small sandstone block house, about 12 feet square, and had a tin roof, but no door, just
an opening. We were leery at first, thinking someone may be living there,( or some thing), but after a while,
we decided it was abandoned. Upon entering the building we saw a 2 foot square hole in the floor, a floor which - oddly enough
, was round. Looking in the hole, we discovered it was full of water. Black looking spooky water, at that. What we had found
was a cistern , enclosed within the block walls, and built who knows when.
Exploring further, Mike & I noticed an iron pipe ,
waterline, if you will, running from the cistern back up the hollow. Following this pipe led us straight to Junior's " iron
door." We opened the door and peered inside the dark chamber it covered, expecting to see a cave leading into the hillside.
No such luck. What we did see was an area of flat concrete with a built-up ledge at the door, all designed to retain the spring
water in a small pool. When the level was high enough, the water would run into the pipe and on down to the cistern.
|Iron Door near Cistern
many times to the cistern and the iron door. One time we were caught in a thunderstorm and waited it out inside the building.
On one such trip, I noticed the iron spring and wheel of an old wagon partially buried in the creek bed. Years later I would
return to discover an area near the wagon that had lots of broken aqua shards of circa 1900 medicine bottles lying
about. Littles White Oil from Scottsville, Va., Andrews Mfg Co. from Brsitol, Tenn., and Ramon's Nerve & Bone Oil from
Greeneville, Tenn., are some I distinctly remember. I never did figure out why they were there and all broken. Scouting
around revealed no nearby dump or any other broken glass. They were just in that one place.
years ago,( 2006), I returned to the cistern and took some pictures. The roof is now gone, the walls torn down and the
cistern is empty. The iron door was still in place, enclosing the spring, but the pipe was gone. I climbed down in the cistern
to see if any bottles were tossed in over the years. But someone had thrown in some of the blocks from the walls, and the
bottom was covered with rubble.