Sandstone structure a famous oddity in rural area

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

MASON TOWNSHIP - Is it a cave? Is it an old Indian dwelling? Is it a fruit cellar?

At first glance, this odd edifice located along State Route 141 in Mason Township and once featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not, can be a bit challenging to describe. But it certainly has captured attention since its creation in 1847, causing many a passersby to do a double take.

"I don't mind people going in it," said owner Allen Miller. "A lot of times they used to just let (their) kids run all over top it and I was afraid they would fall in. I had put up a 'No Trespassing' sign, but I hate to do that because I know people want to see it."

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According to some old clippings Miller had, the sandstone structure began life as an intact bolder. Owner John Russell hired two men and their mule to carve out the rock with only picks and shovels. They were paid $50 for their efforts that resulted in a 12 feet by 14 feet room.

The mark "1847" is visible on its right side. It has two vents or "windows" in the front and one on top. There is also a doorway cut into the structure.

"It's just unreal how they could cut that out like that back in 1847 and make that size of a room in a rock," Miller said.

Miller said the unusual specimen wasn't the only one to be found in Lawrence County.

"There's another one somewhere," he said. "I don't know where exactly to tell you where it's at, but I've been meaning to go look for it. It's wired for electricity and stuff."

Although the structure's original purpose is unknown, later owner Jonas Payne used it for a fruit cellar, Miller said. Now its main function is as an oddity and a playhouse for Miller's 11 grandchildren.

"I've got three (grandchildren) down in Georgia and boy when they come up, they head right over there," he said with grandfatherly pride.

Miller has plans to put windows and a door back into the structure at some point. Water that collects on the cellar's floor is also a problem in need of attention, he said.

He and his wife Carol bought the farm in 1999 after Miller retired from Ironton Iron. The cellar was definitely a selling point, despite the farm's run-down condition.

They have made considerable improvements to the property, including building a house and raising a few beef cattle on its 126 acres. Three of their five grown children live just a short distance along the same roadway.

So, does Miller have any plans to sell?

"No way," he said smiling. "I lived down here 28 years. I'll never sell it."