This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
In household matters in the country, the use of rain water in almost every family is a necessity, because the well water is rarely soft enough for washing purposes. To secure rain water, cisterns are resorted to; and as I wanted one or more, I consulted a mason, who, after figuring and looking at my ground, which is a stiff clay about three feet deep, and then a shale or soapstone rock, he decided he could not build me a cistern of eight feet deep and six feet diameter at a cost of less than twenty-five to thirty dollars. Not disposed to pay that amount, I set my hired man to digging, and in one day he dug and shaped me out a cistern of the shape of a common iron cooking pot, eight feet deep, four feet diameter at top and bottom, and widening to six feet in center. This, in two hours' time the next morning, I plastered once over with one part water lime and two parts sharp sand, and covered the top with hewn oak posts. The next day, in one hour's time, I gave it a second but thin coat of plaster, in all taking one bushel and three pecks of water lime and double the quantity of sand - costing me, besides my own time, the sum of not quite five dollars.
I practiced this same course some twenty-six years ago on clean sandy soil, and the cistern is to this day perfect, and has never leaked.
Another cheap way of saving rain water is to take any old cask, coat the outside with coal tar, sink it in the ground, bedding the bottom and sides in clay well packed and at least six inches thick. It is possible that in sandy soil a mixture of the coal tar with sand immediately around the cask might make the cask water-tight. Were I now where I had sandy soil I would try it. A."