When walking around a historical village, I can put a name and/or purpose to most things. But this one had me stuck.
It all made good sense after I asked one of the employees — in 1830’s costume.
Several households together pooled their fireplace ashes in these. Once they were full they added water. (The metaphorical light bulb started to glow.) What do you get when you add water to wood ashes? Lye.
The trough at the bottom facilitated collecting the lye which would have been used to make soap.
Please give our ancestors points for being smart, clever, and thrifty. But since I remember lye soap well (my mother made and used it for laundry) I’m fine with purchasing modern detergent at the store.