by Rick Wiener
This digging adventure started on a sunny October day in 2005 and lasted a full month. Every weekend and almost every day after work. We took personal days off from work,and when we had the chance we dug at night.
A few people asked, what were you digging it with a spoon? and to answer that question I just laughed and said "no, we just happened to have it that way, the owner said take all the time you need". So we did, and we needed every minute of it. This pit turned out to be a monster, twenty two feet deep and six foot wide! Definitely not normal for privy's in my area.There is other reason why it took so long to dig,which will be revealed further into the story.
|The Strauss house and servants house.|
Now let me back up a bit and tell you how this crazy dig came to be, also a little history on the owner of this huge white 1850's Mansion.
The location where this dig took place a large grist mill once stood in the 1790's. There where also two smaller stone buildings both dating into the 1700's. The buildings were part of the grist mill. One building was used to house some of the mill workers, and one was the home to the owner of the grist mill.The spot was chosen for the mill because of the swift flowing waters of the Jordan creek that flowed nearby.
This grist had many owners over the years, all of them had really no significance to this story except for one man, his name was Thomas Strauss, he bought the grist mill from Davis Wisser in 1865, near the end of the Civil War.
|One day's haul.||Clay Master ink.|
In a very short time, Strauss turned the simple grist mill into a modern flour rolling mill, which could turn out 50 barrels of daisy flour in a 24 hour period. He was the first miller in the Lehigh Valley to introduce spring wheat and also the first to sell Minnesota flour.
The mill apparently made Strauss enough money to retire from the business in 1898.
The house that the Strauss family lived in during the start of the flour mill until the end of their days, was a huge three story brick building with a fancy sloping mansard roof and hooded dormer windows, it was called the 'Second Empire' created by a French architect of the 19th century. This awesome house reflected the way they lived.
|No Parking sign.||Green squat soda, Seitz & Bros, Easton, PA.|
The man Thomas Strauss was a millionaire of his time because of the flour mill,and his wife Isabelle was considered a 'Healer,'
I thought that a little history would help to visualize the area , too often no history is known about the people who tossed all of those goodies into the privies we dig. In this case searching the archives of our local historical society paid off.
Now back to that sunny day in October where the real adventure begins. My buddy Paul and I were looking for a place to dig a privy that afternoon. We ended up at Jordan park in Allentown where the old grist mill once stood. Before we set out to knock on doors we stopped by an old friends place who lived next to one of the small stone houses that was once part of the mill. While talking, we got in to the subject of privies, my friend suggested asking Pena? "I asked who is Pena?" she said she lives in the stone house. And I'm sure she would have no problem with you digging.
To make a long story short we got the permission with the help of our friend.
After securing permission the real work began! The house was very small, and very old, 1700's. We were excited and ready to start probing, but the back yard looked like a jungle. Weeds and grass three foot high or longer, and dead trees all over the place. There was no way we could find a pit in this overgrown yard, so we decided to ask her if she would like us to clean up her yard. Of course she said "yes".
So we started on the huge task right away. It had to be done, and anything for a privy is my motto. I had to leave Paul and go home to get a chain saw and weed whacker, and when I returned Paul had a portion of the yard done, he found a hand sickle on the side of the house, that was great! It saved us some time.
L.Q.C. Wishart's Pine Tree Tar Cordial.
We both got right into weedwacking and cutting, I took the upper half and Paul took the lower half. I searched for depressions as I went along, every so often I would yell down to Paul to see if he found anything. Once he yelled back he still couldn't see the ground yet. That meant a lot more cutting was ahead of us. When I was working my way toward the house to cut some dead limbs near the fence, I noticed some very large stones sticking out of the ground. As I took a closer look I saw the ground was sinking badly around the stones. At first glance it looked like a half circle. I called Paul over and we dug around the area to see what it might be. When we finished it revealed a full circle of huge granite stones. Was it a well? or was it a privy? The hole was six feet across!
The next step was to finish the yard work, so we could get back to this unknown Privy/Well? After we finished the nasty task of cutting the jungle, we got right back to the big unknown hole.
We broke out the probes and started sinking them in the center of the huge depression. On the first try a six foot probe sunk to the handle with ease, then we decided to go to the truck and get the ten foot probe, that also sunk with no problem. We where awestruck! what the heck was this thing? Soon we were in the sunken circle shoveling out dirt and what ever else we came across. After about a half hour we got down to where we could see a change, and the change was a brick wall. At first we thought the whole thing was made of gray stone, but it turns out it had a three foot thick top of stone six foot around, and brick going down, down to where? We didn't know yet.
Iron pontil ale with slug plate.
We got into talking about how big this thing was and how small the house was in comparison to it. There was the huge white house in the next yard that would match up to this well/privy a lot better. With further research we found out that the big white house had servants and the servants lived in the small stone house where we were digging. In 1865 it was all one property. That explains it, but we still didn't know what this hole was. We thought it was to big to be a privy, and to be a well just didn't make sense, after all, it was a flour mill at the time, and the Jordan creek, then a large river ran into the mills. They had access to clean water at all times.
As we dug deeper and deeper I saw no signs of life, just rock, stone, and clean fill. The brick walls were beginning to be reveled more and more each day. If it was a well we had a long digging journey ahead. We had no intention of quitting until we had a sign to do so. I did find a "No Parking" sign in the hole but that wasn't the sign I was looking for.
This project was started on a Saturday, by the next Sunday we were down ten feet. With nothing to show but massive amounts of clay fill, large stones, bricks, and a "No parking" sign. Whomever filled this beast in must have used a dump truck, because one shovel at a time would have been crazy, and I thought, wait a minute we are shoveling it out one shovel at a time what does that make us?
The fill started to get out of control , we had to do something before we dumped more. Paul was always good at building walls to keep large amounts of fill back, and at the time we had a lot of brick and stone that had come from the hole, so Paul got to work on his signature brick and stone walls. It kept the dirt from flowing down into the yard, and we could pile it higher this way.
With this problem solved we got back to digging. We were kind of weary of this whole operation because we had yet to see a sign of it being a privy,and thats what we where hoping for. But even wells have been known to produce some cool things, so we kept digging and praying for the bottle god to shine on us. The day went by with nothing new to show, we did find a few 1960's bottles in the fill weeha! I guess the 60's was when they filled this monster in.
This shot was up 22 feet.
The next day after work we returned. It was raining lightly, so we put up one of our big blue tarps and got to digging. With the gloomy rain, and no sign of any glass, or even a clue as to why we where doing this, we decided to dig for one hour and go home.
I was the bucket man at the time, I was thankful we had a pulley system rigged up to save our energy. The man in the pit pulled up the bucket, we had a large barn pulley connected to a V, welded in the middle of a long ten foot pole. It was sort of backward but it worked great! Another set-up Paul made with his welder. What would I do without that guy!
As we were nearing the time to leave, Paul yelled bucket up, he told me to look in it before I dumped it. I pulled the bucket up to the plank that stuck out over the pit, then on to the walk board, when I looked in the bucket I felt hope, there sat an aqua BIM slick, it was no big deal, but it was a sign of life, and that's what we were waiting for.
Some of the sodas after being cleaned up.
We stopped there, covered the hole, and got our tools together, feeling a little better. The pit at that point was around twelve feet deep, and six feet across, that is some serious fill! We had two weeks invested in this digging adventure, with one aqua slick to show for it. With the amount of fill and rocks. We hoped and prayed it would get better, and it did.
The next day we decided to take off work to try and put a dent in the huge pit. As soon as we sunk the shovel in that day we hit a dark black Lome, we felt alive again! I started to dig out the remainder of the fill, which would soon reveal the entire top of the trash layer.
Paul was looking down with anticipation on his face. I am sure he was thinking, "what is going to pop out next"? Would it be another aqua bim? Will it be a screw top? It was sort of the same thing I was thinking, How old was this pit? How deep would the use layer go? We had a lot of questions,but we knew what the real answer was, and that was to on keep digging.
We continued to chip away at the huge six foot wide surface, with no more dirt fill or rocks to deal with, we soon hit the fourteen foot mark. At two feet into the crap layer, the bottles really started to pop out.
The excitement was building and we found ourselves not caring anymore about the privy/well theory. We were starting to get bottles and see more glass and thats all that mattered. The digging was slow since the area was so wide we had to pick spots and work our way around the pit,with every stroke of the dig tool you would hit something,pottery,dishes,bottles etc.
The U.S.A. Hosp. bottles and others.
With such a slow process, this dig turned into a second job, with bottles for pay of course. The digging continued every day after work and every weekend rain or shine.
After a few days the bottles started to pile up. We got a few Hutchinson's, a Horlockers with an elks head on the front, and a few other locals Seitz and bro mug bases, Pat. 1858 Masons. And slicks galore all BIM. This was just the top of the use layer, we estimate the start of the trash layer to be 1880s-90s. With each day the signs got older, and so did the bottles.
Each and every trip to the pit was exciting. We knew we would bring home bottles, but what color, embossed or unembossed? Soon we were getting into the strap side flask era, 1870's, we had a feeling this use layer went really deep. I used the probe a few times, but there was to much glass,I have broken good bottles before by getting ahead of myself and probing.I had to Realize that when the brick ended so did the privy.
So on we went digging in small sections of the pit. We had so much broken glass we had to use a tarp just for shards. Bottles, pottery, dishes, etc. There where other goodies found other than bottles. We had a screen set up to screen the buckets of fill. Paul found a few coins, an 1875 dime and an 1867 dime both (seated dimes), marbles, human teeth, buttons, and some unknown things like a bone that looked like a hook. I still don't know what that thing really was. While one of us was digging one was sifting. It was like factory work on the line, except it was fun!
I was in the pit one day and started to pull out Lockport Gargling Oils, the small and the large size, and more slicks, tons more slicks.
The days went by fast. It seemed like we where in to the layer about six feet with the fill getting piled high and overwhelming! Once in a while the homeowner would come out and look down the hole and say "oh my god"!, but in a good way. She was interested in what we where doing and thought it was cool. We need more people like her. At this point I think she had to trust us and take our word that we would return her yard to normal because at that moment in time there was a seventeen foot deep hole in her yard, and mountains of fill dirt and glass around it.
|Sided Seitz Bros. Mineral Water soda.||U.S.A. Hosp. bottle.|
As better bottles started to come out, we would offer her a few to keep her calm and dig a few for ourselves to keep that high going.
At this point we were getting some cool bottles from this huge pit. Clay master inks, Arnold & Derby, lots of cone inks and square inks. I would guess so many inks because of the flour business, and having to do lots of paper work.
The days went by and we were down to around eight feet into the use layer, that rounded it off to about twenty feet total. We still hadn't probed to see how much more we had to go before this dream ended, but we didn't want to break a good bottle doing so. We kept plugging along at a snails pace. The next bottles to appear were a Dr. Edwards Wild cherry Tar, a few whole redware pots and a six inch blob cream soda, G.W Otto & Co. from Philly.
With the weekend nearing and the upcoming Monday off we had a feeling we would hit bottom with three days and nights to dig.
The night digging was fun , I felt like I was in the time capsule from that period, pulling out things from the past. Almost whole lamp globes, old rotten shoes that were very small and this told me they had kids. Lots of human teeth, did they pull their own? I often wonder how life was in the 19th century when I dig in a privy. I was also wondering when the heck this this hole is going to end!
I would have my answer on Monday. We finally felt bottom, but it wasn't clay, it was solid stone. It ended up being a 6x10 foot use layer! The other reason it took so much time. Some of the best bottles of the dig came from the bottom in the corners of the pit. A U.S.A Hospital bottle (my favorite) a L.Q.C. Wisharts Pine Tar Cordial, an iron pontil green squat with a slug plate, a shapire blue Seitz & Bros., a few other aqua and green blob sodas and more slicks. In the end more slicks came from this pit than embossed bottles. But the thrill of this dig will never be forgotten in our lives. With a grand total of 600 bottles and a months time invested into it, it ranks up there as one of our most memorable digs.
When it was all over the Morning Call, our local paper got wind of the dig. I think the homeowner called them. They wanted to do a story on the dig and take some pictures at the dig site. The reporter then asked to come over to my house to get some pictures of the bottles we had recently cleaned up, and ask us some questions about our adventure. When the story finally came out I felt proud. It was very well written and well explained on what it was like to dig up the past. We ended up getting a few permissions from readers.
The reason I entitled this story 'The privy Well' was because Jim Hagenbuch was asked to comment on the dig in the Morning Call, Jim suggested it might be a well because it was so deep, and maybe they dug for water and hit huge stones, then gave up and used it for a privy. That could be, but my theory was that the owner was the flour king of Allentown better known as Clapboard town at the time. He could have a privy dug that deep so they didn't have to deal with odor. Im sure he had the money to do it. Also there was a clean water source that ran to the mill nearby. No one of this day and age really knows for sure what they had in mind when they dug this gigantic hole. Thats why I refer to it as... 'The Privy/well.'
Did you enjoy this digging story? Every month Antique Bottle and Glass Collector magazine gives you neat digging stories like this one.
Why not subscribe today!
It's easy just click here. SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION
Return me to: HOME PAGE - Go to: OTHER DIGGING STORIES