By Al Miller
My interest in bottle collecting (and subsequent obsession with digging) all started with an online search for a keepsake bottle from my Great-Grandfather's pre-Prohibition brewery in southern Colorado. Six years later, I am now the proud owner of several nice shards of broken hutches and blobs from the family brewery, and have acquired plenty of great memories of Washington D.C. area digging adventures. In addition, whenever possible, I have pursued digging opportunities when traveling for work or pleasure. This past year, thanks to a work trip to the Denver metropolitan area, I had the golden opportunity to meet and dig with the dynamic duo, Marty Homola and Mike Saindon better known from Andy Goldfrank's digging articles as The Colorado Boys. Marty has likewise published some fine articles that have graced the pages of Antique Bottle & Glass Collector about digging privies in Colorado and Brooklyn, New York. Frankly, the prospect of a dig in Denver, where my immigrant Great-Grandfather lived, worked as a cooper and became a U.S. citizen in 1888 before venturing on to southern Colorado, combined with the prospect of meeting Marty and Mike, made this one of my most anticipated work trips ever.
Marty Homola with a small portion of his collection
On a fine Monday morning, I arrived in Denver with all-day meetings scheduled every day through Thursday, and a flight home booked for Friday morning. Once in Colorado, my day was occupied by driving to my place of work where I grudgingly went through the motions, as I was eagerly awaiting the chance to finally meet this digger, Marty, whom I had read and heard so much about as I learned about bottle digging. Finally, five o'clock rolled around, and I happily hit the road for Marty's place in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Upon my arrival, Marty welcomed me as if he had known me for years, and gave me the grand tour of his historic 1860 house (which had served as a stagecoach stop in the days of the Wild West); the thousands of acres of parkland along with the resident elk and bison herds he oversees for the City and County of Denver; and , of course, his amazing bottle and relic collection from every corner of the United States. We hit it off immediately, and talked for hours about bottles, digging, Colorado history, and anything else that folks will think about who share a passion for recovering from our historic past. Each bottle in his display case had a story, and he described the digs from New York to Charleston to Richmond to Leadville to Fort Sedgewick to Denver that produced them as if they had just happened yesterday.
The Five Points area, as depicted in an 1893 Sanborn map
Marty showed me his homemade bottle tumbler, and spoke of his years of pioneering tumbling devices and cleaning bottles, all the while experimenting with new hardware, compounds, and approaches. He also generously presented me with several beautiful Colorado bottles, including a C.A. Scheidemantel, Denver blob soda, and a J. Schueler, Denver hutch (both already tumbled!), three different Denver druggists, and an early crude hutch from historic Leadville. I was completely overwhelmed by his kindness and generosity toward someone he had just met. As the night flew by and we fast encroached on Tuesday, we schemed on dig possibilities given my relatively short windows of free time, and Marty's family and work obligations. We even broached the subject of a drive up to Leadville, but Marty had a friend checking it out who did not have any leads, and the snow there was still too high for us to make any real progress. Finally, we settled on Wednesday as our best chance, and agreed to meet up in downtown Denver that evening as soon as I could break free. I left Marty's remarkable residence with an armload of bottles and headed for my hotel, exhausted but thankful to have made yet another great friend in the bottle hobby.
Marty and Mike show Al how it's done.
Wednesday afternoon finally arrived, and when I called Marty during a break, he confirmed our digging plan and said that we would explore a couple of places where the guys had gotten permission from construction crews. When I finally escaped, I made good time into Denver, driving by Coors Field just as a Rockies game was about to begin. After a few wrong turns and another cell phone call, I finally found Marty and Mike metal detecting a site near the Five Points neighborhood of Denver.
Not a good sign when dating a privy...
Five Points is aptly named for the intersection of Welton Street, Washington Street, 26th Avenue, and 27th Street. When the eastern portion of Denver was originally laid out in a north-south orientation, it met up rather awkwardly with the existing downtown street grid, which was oriented along the South Platte River, running from northeast to southwest. The street car maps, in the 1870s-80s, first coined the descriptive Five Points phrase; through the years this label stuck, even appearing on some of the embossed bottles of the time.
At the freshly scraped lot, Marty introduced me to Mike, and mentioned they had already dug portions of this particular site some years back, but said they believed that the recent removal of dirt might have exposed some holes they had missed. We promptly began digging a test hole in a depression along the back edge of the lot. However, in short order, the Colorado Boys decided the present site was not worth the effort as it would be better once more layers were removed. Plus, there was a construction site Mike had gotten access to just a few blocks away which appeared better primed for digging.
The construction crew had gone home for the day, leaving behind a massive pile of excavated dirt and a huge hole covering the rest of the site. Unfortunately, neither the pile nor the hole showed much in the way of shards or other telltale signs. On the other hand, the back edge of the property appeared to be undisturbed and still at the original grade. Marty and Mike began probing along the fence line and quickly found what they believed to be two privies about 6 feet apart. One was likely a board-lined outhouse, known as a woodliner, and the other was brick-lined. We all took turns opening up the holes, and it became readily apparent I was out of my league these guys could move some dirt! Although I did enjoy digging in the light, dry, almost sandy Denver soil, which was so different from the thick red Virginia clay and wet Baltimore muck encountered during East Coast digs, the Colorado Boys were putting me to shame with how effectively they were opening the holes.
"Oh please, Oh please..." Al flings some dirt and hopes for a miracle.
From across the alley, a construction worker renovating another home asked what we were doing digging like madmen. Marty hopped out and began talking with him, and the next thing we knew the guy had offered up some current and future projects he was aware of that might yield some outhouses. He and Marty exchanged phone numbers, and he promised to call Marty when there was a dig oppportunity. It always pays to make polite conversation with curious onlookers you never know where that next permission might come from! And it certainly does not hurt to have years of experience and knowledge about local history to regale the inquiring minds.
As the digging progressed, the woodliner yielded quite a bit of coal and burnt wood, but not many shards or relics. As Marty continued working that privy, my next turn came in the brick-lined outhouse. At about two feet down, I made the disturbing discovery of a small plastic German Shepherd. Now, I love dogs, but this was not a good sign. The Five Points area dates to the 1870s, however, this little artifact was likely from the 1970s. In short order, this retro relic we had found was coupled with other contemporary pieces of trash -- we quickly determined that the brickliner had already been dug by bottle diggers. I sadly proceeded to fill it in.
Chiles & Co, Chemists, Denver, Col - rare artifact from a short-lived pharmacy located at 556 Arapahoe St, Denver.
Meanwhile, Mike had been probing the area between the woodliner and the brickliner, and was convinced he had found another possible privy. Marty and I continued working the first woodliner, and Mike dug a test hole in this new area. As Marty uncovered a very cool unembossed half-barrel whiskey flask with the neck sheared off, Mike and I began opening up what eventually turned out to be a second woodliner. About 4 to 5 feet down, we hit a significant seed layer indicating we were into nightsoil that might have some bottles. Our excitement began to build in the hopes that perhaps we had found a privy that had not been disturbed by bottle diggers in the 1960s or 1970s.
During my next turn in this third hole, as I carefully worked the back wall near the seed layer, I caught sight of the edge of a small bottle. Gently working around the edges, I repeatedly said out loud: Please be whole. Please be embossed ... . Suddenly the bottle tumbled out into my hand, and after wiping it off, both of my wishes came true! Our find was completely intact, embossed Chiles & Co, Chemists, Denver, Col., with some fancy scroll work much like on another Five Points bottle Marty had shown me at his house. After a couple hours, we finally had the first whole bottle of the night, and according to Marty and Mike, it was a good one!
We continued taking turns, and unearthed a hock wine (rather crude appearance, and the first one I had ever seen dug), two unembossed champagnes, a crude old blob beer which was plain except for 10 on the bottom, and an 1850 patent date gutta-percha (hard black rubber) syringe. The shards we found were typically disheartenting with pieces of several early 1880s beers (including a Carl Conrad & Co., Original Budweiser), a neat coffin flask, a Mason jar, and some decorated pottery and porcelain. Marty stated that he thought the general date range of the bottles and artifacts were in the early to mid-1880s. As daylight quickly faded, we bottomed out at around 6 feet with nothing else to show. After filling in the holes, gathering up our finds and tools, and shooting a few pictures, we headed over to one of the micro-breweries for what I felt was a triumphant dinner.
Hughes & Chiles, Druggists, Frankfort, KY - coincidental find from Chiles' hometown
When I returned home to my home in Virginia, our Denver dig resulted in even more fun. In addition to the digging obsession coursing through my veins, I have always been struck with an insatiable curiosity about the history behind the bottles we excavate. Time and time again, I discover tidbits about a bottler, proprietor, or user of a bottle, that only adds to the magic of these small pieces of the past. Subsequent research on our finds in Five Points revealed quite a bit about the story behind the Chiles pharmacy bottle. Edward Chiles, born in Kentucky in approximately 1848, is listed as a druggist in the 1870 census records for Frankfort, Kentucky. In a remarkable coincidence, during the research phase, Kentucky digger Chris Capley unearthed a "Hughes & Chiles, Druggists, Frankfort, KY" and posted its picture on several bottle-digging forums.
My research soon revealed that in the late 1870s, Chiles moved to Denver, Colorado and first shows up with wife Lizzie in the 1880 census records for Denver. On October 1, 1880, Chiles entered into a business partnership with Atwell Rennick and W.J. Todd; Rennick provided the start-up capital, and Chiles the pharmaceutical expertise in a venture they called "Chiles & Co." Under this corporate name, the three are listed together in the 1880 Denver Business Directory, selling "drugs and medicines" at 556 Arapahoe Street on the corner of 21st Street. According to documents from the Arapahoe County Court, which was the predecessor to the current Denver Courts, the partnership quickly went sour. On February 21, 1881, Rennick and Todd had ejected Chiles from the premises and placed notice in the local newspaper of the dissolution of the partnership.
Chiles brought suit against the other two men on March 18, 1881, alleging that despite devoting "his constant time and attention and ... all his skill in and to the business of said copartnership," he had been wrongly prevented from continued participation. Further, Chiles claimed that the original agreement called for the firm to continue business for five years from its inception, and that he was now owed his share of the estimated profits (plus interest!), amounting to over $10,000. The response from the lawyers for Rennick and Todd laid the blame on Chiles for the firm's slow start, citing his "negligence in the management of the business ... and extravagant expenditures of the funds of said firm" and claimed the defendants were justified in removing him and dissolving the partnership. Chiles refuted their allegations in a subsequent court filing, noting that neither Rennick nor Todd had any previous experience as druggists, and that Todd's "misconduct, unwarranted, and wrongful interference ... greatly injured the firm."
|Bunker Hill Consolidated Mining Co stock certificate, with Edward Chiles as the Secretary||Advertising for Chiles Cactus Cream|
The case went to trial in June 1882, at which the jury, while finding for the plaintiff, awarded Chiles nominal damages of $1. This award generated another response from Chiles' lawyer, requesting the verdict be set aside and a new trial granted, citing numerous "errors" on the part of the court and "because the proceedings are otherwise irregular, informal, uncertain, and insufficient." Apparently this relief was not granted. In November 1882, Chiles' lawyer issued a receipt for the payment of $1 in damages and associated court costs; no further record of any court action was found. In the midst of all this, Chiles transitioned into a career as a mining stock broker, and was active in the early efforts to found a Denver Mining Stock Exchange. He subsequently was involved as a board member of several mining interests in the Colorado and New Mexico area.
Meanwhile, Todd continued in the druggist business, but not for very long -- perhaps Chiles was right about his lack of skill? Todd is in the Denver Business Directories for 1881-83, as a druggist agent, still at 556 Arapahoe Street. In 1881-82, Rennick lived right next door at 558 Arapahoe Street, and in 1882, Todd is identified as living there as well. Todd disappears from the Denver Directories after 1883 and Rennick after 1884; their time in the druggist business was apparently over. Throughout these years, Edward Chiles lived right down the street at 544 Arapahoe Street, which must have been strange given the enmity between the parties. The court proceedings indicate that the Chiles & Co. name was only in use from October 1880-February 1881, making this bottle readily datable and likely quite rare indeed. After all, given the efforts taken by Rennick and Todd to very publicly dissolve the partnership, it seems unlikely they would have continued to use the Chiles & Co. embossed bottles. This supposition is supported by the fact that Todd is only listed as an agent from 1881 to 1883; it is quite possible the business only dealt in sale of pre-packaged drugs and medicines from national vendors after the breakup with Chiles (and the loss of the only experienced chemist in the partnership).
Al, Marty, and Mike with the evening's take
Sometime around 1884, Chiles left Denver for Chicago, where he worked for at least a couple years as an agent for the American Forcite Powder Company, dealing in mining explosives and equipment. However, he could not help himself despite his poor fortunes previously, and by 1890, Chiles was back in the druggist business, selling patent medicines. Chiles even started a new "Chiles & Co." with a man named William Cronin in an enterprise that specialized in Chiles Cactus Cream. In 1892 and 1893, Chiles was back on his own, selling "toilet articles" which may indicate he ran a multipurpose pharmacy much like Duane-Reade or CVS today. Chiles shows up one last time in Chicago in 1896, listed as a physician which seems bizarre and perhaps leads to his disappearance altogether thereafter.
Personally, the historical research and subsequently revealed connections between a physical object and its lost history is often almost as much fun as the digging. The detective work to uncover the story of the people behind the embossed names on these glass objects really brings the whole experience back to life. Frankly, the irony of finding an embossed bottle with its connections to a man who migrated from Kentucky to Colorado to Illinois in search of his fortune has parallels to my ongoing quest for a bottle from the brewery of my Great-Grandfather, a man who immigrated to America and traveled across several states including Colorado as part of his search for success in the land of new opportunity. Also on a personal level, I owe many thanks to both Marty and Mike for this great experience and hope we might have another chance sometime down the road. Mike and Marty generously let me keep all of the bottles we found and actually kept apologizing for the relatively low quantity. On the other hand, I was ecstatic to have found a Denver embossed bottle, as well as a few other unembossed yet distinctly western examples not found on the East Coast, not to mention having the opportunity to dig with the legends, the Colorado Boys.
The Rise & Demise of Colorado Drugstores, 1859-1915, by Glen R. Preble;
1860, 1870 U.S. Census - Frankfort, KY; 1880 U.S. Census - Denver, CO;
1880-1883 Denver Business Directories;
Rocky Mountain News, various editions 1881-82
1884-1899 Chicago Business Directories;
Chiles v. Rennick & Todd, Arapahoe County Court, Civil Action No. 5256 (March 18, 1881);
Special thanks to researchers Paul Daraghy of www.raogk.org and Colleen Maresca of Genealogy Lookups for all of their help!
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