Thirty-Four Cellar Holes and The "Humpy" Thing
Text and Photos by Peter B. Samuelson
After hearing some words of encouragement from several of my readers, I finally became motivated enough to write about a less than stellar bottle digging season.
By the middle of summer 2007, I had become discouraged and blamed myself for not finding much. Almost all the dump sites I discovered had been dug thoroughly many years ago and I was having a difficult time dealing with the fact that bottles don't grow again once they have been dug.
Rock structure in middle of large overgrown cellar hole. The fireplace and chimney was built on top of this.
My adventures began early in the month of May in the Western Maine town of Sweden. I had prepared myself by referring to old maps of Oxford County, Maine in 1858 and 1880. The map's show all the old roads and pinpoint the location of houses with family names. Many of the old home sites are located high on a hill, where gardens, orchards and pastures could realize the full effect of the sun. I was only interested in sites where buildings no longer remained.
The first cellar hole I visited in Sweden is well over a mile from a traveled highway. It is situated on a knoll surrounded by many acres of overgrown pastures. The foundation rocks of the house and barn were intact and it appeared as if nothing had been disturbed around the place. In back of the cellar hole, I could see pieces of metal protruding from the ground and with a little digging; I soon discovered that the site had been worked years ago. The soil was littered with broken 1890's medicine and spirits bottles and several 1970's Pepsi-Cola bottles, left behind by another digger. The only old bottles I recovered were six little liniment cylinders. They are very common and of little value. So much for my first trip to Sweden, Maine.
Within a week, I was back at the same cellar hole armed with a borrowed metal detector. Since I could find nothing around the building foundations, perhaps I could locate the main dump. The entire day was spent listening to the incessant beeping of the detector as it picked up every indication of iron in rocks, pieces of barbed wire fencing and an occasional metal can or broken piece of farm machinery. I went up and down, around and around and never did find a dump. I know it is there, but I didn't want to spend too much time at one site. I had many other cellar holes in Sweden to consider.
The next day, I reviewed my maps and decided to investigate an area with several cellar holes. The location had been logged and there is a rough dirt road leading to it. The old VW Fox is pretty good on woods roads, so I thought I'd be smart and drive as far as I could before it became too rough. As I was back into a place to park, the car slammed down upon a good-sized rock and tore off a section of flooring on the passenger side of the car, Oh well; I wasn't on that side, so who cares. The car has over 308,000 miles on it and a little bump in the road will hardly matter.
|Unopened oyster can found at the Fryeburg, Maine Flea Market.|
After a short hike, I came upon the largest cellar hole and barn foundations I've ever seen. This must have been quite a spread. The granite foundation blocks near the back of the cellar hole were decorated with little piles of broken glass and other artifacts. Obviously someone had dug here. There was a sizable dump directly in back of the house foundation and it seemed certain that I could find something that had been overlooked. Within an hours time, and after raking back at least one hundred broken 1860's-1890's bottles, I became the lucky recipient of a "Johnson's / American / Anodyne / Liniment" bottle, which is the most common of old bottles dug around here, especially the late 1890's variant. By this time, I was completely disgusted and quit for the day.
My friend Norman Webster and I had not had a chance to dig together, so I thought he would enjoy seeing the huge cellar hole and all the broken glass. We returned to the site and continued to dig the dump. Not much was recovered except for another, "Johnson's" bottle and an 1860's English Black Glass Ale bottle. Both Norman and I did some muttering when I dug up pieces of a Seeing Eye / "A.D." - Star with Arm / "G.R.J.A.", yellow amber pint flask. Norman took the top part of the flask and I have the bottom half with the embossed "A.D.". We tried to locate dumps away from the cellar hole, but this was not to be. The land has been disturbed too much by logging machinery.
1870 Brownfield/Denmark, Maine town line marker near Brownfield Bog Wildlife Management area.
After a few days of inclement weather and then some warm temperatures, the bug population exploded and made my days in the woods less than enjoyable.
On a hot and sticky day in June, I spent the afternoon hours poking around several cellar holes near a brook in Sweden, where I had seen some abandoned farm machinery in a field. I had been walking around in tall damp grass and bushes when my arthritis suddenly got the best of me. I stopped for a rest and noticed something on my pants. My lower half was covered with ugly wood ticks. I began picking them off one at a time, and when I finished, I had counted twenty-seven ticks. I couldn't wait to get out of the field and take a shower. When I arrived home, I stripped down and found about a dozen more of the bloodsucking freeloaders attached to my skin. After dispatching many of them, I found several escapees' scuttling across the floor. I got all but one. The lone survivor made it to safety under the kitchen stove.
By the time Independence Day arrived, I had made at least twenty trips to Sweden, Maine. Not once did I come home with a bottle worth talking about. At every dump I located, I would observe several late 1960's and early 1970's Pepsi-Cola bottles buried in the soil, or tucked neatly in the rock walls of cellar holes. The bottles were the same type I had found earlier in the season. It became obvious to me that some bottle diggers of years past had made their rounds of Sweden, Maine with the same determination as I have. I had found their calling card. I sure would like to see what they found.
My strategy changed late in the summer when I began to rely more on the metal detector in my search for bottle dumps. This too proved to be a dead end. I was many years late with this procedure. Like before, it was the other guy who beat me to it. Instead of fretting about what was found or not found years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to come up with my own "special" system for locating old bottle dumps.
Smashed Cornucopia - Urn flask, iron pontil Dr. Townsend's - Sarsaparilla, Johnson's / Calisaya / Bitters, open pontil snuff or utility jar and child's shoe from Denmark, Maine trash pit.
I could certainly make things easier if I could contact the deceased inhabitants of the old home sites and get them to divulge the exact location of their trash pits. I tried this stunt a few years ago, but failed in my attempt to make contact with anyone. I guess I'm not gifted enough for this type of thing. An alternative would be to hire several good mediums to do the contacting part of it. I'd be more than happy to do the bottle digging. On second thought, it's probably best not to turn this whole thing into something sensational. Instead, I should go about my search for old bottles the way I always have, time and patience has always worked for me.
At the end of each week throughout the summer of 2007, I would take time to attend the local flea market at the Fryeburg Maine Fairgrounds. It's mostly a social thing for me, but once in a while I will find something to spend my limited funds on. There is one particular Hawker who knows what I like and is usually ready to con me into buying his wares. I shouldn't complain, because more often than not he will have a little something to please me. I purchased several whiskey-related items from him at ridiculously low prices, which made me wonder how much profit was in it for him.
On a hot Sunday morning in late summer, as I was leaving the flea market, I noticed a late-arriving Hawker unloading some furniture and boxes full of "stuff". People were gathering around so I went to the boxes and gave them a quick glance. Tucked off in a corner of one of the boxes were two old unopened cans of oysters with spectacular multicolored labels. The graphics on the labels depict a black man with an offensive brand name. My first impression of the labels was "How Bizarre"! However, as a collectable, the colorful can is an important piece of black Americana and I could not pass it up. A neighbor of mine bought the other can and it is in his personal collection.
12 1/2oz. Warner's / Safe / Remedies / Rochester, N.Y/ bottle.
For the rest of the warm months, I spent my bottle digging time in Denmark and Brownfield, Maine. I'd had enough running around for nothing in the town of Sweden.
Late one afternoon, I drove to a parking spot a short distance from my home and made a short hike to an old cellar hole. For some reason, I hadn't been able to locate it on any of my maps. A snowmobile had found it for me the winter before. The granite foundation block for the old house had been pushed over by careless loggers, so I passed by the cellar hole and went into the woods in search of dumpsites.
The Puritan Fruit Jar.
Conveniently located not far from the back of the cellar hole, I discovered a suspicious looking depression near a stonewall corner. It took only one or two strokes with my probe to strike glass and stoneware. With no shovel, the best I could do was scratch around with my bottle rake and dig out the soil with my hands. Any optimism that I first had was soon lost when I removed a few rocks and gazed into a mash of rotting leather shoes, smashed stoneware and a colorful array of broken glass. After about three hours of handwork, I had collected the pieces of about thirty bottles and six stoneware jugs. The broken bottles included a "Dr. Townsend's - Sarsaparilla - Albany / N.Y.", in rich blue green with an iron pontil, a "Johnsons' / Calisaya Bitters - Burlington / VT.", in yellow amber, a cornucopia - urn flask, and a pretty open pontil snuff or utility bottle. I don't know if the pit was a shallow privy or just a trash hole. Whatever it was the whole scene was a disaster. The entire summer had gone this way, so what's the difference. At least the guy, with the Pepsi-Cola bottles hadn't been here. I gathered up all the best colored pieces of glass and the bottom of a child's shoe and headed for home.
The tenth of September dawned cloudy and damp, with rain forecast for late in the day. I was aware of the weather, but I wanted to look at a dump near a large pond in Brownfield, Maine. I stoked-up on my arthritis medication and left the house just after it got light.
There was no problem locating the dump. It appeared to be mostly bricks, cast iron stove parts and a few 1930's bottles and cans. Many times I have found nice bottles under brick piles, but with the threat of rain, I didn't want to spend much time here. Bricks are a pain in the neck to dig with a bottle rake, especially after they have settled into the ground.
Peter at Pleasant Pond, Brownfield, Maine. The Puritan Fruit Jar was dug nearby. In the background is Pleasant Mt., Bridgton/Denmark, Maine.
Nearby, was a scattering of bottles, barely visible under leaves and pine needles. With little effort, I was able to rake out some 1930's household food jars and some earlier extract bottles. Off to one side of the shallow dump, I found a pretty cornflower blue 1890's "Scott Emulsion", several "Larkin" perfume bottles with glass stoppers and a pile of lightning jar lids. During the process, I kept tripping over a "Humpy" thing near the middle of the dump. It looked like a pile of black dirt, but it was in the way and I was becoming annoyed. There was only one thing to do. With my bottle rake, I dug under the high side of the "Humpy" thing and pulled back with all I was worth. Out came a heap of nasty black rags and an aqua colored bottle. The bottle went flying down the slope, finally coming to rest at the base of a tree. After a rather involved procedure of freeing my bottle rake of the stinky rags, I was off on a trot to see what I had heaved into the bushes. The bottle turned out to be a jar, a fruit jar to be exact. It was difficult to read the embossing, so I went to the pond, where I rinsed the jar thoroughly and checked for damage. There was none, except for a little roughness on the lip. The quart-size jar was better than expected. "The Puritan Fruit Jar" with embossed ship had survived the ride down the slope and appeared to be as good as new. Unfortunately, the jar's closure was missing and was not to be found. With the sound of thunder and some rain starting to fall, I quit for the day.
"The Puritan Fruit Jar" went to a friend of mine for a light cleaning and after that it was "show and tell time". The jar is now in the collection of John Hathaway, who has recently moved to South Paris, Maine. John fitted the jar with the proper closure.
Before I began another project, I returned to the pond and dug into the brick piles. Along with a few metal artifacts, I dug a cute little "Palmer" perfume bottle and a nice example of a 12 1/2oz. "Warner's / Safe / Remedies / Rochester, N.Y." bottle. There may be other bottles here, but I became tired of picking bricks, one by one.
Finally, I stopped blaming myself for such 'A Lack Luster' bottle digging season. "The Puritan Fruit Jar" had lifted my spirits. For the time being things were 'Thumbs Up'!
Silver maple trees and a beautiful bed of ferns within Brownfield Bog Wildlife Management Area.
Before deer hunting season, I went on a casual stroll through part of Brownfield Bog Wildlife Management Area. "I'd never been here, even though it's just down the road from my home. I was quite impressed with the magnificent stands of white oak and silver maple trees. The many bogs with their beds of ferns are a sight to behold, especially in the early morning light. Along the way, on an isolated rise near the Saco River, I found a cellar hole and barn foundation. This site must have appealed to someone many years ago, but apparently they couldn't make a go of it. Perhaps the yearly river flooding discouraged them, although the home site was never in any danger of being flooded; the pastures were a different story. There was nothing for artifacts here, not even a square nail. It's as if they dismantled the house when the time came to move. They even hauled off the chimney bricks. I could have stayed a while longer pondering the past, but shadows in the forest told me it was time to head home.
On one of my final collecting trips of the season, I was treated to a scare by Mother Nature. The forenoon had been spent digging a large dump on a steep banking. There was evidence of early 1900's bottles and other artifacts mixed in with an overwhelming amount of 1960's trash. I hadn't found anything old intact and I had become bored with it all. Below me, by a brook, was what remained of an 1880's water-powered sawmill. As I was sitting by the brook admiring the mill remains, a strange sound in the trees attracted my attention. Looking up, I was startled by the sight of an overweight raven hurtling down at me. With my hands flailing, I was able to ward off the attack and watched in amazement as the bird struggled to pull out of its dive. The whole event was quite unusual and I can't imagine what the raven saw in me. I'm not much of a threat at one hundred and thirty seven pounds. Maybe the raven knew I was having a bad day and wanted to lighten things up for me. It sure worked!
Passing through some thickets on the way back to the car, a rabbit jumped out in front of me and soon after, I saw a beautiful deer.
At home that evening, I thought about the long, cold winter ahead. To help it pass, I can think about the thirty-four cellar holes I visited and all the wonderful sights and sounds along the way. That's a lot of walking!
As usual, I'm at peace in the woods. It's supposed to be that way...
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