This dig started out like all the others with my usual mind set of, no expectations, no disappointments as far as any bottles go. There's far more beyond just bottles that usually make our digs fun and interesting believe it or not. I had been looking at this lot for quite a few years and decided it was time. A thorough research on the property revealed that it was once owned by a bachelor barber from 1866-1885. It turned out that the house was built by his brother in 1864 who lived in it briefly before building his own house next door. A couple of interesting early news paper articles made mention of the bachelor's intoxicated social behavior one Independence Day in 1871 and again at a gathering in 1873 where it landed him in jail. Perfect, this guy was a drinker and the time frame was also perfect for the age of bottles I like to dig.
After securing permission for the project we contacted USA Dig to locate and mark all underground service utilities as a safety precaution. The next weekend we packed the truck with our digging equipment and two sons and hit the road for a weekend of some hard work and adventure. After about an hours drive we arrived at our destination. The property where old house once sat is now a commercial building with a asphalt parking lot behind it in the privy district. Being no stranger to this kind of urban digging we went to work to locate some privy pits for the old property. The bummer here was that USA dig had located a main gas service line that ran directly down the side property line in the privy zone.
After an hour or so into the project we had two pits located. The closest one to the back of where the old house sat rated high on the probe scale, it felt totally packed and layered with trash. Down go the tarps, out come the tools and to work we went. At about the two foot level busted 1860s black glass bottles started appearing. It was evident that this was likely the oldest pit on the property due to its location and age of the glass at the top. At this point I let my son Robb take over while Nick and I opened up door number two.
The first pit contained 1860s trash and was four by four by five feet deep, producing numerous black glass bottles and a real nice green master ink, lots of liquor. The other pit we were working on was a huge 6x6 bomber in which the trash layer was in the last two feet at the eight to ten foot level. Anticipation ran high on this one knowing that it was likely going to be the 1870s privy. It started out with 1890s refuse and ended on the bottom at the late 1880s, not the pit I was hoping for and definitely not the barbers. Nothing special in this one just a few regular household bottles, a dump truck load of dirt and a lot of hard work .
It was getting late in the day and everyone was tired, two holes dug and two fill, compact and asphalt repair jobs, we were beat. I thought to myself, could the house of sat vacant for ten years thus explaining why no 1870s pit was located or was I just not looking in the right area. It was getting dark and the rest of the family were baked, fried, done and ready to go assuring me that I'd been all over the lot and that there was nothing left. As tired as I was intuition told me to keep looking, so back to the locating mode I went in the dark of night. The pits we had dug were on the side property line about three feet from a gas line that ran parallel to property. Not feeling to great about it and with even more caution, I decided to run another test pattern closer to the gas pipe and my three foot safety zone. Starting from the back of the house I worked my way down the line and hit an area of brick in an area about three feet deep and four foot wide. Inching a little closer to the pipe with my probe in the brick area it suddenly sank to the handle with total conformation, it was indeed another privy pit.
The next morning we returned and opened up door number three. The excitement of the previous days dig was to much for my wife and son to handle so they took off and went shopping for a few hours. Nick and I were on our own so to work we went opening up the hole, he loves to dig. While working a curious spectator drove up and started asking numerous questions. The hole was only about two feet deep at this point so I hopped out and let Nick take over so I could deal with our curious new friend. While talking with this guy I kept looking back over my shoulder at Nick watching his progress. After about twenty minutes and having had quite enough talking, I glanced over and saw two round amber cylinder whiskey 5ths along side the hole he was digging. Excusing myself explaining how I needed to get back to my project the guy finally left.
"Hey Nick, what's up" I asked. His reply was "Whiskey bottles, Cutters and there's more down here"........ The Cutters were early 1870s, "J.F. Cutter" and a "J.H. Cutter" 5ths, both being nice crude examples, it was the missing hole and the one I most wanted. At this point it was four foot deep and I took over.
After about five minutes of digging and making the hole a little wider out comes another nice Star Shield Cutter in a chocolate amber color with two more 5ths showing along side of it.
Being very careful I removed the dirt from around one of the 5ths I couldn't quite fully see yet. It was laying sideways and still heavily impacted in the clay dirt. I couldn't believe what I was seeing because this one was pure green and almost glowing in the dark privy dirt. My first thought was that it would be un-embossed. Carefully removing it with the precision of a surgeon I rolled it over to reveal a beautiful pure light green Star Shield Cutter 5th. With all the bottles coming out the excitement level was ramped up to the max as I carefully continued to liberate several more of the barbers empties.
Later on while digging out one of the corners of the privy back under a ledge, it was getting dark and hard to see. I could make out another 5th standing almost straight up with a massive amount of heavy embossing and could see that this was not another Cutter. I asked for my light so I could get a better look at what was about to see daylight for the first time in 135 years. Carefully removing the dirt from around it I shined the light back into the cavity and could clearly see that this bottle was not only heavily embossed but was super crude and very green. It was the nicest, crudest, bubbly "Castle Whiskey" I'd ever laid my eyes on.
The privy finally bottomed out at twelve feet, it was over. Along with twenty four intact embossed 1870s 5ths mostly all Cutters there were numerous applied top pint size flask and a whole assortment of other kinds of bottles. Like the older hole we had dug the day before there was not much household refuse and mostly all liquor bottles. This hole was totally packed with bottles and most of them were intact but there were also several broken nice whiskies. This was a rare occurrence in bottle digging because few bottles of any consequence are ever found on most digs.