Thursday, July 9, 2009

Urban Archeology: Neighborhood dumpsites

Urban Archeology is all around us you just have to know where to look. So far we have found some interesting things in our house. I found some old tools. some old glass marbles, vintage Christmas cards, we found a bunch of old buried granite slabs ( used to be a patio in our sunken garden) and some really cool Cincinnati newspapers from 1936 which I am carefully restoring. Our plan is to frame parts of them for our vintage bar/pub room that will be going in the basement.

My neighbor Mark is something of an Urban Archaeologist, he found and saved a lot of stuff from the demo of the house on the corner. This house was a disaster and REALLY too far gone to save (something I rarely come across but this one really was) Today they are creating a lovely native garden in its place that will be a real asset to the neighborhood.

Mark showed me these treasures over the weekend. They don't look like much BUT they were very old street signs the city dumped along time ago. In most of the Hilltop neighborhoods you will find old dump sites. Usually about 1/2 way down the hill. Our neighborhood is no exception. He found the remnants of these old street signs for our neighborhood. They area baked ceramic glaze material and really nice "back in the day". If would be interesting to see if the city would let us duplicate these old signs and replace the flimsy ones we have today? Before the modern convenience of curbside pickup almost every neighborhood has a dump site. You simply took the trash to it. many of these sites are long forgotten but they all give a peek back in time. One of these days I'll get Mark will take me down there, I'd love to poke around and see just what I can find.

He has found all manner of interesting things, Old bottles, square cut nails and of course these signs. The point of this is Old things are all around you if you take the time to look. Our house when it was build has a 'summer kitchen' a separate structure several feel from the house where meals were prepared. About 1900 an addition was added on the back of our house and the kitchen was Incorporated into the house. We located the stone footers when we started cleaning up the yard. The area will "Eventually" be our side brick courtyard. This means I will be carefully removing top soil to see what is in the ground in that area before we bring in heavy equipment to regrade the site.

So has anyone else found anything interesting in their old house renovation?


CityKin said...

I have found lots of very old newspapers. they were often laid under new layers of rolled flooring and are remarkably intact.

I have also found old clay marbles which are harder to find than the glass ones. and of course bottles. I also like the notes that paperhangers seemed to leave on bare plaster before hanging the paper.

Quim said...

I found some home made porn, probably from the late 50s early 60s, in the rafters of a basement. Nowadays, I mainly just find Hot Wheels in the gardens.
There used to be an outfit in town that excavated old outhouses. Don't know if they are still around or not.

Paul Wilham said...

Whenever we must open up a wall ( I try to save as much original plaster as possible (but sometimes you just have to) I always leave a "before picture", The date, the reason why the wall was opened and by whom. I also date any woodwork we have to remove, restore and reinstall on the back.

I figure somebody in a hundred years will want to know.

Every restoration has a time capsule in it as well.

Bob said...

Biggest find so far was the newspapers, lunch remnants (tin cans, etc.), wood flooring pieces, and chunks of porcelain we found in the fireplace cleanout. It hadn't been emptied since the house was built!

The newspaper, dated August 1938, helped us narrow our search down for the original open house ad. Our guess was that the paper, along with oak floorboard remnants, was tossed down the ash cleanout when the workmen laid the original hardwood in the living room.

Visited the wonderful Historical Library of Cincinnati (tucked in a tiny spot under the Union Terminal Museum Center) -- and after about an hour of scanning microfiche, found the ad. Here's a picture of the house in October 1938 and October 2008: -- she's looking pretty good for a 70 (now 71) year old girl!

Other finds include the builder's (Tunick) signature on the underside of a set of stairs (common practice for proud builders to this day) -- and lots of handwritten instructions on attic lumber, gables vents, and HVAC ductwork (signed by Williamson, no less!).

Also: found 1937 silverware (serving spoon) in a garden bed (matched it to the maker/pattern with a little sleuthing online), and a builder's pencil (carved from a wooden branch). Lots of other miscellaneous stuff, but so far these are the most interesting...

Quim said...

Bob, wow, love the before and after pics !

Marilyn said...

I have quite a collection of stuff I have dug up outside my 1892 house. There were houses here before this one, so there are places where they buried stuff. I have found porcelain doll parts, watch case, ladies belt buckle, gold? chain, 1892 dime, bear claw, various metal gaslight parts, lots of broken dishes and some intact small bottles, bricks from my front porch (!), glazed tiles from my fireplace(!!), many many green army men and glass marbles, old metal hot wheels, lots of plastic game pieces, and at my last rental house, a painted lead doggie.
Inside I have found thrown down the wall from the attic; cancelled checks, pictures, textbooks, and a small personal notebook. I also have found names on the wall under the wallpaper.
My theory on urban archaelogy--Whenever I'm digging a hole for a new project I find a marble. That's my "blessing" on the project. I have even found them in other people's yards.