Lancaster, Massachusetts – the oldest town in the county of Worcester. James’ sister-in-law’s house – next to the first paved road in all of Massachusetts. The surrounding woods – home to many trails and cellar holes. The entire area – chock full of American history….
We were frothing at the mouth to search for relics and old coins.
The alarm struck 4am, but we were already up, excited to make the trek from New Jersey to Massachusetts. We pulled out of my driveway at 4:30am and we were on our way. The ride didn’t seem long as we had lots to catch up on, and lots to prospect about our upcoming prospecting. It wasn’t daylight for very long as we pulled into Massachusetts and arrived at our hunting grounds.
We were warmly greeted by James’ sister-in-law, Lynn, and her 3-year-old cute-as-can-be daughter, Emma. They, along with Lynn’s husband, Brian, were amazing hosts and guides of the local area. We can’t thank them enough. And their neighbor, Steve, a local historian, was able to tell us a lot about the town and state and informed us that the paved road that’s adjacent to Lynn’s house—the “dust-free auto road”—was the first paved road in Massachusetts. Folks like him are invaluable.
After catching up with Lynn and Emma, and fortifying ourselves with some additional coffee, we anxiously set out. We followed a long trail that was blocked by a lot of fallen trees and limbs that were downed in last October’s freak ice storm. We scanned the ground as we made our way in the direction where we were told a cellar hole waited. We knew it was there, but had it already been tapped out by other detectorists? We would find out.
Or would we?
We walked and walked for about an hour through the trails and along a dried up river, scanning every inch along the way, but finding nothing. Eventually we made it back to the road, where the oldest paved road turned back into dirt. Sigh. What to do? Which direction to go? We had no map. Just a general indication of where the cellar hole might be.
At the trail’s ending, we were near what used to be open space, but was now overgrown with weeds and brush. I told James I was going to walk on top of the small hill overlooking the field to see if I could get a better vantage point. As I took my last step atop the hill I looked down … right into a cellar hole! Eureka! Had I not walked up the little hill, we would have never seen it. It was invisible. A good sign of things to come?
We immediately wanted to search the foundation floor, but it was quickly apparent that the locals have been using it as a sort of dumpster. So much so that we didn’t have the time to clean it out. Next time perhaps. We also quickly noticed all the poison ivy surrounding the hole. OK, time to get swinging and time to make sure we’re covered head to toe.
We started on opposite ends; me near the road and James on the far side. As I started pulling up square nail after square nail, James started pulling up pottery shard after pottery shard coupled with many decorative glass pieces. Amongst the nails, pottery, and glass shards we found a LOT of relics! It was clear that this site was abandoned pretty quickly. Every hole we dug yielded more than one find, even if those finds were more nails. We were burning batteries more than ever before. We spent HOURS digging and didn’t have to walk very far before we were greeted with a new signal giving us the go-ahead to dig.
I think my first significant find was this belt buckle. I could barely make out the writing, but after cleaning it clearly says PAT APR15 ???? (I can’t make out the year). Other cool finds throughout the day included some mid- to late-1800s one-piece buttons (I’m still trying to identify and date them), two axe heads, two horse shoes (one small, one large – the horse must’ve been a beast!), miscellaneous tools, old cutlery, more buckles, decorative metal and home décor, square nails, and a few yet-to-be-identified items big and small (see gallery below for images). In addition, we both pulled up a few jar lids that had white porcelain inserts embossed with “The Hero Glassworks, Philadelphia, PA” (circa 1869-1883) and “Consol. Fruit Jar Co” (circa 1871-1880s).
Adjacent to the cellar hole was a wide area of flat, open land, mostly covered with low brush. I surmised that this must have been an area where the former occupant’s farmed. James agreed with this assessment, and the daytime direct sunlight that bared down on this field also seemed to lend credence to this theory. James searched the area first and soon unearthed an old gilt button with the inscription “Imperial Orange IM” (circa mid-1800s). While searching the cellar hole’s side hill, I inadvertently struck a pile of tree limbs and out came several wasps to greet me. Not too keen on bees or wasps, I left that spot. Later, James carefully probed this hillside area and his bravery was rewarded with 2 identical pine cone & leaf motif buttons (see gallery below). The hillside kept producing relics for both of us thereafter and, considering the amount of buttons and buckles found in this area, I made the assumption that perhaps a clothesline once hung parallel above this hillside.
We collected all our finds and laid them out on a long log, then packed them up into my backpack. I can’t tell you how heavy it was but it was a chore carrying it back to Lynn’s house. Covered in dirt, sore lower backs, and sleep deprived, we were excited with our finds and anxious for what tomorrow’s excursion would bring.
The next day we were up bright and early, braving the drizzle and cobwebs from a less-than-sound sleep. The target this day was the perimeter of an old, mid-forest cemetery and adjacent mansion. Brian led the way through the woods but it this wouldn’t be an easy X to find on the mental map. The trails were overgrown and sometimes hard to spot, and it was easy to lose your sense of direction. We hit a spot where four trails converged and simply didn’t know which way to go next.
Brian decided to run ahead to scout the trail and it paid off. He found the cemetery. We all hucked our gear to our new hunting ground and began to search. The cemetery looked old and creepy; certainly there would be some relics and old coins buried around it.
We expanded our search to the nearby trail. We found a couple modern coins, some garbage, and I found some type o f tool or harness piece that had been in the ground long enough that a tree root grew right through its loop. I also unearthed a pocket knife that had a pin-up girl design on it (see gallery below). Too strange.
Brian, Lynn, and Emma headed home while James and I ventured on, looking for the mansion. We ultimately would never find it. We made our way back to Lynn and Brian’s home and decided to search their lawn, as well as their neighbor Steve’s. We dug up some modern coins and James found what we think is a very unusual coin for the area: a 1969 Jamaican one cent piece.
The cellar hole we hit the first day was still on my mind. I knew there was more to be found. So we headed back. Although day two wasn’t as fruitful, we did find some cool things. In particular I dug up a “BROOKS BROS NEW YORK” button that I’m still trying to date.
While digging up another nail, I heard James yell, “I’m getting swarmed!” I looked up to see him fighting the bees nest under the twigs. He just had to pursue that good target! I kept my distance.
The sun was beating down and it was about 3:30pm when I got a call from Lynn. She was with her neighbor who knew exactly where the other cellar holes were, and an old stable. We were on the move! We hucked our way speedily through the woods with our guide until we came upon three overgrown cellar holes and an abandoned stable. Trees planted years ago that now formed a perfect rectangular perimeter around a football-sized field which is now unfortunately completely overgrown and impossible to search.
Since the stable had become a modern-day hangout where teens get their drink on, there was a lot of junk to contend with, so we headed to the cellar holes. The vegetation had taken over and it was difficult to search. The cellar hole I focused on was also covered in what seemed to be roofing materials and ash. I wondered if this home had been victim to a tumultuous battle between the Native Americans and whites, and this home went down in flames. I wasn’t entirely comfortable digging through the rubble.
James wandered off up the trails while I focused on the perimeter of trees. And I’m glad I did. In addition to some modern coins, I struck silver when I found a men’s wedding band. Score! I also found another horse shoe and some old tools.
James made his way over after finding a coin spill of a silver dime, wheat penny, and some other coins.
We wanted to stay longer, but it was getting dark, and these woods were hard enough to navigate during the day light. We packed up our gear and safely made it back to home base. Lynn and Emma greeted us and we showed off our small bounty of the day. A quick shower each and we were back on the road to New Jersey, already talking about the “next time.”
James and I have been on marathon hunts before, and this one didn’t disappoint. Our first day at the cellar hole was one of our best days detecting and we know that Lancaster, MA still has a lot more to offer. We can’t WAIT to go back!
Thanks so much to Lynn, Brian and Emma for being amazing hosts. We hope you all can join in on the hunt longer next time!
Please enjoy our photo gallery below of all our finds. Be sure to click the images to enlarge and scroll through the slide show. If you can ID anything that we can’t, please let us know!