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Digging up history in your backyard

John HartJanice and Gary Gord, who live at Willowbrook Lane in Penn Valley, examine grinding rocks that American Indians who lived in the area used to grind acorns.
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Ever wonder what you can find underneath your house or in your backyard?

How about a finger-sized bottle once filled with swamp root kidney cure?

Or a miner’s pipe from the Gold Rush years?



These are some of the long-forgotten items that have resurfaced in recent years, to the great pleasure of locals who discover them as they remodel, garden or simply move into their house for the first time.

“How exciting to find a piece of history on your property,” said Jodanna Bishop recently, as she looked over some of the bottles, dishes and forks found in the backyard of her house near the Nevada County Courthouse.




Four years ago, a contractor hired to build a new foundation dug near the site of two long-disappeared outhouses no one knew about and found an old bottle, Bishop said.

That soon gave way to some more serious digging.

An old-bottle collector came, poked 26 feet deep and within a few hours unearthed bottles, plates, forks and two pitchers, Bishop recalled. All apparently been thrown into the outhouses, Bishop said.

The most valuable item seems to be a W.E. Deamer Grass Valley Soda Works bottle, Bishop said. W.E. Deamer’s business, located at the corner of Richardson and School streets in Grass Valley, was among the most successful manufacturers of soda water during the Gold Rush years, historical records indicate.

Bishop and her husband, Chris, have given some of the items away to friends. The rest is still at home, either on window sills, shelves or packed away.

A friend gave Bishop a book on antique bottles, but she would like to have the time to learn more about the collection, she said, as she examined some of the root beer bottles and sauce bottles. “I just don’t know the history.”

Along Deer Creek in Nevada City, Ginny and Jim Knott also wonder about the stories behind the rusted toys, porcelain doll heads, horseshoes, nails, buttons, ink wells, china fragments, rusted cans, old utensils, bottles, soya sauce crocks and the antique Meerschaum miner’s pipe they have found in their backyard over the years. Their property sits on a former mine and what they refer to as a “dump.”

“It makes gardening so different,” Ginny Knott said recently. “Every time you dig, it makes a rattle.”

Knott has made small mosaics with the many bits and pieces of china found over the years. Old rustic spoons decorate the backyard and old porcelain doll heads the garage.

They now wonder about a recent find – a rusted toy gun.

While some of the finds are more recent – like the 1927 graveside marker Chuck and Elaine Matroni found under The Deer Creek Inn in 1993 when they bought the 1860 Queen Anne Victorian house – others could date theirs way back.

Janice and Gary Gord, for instance, were surprised to find American Indian grindstones in their front yard when they moved into their Penn Valley house in 1996.

They intend to leave them there, they said.

“It’s kind of a reach back to the past,” Janice Gord said. “We just have shared them with family and friends.”


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