Old Homesites…

Since I can’t wow you with my recent finds (there aren’t any) I will baffle you with bullshit and share part of an update to a book I have been working on. You can take what I say with a grain of salt if you like, but a better choice would be a sip or two of a nice single malt scotch.   Just sayin…

I’ve always loved detecting old homesites and they are looking even better now given the influx of newcomers into the hobby. By the same token these sites can be a bitch to hunt. No two are the same and they are not always easily accessible. They also require a lot of patience and more than a few cans of ‘Off’.  On a positive note…there’s always the possibility of uncovering a cache.  A long shot for sure but you can’t rule it out.

Old homesistes will vary in appearance

Old homesistes will vary in appearance

An old homesite might simply an older home dating back many years that’s still being used.  It could also be an abandoned farmhouse just down the road, overgrown, camouflaged and forgotten about. It could be that obvious depression in a field, a concrete slab in the middle of the woods or the stone remnants of a colonial cellar.  What matters of course is that you find them before the competition does.

Early on I was able to locate older homesites by comparing early topographical maps with newer ones. I would lay them side by side and see if structures shown on the older maps were still on the newer one. If not that usually indicated it had been torn down, abandoned, burned or moved. It was a somewhat tedious and time consuming exercise, but was well worth my time, especially on a rainy day or during the winter months.

I then discovered an easier way thanks to a close friend who happened to be an avid hunter. He knew of my passion for detecting and told me about a couple of stone foundations he had stumbled upon while tracing through the woods. They wound up being old cellar holes and provided me with quite a few neat finds.  At that point I started asking other hunters, as well as neighbors and farmers and found there were more cellar holes no more than a half mile from my front door.

Look for plantings foreign to the surrounding area

Look for plantings foreign to the surrounding area

A more direct method would be to get in your car and drive the back roads, looking for clues….a noticable open area in a grove of trees, an overgrown lane that appears to go nowhere or trees, shrubs and plantings that are foreign to the rest of the vegetation (they didn’t just magically appear there).

OKAY, YOU’RE THERE…NOW WHAT?

Once you’ve located an old homesite site and ready to hunt, try to determine what the layout might have been years ago. If only a cellar hole exists, imagine if possible where the entrance might have been and then look for the outhouse and any traces of outbuildings, root cellars or trash pits.

Always give outbuildings a thorough search...

Always give outbuildings a thorough search…

Root cellars might be very obvious or nothing more than depressions in the ground. I’ve found trash pits the easiest to locate thanks to the heavy concentration of signals and while it may not always provide you with the best of finds, it offers the potential of very old and sometimes very rare bottles if you are willing to get down and dirty. Careful probing and delicate excavation are prerequisites to bringing them home in one piece

Always search a homesite as you would your home.  Concentrate your efforts on the traffic areas…where people entered, exited, and where they may have worked and played.  Where did they hang their clothes to dry? Where was the well?

Lastly if you are an impatient tekkie find some other place to search. Old homesites will not be your cup of tea. You will have to deal with lots of iron, trash and you will need to dig all of it to come out a winner.  I once was asked to hunt an old homesite in New Jersey by a son and daughter who knew their recently deceased father had a large coin collection.  They couldn’t find it and were pretty sure he had buried it.  Anyway once I got there it didn’t take me long to realize that if I was going to find it I would have to dig every signal that came my way.  I spent days searching for those coins but never found them. I did however wind up with a pile of trash that was up to my knees.  Machine parts, rusty cans, nails, you name it.

CACHES? DO THEY EXIST?

So…do I believe caches exist?  You bet and I believe they exist in greater numbers than we think.  They exist because homesteaders, early settlers and landowners did not have easy access to banks and even if they did many did not trust them.  Giving your life savings, no matter how meager, to someone else to mind was unsettling (still is today).  As a result old-timers hid their savings, their pin money, their drinking money and passed away without telling anyone where.

The premise I go on with every old homesite is that there is a cache hidden somewhere on the property and looking for it is not only worth my time, it’s fun. It becomes an added challenge and while I may not find it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  It might simply mean that I wasn’t clever enough to find it!!

Post hole banks were very popular hiding places years ago….pull out a fence post, put in your money and replace.

When looking for a cache, always start with “If I lived here…where would I hide something”? In other words where would YOU secrete your life savings and feel confident that no one would discover it? Would you hide it inside or outside? If you buried it would you do so away from the house or would you bury it so that you could keep an eye on it while inside?  Also, if you buried it, how deep would you dig…one foot, two feet….five, six?  The questions you can ask yourself are endless, but they just be the same ones asked the individual doing the hiding and you will at least have some idea on where to concentrate your efforts.

Not a  cache but a nice find anyway...Bowie, Texas

Not a cache but a nice find anyway…Bowie, Texas

Whether you find a cache of coins or not an old homesite will offer a lot of neat finds. Coins, buttons, old bottles, relics, and antiques just to name a few. I strongly recommend searching in the all-metal mode, and accept the fact that you will dig a lot of trash. Who knows what sort of container Jethro used to bury his stash.  Slow down and dig ‘em all.

Where should you begin to look for a cache? Consider the following:

  • In fireplaces…check for loose bricks or river stone
  • Under front porches
  • In root cellars
  • Under large trees
  • Under fence posts
  • In hollow window and doorsills
  • Under floorboards
  • In old abandoned autos
  • In barns or out buildings within site of the house
  • In outhouses
  • In attics
  • In cellars (especially with dirt floors)
  • In canned food containers…along with actual foods
  • Under woodpiles
  • In chicken coops
  • In barn lofts or roof beams
  • In hollowed stairs
  • In pipes and drainage systems
  • In old tree stumps
  • Under sidewalk stones
  • In farm equipment
  • Under unusual markers or stones
  • In hollow light posts or lanterns
  • In planters or pots
  • In stacked stone boundary walls
Look for hollow doorsills and windowsills

Look for hollow doorsills and windowsills

If old homesites intrique you be sure to check out Todd Hiltz’s videos.  He and his partner Dave Wise are real experts…..

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12 Comments

Filed under Metal Detecting

12 responses to “Old Homesites…

  1. staci cloughley

    And you should add that if its really old, stuff may have slowly moved downhill from the homestead…check downhill too!

  2. jamie

    Planning on hunting a stretch of a creek this year where a suspected chicken coop with coins in it was washed away in 1973. Surprised to see it on your list, but I guess it was more common than I would have imagined.

  3. Jamie, if someone was going to steal your stash what better alarm than a bunch of squawking chickens!

  4. Geese were even better guards…

    • supernova1c

      Definitely; my aunt had geese and as a kid, they used to come after me whenever I visited. Made a hell of a racket too heh heh, scared me right enough!
      Cheers and regards, James 🙂

  5. Ben

    Very nice article, I would have never thought to look “under” a fence post. That is clever. Thanks for the tips.

    • Thank you Ben. I can remember two instances where I thought I had found a cache that way. Three strands of fence wire were cut and tied uniformly in one section and I was thinking “finally”… End result? Nada! Either I was making too much of it or the cache was removed.

  6. Jim

    Excellent piece Dick. We have found a few caches, and it always seems to help…as you say…where would YOU hide it?. One we found was at a “geometric” juncture between the stump of a LARGE tree and corner of a farm house. We kept talking it over and keeping the fact in mind that a cache may need to be recovered in a hurry and EASILY (no metal detectors then). Use of colored twine between major features (trees, boulders, well) will intersect and cause “geometric” junctures that may be scanned immediately. May take a few trips and a few months to locate one if one exists…but regardless, more fun than a barrel of monkeys with coinmasters 🙂

    • Jim thanks for the additional useful info….I too am of the opinion that if you are going to bury valuables you will make sure you can find them easily and quickly.

  7. Todd Hiltz

    I always learn something new reading your blogs. Great list of hidden spots to stash the goods. You pioneer you…

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