Monday, January 14, 2008

How To Find Old Dumps #1

When ordinary people wrap their minds around the possibility of digging up antique glass bottles and pottery in forgotten heritage sites outdoors, their first question is usually, Is it legal? and that's soon followed by, How do you find the best places to dig?

These two prime questions are uniquely connected; amateur archeology on private property is legal enough, and finding the best places to dig on privately owned land (and with the permission of the owner) is the highest art of the Dumpdiggers' subculture. For only by conducting extensive research and on-site observations, which includes probing and digging countless test pits, can a veteran digger harness his intuition (born from years of experience) and embrace the possibility of finding buried booty.

As per the Dumpdiggers' Handbook, there are six different types of dump:
1. Town Dump - most towns have more than one dump site.
2. Privy Pit - the old latrine is considered a dump of sorts.
3. Farm Dump - farmers dump here to halt soil erosion.
4. Swamp Road - when nobody's looking, people dump here.
5. Railway Dump - trains stop here to sweep cabin cars of debris
6. Camp Dump - Hunting, mining and forestry camp dumps

Town Dumps are generally the best and most rewarding places to dig, and that's because they contain the highest quantity of household trash.

How old can such a dump get? That's a good question. It depends on the town, but on average in Upper Canada, and I think this is also true of many American states, the oldest town dumps date back to the 1870’s. That’s the age when the first 'chartered towns' recognized the need for, and legislated local property as, the Town Dump. Do you remember watching the scene in episode #8 of the first season of the HBO's classic Deadwood, wherein Sam Bullock approves the location of the dump on one of the empty lots in the camp? The land is selected and appropriated because there's rubbish already accumulating in what sounds like a river gulch.

Recorded minutes from century old meetings in the Town Hall will sometimes chronicle counselors voting to make a salary available for a ‘Dump Attendant’ and or perhaps detail funds for the purchase of a special 'dumping wagon'.

The Dump Attendant was paid to watch the property on burning days and organize a weekly trash collection. Research this individual's family and you may find pictures of their ancestor in the town dump in front of navigable landmarks that you can use to find the same location today.

The above picture details trash collection in the City of Toronto in 1903. It's interesting to note here how two wagons work in tandem - this is a precursor to our modern recycling program. The wagon behind the sled is filled with furnace ash which has a variety of municipal applications, not the least of which is road paving material.

The sled in the foreground is loaded with sacks full of glass bottles, clay pottery and tin packaging - household waste. Notice how the garbage man wears a backpack, and I wonder what he puts inside his backpack everyday? I suspect that this individual removed local brewed beer and pop bottles that he knew were refundable - sadly, and perhaps consequently, these are the bottles that are the most collectible today.

The Health Inspector
, often called the ‘medical officer’, or the ‘town doctor’ also made reports on early dumps. His primary concern was ground water contamination. There are circumstances in which he would report an infestation of rats or wild dogs at dumps. Often times he ordered the bulldozing and burning of dumps as a solution to exterminate such vermin.

Unfortunately for Dumpdiggers, even the oldest and most secluded town dumps were likely subject to burning and bulldozing at some point in their existence. It was considered civilized to burn dumps and thereby reduce ‘the spread of germs’. Municipalities used heavy machinery to compact dump sites in the early 1920’s and 30’s. Before this horse drawn ‘dump scrappers’ were used to flatten the piles. The horse’s weight and the weight of the operator helped compact the garbage to allow the next day’s wagons a hard surface on which to dump their contents.

Early Dumping Wagons are themselves now very collectible because of their scarcity. One hundred years ago the Watson Bottom Dump Wagon was the finest dump wagon in America; today less than ten examples remain, and most of these are in pieces.

In 1886 David Watson moved his wagon manufacturing company to Canastota, New York where he bought what was then known as the “mop handle factory” on the west side of the town. The Watson 'dumping wagon' was the first and best of its kind - his vessel dominated the market in residential garbage pick-up and disposal. As testament to its versatility and reputation, it was the wagon of choice in the First World War when 15,000 units were shipped to France to help Allied Command support the men in the trenches.

And finally, here's a Dumpdiggers' secret; every town's first municipal dump was usually located less than a mile away from the historic main intersection, and almost always on inclined or boggy terrain, and never windward (which means North West here in Ontario).


Neil Richard said...

I'm hoping you'll cover the other dump types in the future. This was a fun read.


rob said...

Yes. I started with town dumps because they're always the best digging! Town dumps are unique in that you can spend the whole day in one era of time - other dumps are smaller and have accumulated over longer periods of time.

Jandi for The Fuzz said...

Glad to see your blog, as I'm in the business myself. I think I've always liked dumps. Modern "Landfills" aren't much fun.

jIm said...

I'm a fellow dump digger and I love learning how these places operated, to understand how to dig you need to understand the people that buried it.

Unknown said...

Do u guys know were I can find a good bottle dump

Unknown said...

Can anyone tell me of any dump in The Moncton area of shadiac

Unknown said...

Anyone know of any dumps in the Moncton area.


Its all american info but the web address is very misleading

River Dweller said...

Good site,
I hope I can get a clue here of how to find an old dump site.
After a fire, by the river in my yard that cleared the brush, i found a lot of garbage from rafters. As i was cleaning up the garbage I found many, many half buried items. When I finally decided to stop bringing all the garbage back to my can, I started burying it, figuring most of the stuff I was finding bubbled up from the ground. I discovered an old, very large family/ranch dump site. Right under the surface, sticking out of the ground I started finding a few old things a child's tricycle, a small size ornate cowboy boot spure, bottles, pesticide containers,you name it, even a few kitchen sinks!!
This brought my brain back to my unsuccessful attempts to find an old public dump site. My grandparents took me along when they disposed ag waste at that dump in the 1960's.
The dump was on The Stanislaus River. It was on Orange Blossom Rd (possibly on Sonora Rd) between Oakdale and Knights Ferry, Calif zip code 95361 or the old zip code may have been 95384. This old dump site is located in Stanislaus County, California.
The old dump site locations here seem to have vanished when the site was closed. There is now a housing development right on top of the very large old town dump site.
When I ask the older people that still live around the old site area I get a "Are you crazey?" Look.
I had a hard time even finding a local newspaper article about the old city dump. Seems like bad record keeping, purged too many files when going to computers or "out of site out of mind"
My friends often call me a bloodhound because I don't give up till I find what I'm looking for, this dump is proving to be a great challange. I know there was a dump, I was there. I just can not recall the exact location.
Any ideas of how to find it?
Has anyone made/found a map marking retired dump/refuse/garbage sites?
If you made it through my post, thank you!

River Dweller said...

When drinking spirits one must releave themself. More often than not, the empty bottle would get tossed into the same hole in the outhouse. Look behind old bars where the outhouse was. When full, they move them so your bound to find many pits of bottles. I have my Uncles bottle collection now, He was a surveyor and found many places with old bottles but he claimed old outhouse pits were the best.

AnthonyBC said...

Hey River Dweller, I just found your post. I'm in the East Bay, out by Pleasanton. I just took up digging and researching digging sites in the past month. I'll look into this and see what I find. Maybe we can dig up some treasure :-)

Adam J Smith said...

Nice blog! I came across it while looking for closed landfills for sale to the highest bidder. If I "land" one, I'll let you, "dumpdiggers," have a look at it!

Unknown said...

Can any one tell me a spot in Fresno or Sanger CA to dig bottles

Carolina digger said...

I have found several dumps recently and by the way the land looks it spread over a large area. Problem is when probing I can only seem to hit surface Trash. Now there is old glass on top. Just curious if maybe I need to try an 8ft probe. Have you come across dumps like these and how would you go about it .thanks

Anonymous said...

River dweller, I frequent the knights ferry area, orange blossom rd to Sonora rd is a great back way of getting there from riverbank, where I live. I bet if I put a little time into it I can locate it. My husband and I go on adventures of the sort as often as possible. I am pretty eager to get this mystery solved. I'll post on here again when I have an update

River Dweller said...

That would be great! It seems like it was right off the road (orangeblossom), I don't think it was as far up as to be called Sonora rd, but, again that was some 50 years ago.

River Dweller said...

Oh, and not sure how much dump digging should be done at old dump site I ask about, it was a farm dump, now they would call it a hazardous chemical dump site.

Unknown said...

Does anybody have any information on any bottle dumps in Hamblen county Tennessee or Jefferson City Tennessee?

Unknown said...

Wanna find bottle dumps pull up a chair

Unknown said...


Cindy said...

Find bottle dumps Saint John's County

Unknown said...

Go onto farmers fields when they've just been ploughed you'll find loads

Unknown said...

Something else to keep in mind when hunting for old dump sites to dig in. Find out where the marginalized people lived. Often towns would put dumps in the areas where the "less desirable" people lived. It was wrong, obviously, but it is something to consider. It is a practice that is now referred to as "environmental racism".