Bottle diggers find history in Connellsville
For some, Connellsville's history is buried in the ground, where bottles and other relics of a bygone era tell the story of the city and its people.
Searching sites requires a lot of digging and often yields little in the way of valuables that could be resold.
But for Larry Bartholow, 33, of Dunbar, the historical significance is more important than any potential monetary value.
“Well, actually, Connellsville bottles are pretty cool,” said Bartholow while talking about some of the finds recovered from several holes dug near the former Sidewinders bar between Water Street and North Arch Street.
“We found jars from two different druggists, J.C. Moore and Frank Huston” dating to the 1870s or early 1880s, Bartholow said.
“It's a lot of hard work for very little,” Bartholow said. “But we're crazy about bottles and local history, so it keeps us going.”
Bartholow said he has been digging only for about a year, but his friend, Mike Yancosky, 43, of Perryopolis, has been digging for bottles since he was 5 or 6 years old.
Yancosky said his dad, a barber with his own shop in Mt. Pleasant, is a collector and got him interested in the hobby, particularly after he and his father dug into an old outhouse in Mt. Pleasant in 1993 or 1994.
His dad would go to old farms and dumps in old towns and pick up other ideas for locations to search from customers in his barbershop.
Old outhouses are good locations, Yancosky said. When the two men were digging with Ed Kusky, 51, of Elizabeth Township in Connellsville last month, they dug several holes before they found the remains of a privy, or outhouse.
There, they found a porcelain doll's leg, a salve jar and several bottles.
Yancosky and Bartholow said it often takes as many as 20 holes before they find a good spot that yields results.
Privy locations were often the dumping grounds for garbage from a household. These places are unlikely to collapse because the walls of the holes were often lined with bricks, stone or wood.
Digging a hole into what was once used as a deposit for human waste might seem like a way to end up with a disease or infection, but Yancosky said there is little danger.
“I'm up to date with my tetanus vaccination,” said Yancosky. “I equate it to walking alongside of a pond and falling into the muck. It's just dirt.”
Another friend from Connellsville, Galen Ware, 61, has found a few of the most interesting bottles, according to Yancosky.
Ware also confirmed the best places are old outhouses.
“You've got to remember back then that there were not a lot of places to throw garbage,” said Ware.
Yancosky said Ware discovered one of the best finds — a whiskey flask made in Perryopolis.
“To find a bottle like that is super rare,” said Yancosky, who added that one in 100 bottles found might be worth more than $10.
He estimated that in an average outhouse dig, they might find 30 or 40 bottles, and each one might be worth 50 cents to $1.
Ware said he has learned much about the history of Connellsville, including who the original bottlers were and where pottery was made.
According to Ware, Greenland Brothers Pottery stood where the Daily Courier building is now, on West Apple Street, probably before 1867.
“There were a lot of bottlers, probably seven in Connellsville in the 1890s and 1910s, making the Hutchinson bottle,” said Ware.
Ware has not done any digging since 2007, when he suffered a back injury.
“I now know the names of quite a few pharmacies because of the bottles I've found ...” said Ware. “At one time, when all the hotels were running, there were lots of pharmacies.”
Ware said he has found many odd things while digging, including a boar skull and a horse's head.
None of the men searching for the old bottles said they could support themselves on the money earned from the bottles they found. But they do travel all over the area, to Ohio and to other parts of Pennsylvania.
Yancosky said he even got to dig at the site of Nathan Hale's home in Lewistown.
The men say they are careful to restore the places where they dig, even to the point of laying down a steel plate before covering the site with blacktop.
“We return everything to (its) original state,” said Yancosky.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.