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Bridgeville historical group talks finding history through metal detectors

| Friday, April 6, 2018, 4:39 p.m.

The March program meeting for the Bridgeville Area Historical Society nearly had to be canceled when the scheduled speaker called in sick the day of the meeting.

Fortunately, program chairperson Rosemary Kasper was able to come up with a last-minute substitute, the speaker scheduled for next month.

The person who came to the rescue was a young man named Rob Hilt.

He and his partner had announced a subject, “History Hounds: Preserving and Saving Local History Through Metal Detecting.” The topic did not arouse much enthusiasm in me — my exposure to metal detectors had been limited to watching a pair of young men in camouflage clothing prowling around our woods with a metal detector in one hand and a shovel in the other, and serious frowns on their faces.

Instead, Mr. Hilt turned out to be a very interesting gentleman with a sincere interest in historical things, coupled with impressive investigative skills. His electronic equipment is merely a tool he uses very effectively to make his discoveries.

He brought an impressive collection of display cases, each organized around a specific theme. Artifacts he displayed ranged from 18th century treasures — old Spanish silver coins, Pilgrim-style knee buckles, and pewter tableware — to contemporary trivia — a cap pistol, pocket knives, and dog license tags. As Mr. Hilt reported, each artifact has two stories — the story of how he managed to find it and its own story, which we can only imagine.

Someone in the audience asked the speaker to pick out his favorite of all the artifacts he has found; he pointed out a plate that made the cover of the magazine American Digger.

He emphasized that success in finding historical artifacts is based on research. His stomping ground is western Washington County and Brooke County, W.Va. He pores over old maps of that area, trying to locate long-abandoned home sites.

When he believes he has found one, he approaches the current owner of the property and courteously requests permission for an exploration. Although this isn't always successful, cooperation of the owner is essential. He remarked that the greatest treasures he has found have been friendships he has made with the property owners.

Another key to Mr. Hilt's success is his ability to quickly narrow down possibilities and find the best places to investigate. He looks for what he calls “travel corridors.” The path from a house to the location of the outhouse is a perfect example of a travel corridor.

We history buffs are fortunate to have artisans like him committed to finding and preserving artifacts.

The next historical society program meeting will be at the Chartiers Room, Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department, on Commercial Street, at 7:30 p.m. April 24. Brian Charlton will speak on “Cement City, Donora, Pa.”

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. Reach him at 412-343-1652 or Read more from him at

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