So tell me, where did you find that piece of glass and why are you saving it? It’s glass and of no use, ah but it does have use. It’s history. Yes, history. When you dig in the yard it’s called gardening but when you find something IN the garden then you have found history. Where do we find such history and what does it tell us? Well, depending on what you know about the area where you are digging it will tell you a great deal. Even if you don’t know anything about the history, the pieces or shards that you find will tell the story for you.
The Bryan-Andrew house, to date, is the largest “find” of historical items in town and for two summers members of the town became a group of archeologists working with the Orange Historical Society (OHS) systematically setting out 3’ square grids around the yard. The plan was to scrape the dirt, centimeters at a time, putting the dirt in a sifter and then squealing with delight when an item of interest appeared. Should we now say that in those two years, thousands of items were found? Yes they were and are now available for research at the Mary Woodruff Research center at The Academy having been sorted and cataloged by Clare Staib-Kaufmann for her Girl Scout silver award.
The fun comes when items are found and can be identified with the owner or owners, as is the case in the Bryan-Andrew House. From 1903 to 1939, the house was owned by dairyman Wilson H. Lee. He used this house for his employees as he did others in town. To find broken Fairlea Farm bottles in a former chicken coup behind the house was not unexpected but to have shards of a quart bottle and a pint in the backyard of the Orange Congregational Parsonage says that the owners between those years also drank Fairlea Farm milk even though there were other dairies in town at that time. After all, the dairy was just down the road from the parsonage and Lee was the only dairyman who sold acidophilus milk.
The parsonage property was originally part of John Bryan’s store. In fact, the store was located in the area which is now the road in front of the house and eventually used as a parsonage. It has been noted that this was the first general store in town but in 1838, John went bankrupt and it was sold at auction. A piece of flow blue china was found there giving rise to the ownership by Bryan. A shard of a plate with orange flowers will tell of another owner of the property in the 1930s and on it goes, piece by piece.
Children’s toys are another find and the back end of a horse, which appears to be lead, tells of a child in the late 1800s playing with it behind the former store which had now been sold to the North Milford Ecclesiastical Society. Somehow he broke it and tossed it in the trash pile behind the house. Finding a lead toy gun in the backyard of the Bryan-Andrew house tells us where the outhouse was located as it was found deep in the excavation hole along side a myriad of bottle shards. Two porcelain doll heads were found in an ash pit at a house on Grassy Hill Road and impervious to the heat, survived. The current family had the dolls restored having been owned, most likely by a Woodruff girl. It can be assumed that the bodies of the dolls, being made of a composition, could have been broken and beyond repair so that what was left got tossed. You see? More history can be found in our backyards.
The OHS recently received a box of bottles from a backyard near Racebrook School. All of them intact telling of a family not prone to breaking the bottles but dumping them behind the house, near a back wall. Dirt and moisture can change the color of the clear bottles giving them a rainbow affect but finding a bottle with blue color swirled inside told its story without reading the words on the side. It was bluing, popular in the mid 20th century to whiten dingy clothes. It was also used to color white hair thus the term we sometimes hear, the blue-haired ladies. Other bottles found in the area told a pretty good story of the family’s life-style but no Fairlea Farm shards in this group. Why? The Tyler City Creamery on Racebrook Road sold milk so shall we assume that the family purchased it from there? In all cases of dairies, milk bottles were returnable and in some cases it is written on the bottle itself.
This brings up the question as to why so many shards of Fairlea Farm bottles were found behind the Bryan-Andrew House. With World War II requiring many of the farm workers to leave Fairlea, the quality of the product was not the same. Mr. Lee, determining that the farm needed to be dissolved, slowly sold off his cattle until the dairy was no longer. So? The bottles went into the ground but not before they were smashed. Fortunately, the OHS has a quart and pint bottle, intact. At one point, dairymen faced a financial situation and made a bottle that looked like a pint but was less by about 6 oz. so it was labeled, on the bottom, 1/3 qt. We have such a piece found in the ground at the Bryan-Andrew house. History all over the town.
In 1837, anti-Andrew Jackson coins were produced in response to his shutting down the 2nd National Bank and other financial dealings that reflected the feeling of the country with the suspension of the exchange of paper money for coins. Silver and gold coins disappeared from circulation with large copper cents remaining. A flood of copper coins was produced and sold to merchants and banks for $6.00 per 1000 with political commentary. These were used with a value of one cent. One such coin was found, by the author, in the garden of the Stone-Otis House several years ago and it says “Not one cent for tribute, millions for defense”. Mr. Stone was a storekeeper and no doubt this coin was dropped behind the house and found its way into the hands of the Orange Historical Society.
It is not known what today’s tooth fairy does with all of the children’s teeth she collects but finding two very intact molars at the Bryan-Andrew House gave us the story of witches and spells. In early colonial times, and most assuredly in early Europe, a witch could cast a spell if she had a sample of hair, fingernails or teeth so any loose teeth were tossed into a fire and that is where we found two of them. One inside the house and one in a fire pit with the archeological dig. The collections of the Stone-Otis house, the Bryan-Andrew house and parsonage can be seen by appointment by calling 203 795-3106 for an appointment.