Saturday, July 14, 2012

the time we bought a house that sat on a dump

No hyperbole in that post title.  We literally bought the town dump.  Here's how it went down.

Our house was built in 1930, and the structure itself was largely untouched since then.  Lots of updating and finishes on the inside, but no foundation work, no additions, no remodeling, not even new siding since about 1960!

We decided to put on an addition almost immediately to make the 933 square feet somewhat more livable for the three of us and our four-legged mammal.  We hired a company called H & H.  Ray is the owner, and Steve works with him.  They are very old friends of Jeff's family and they go to church with us.  Good people.  They set to work as soon as we closed on the house.  Our hope was to have the addition largely done before we even moved.

Building code for our historic district requires concrete footers for any new construction to be 18 inches deep.  H & H decided to do more like three feet, just to be on the safe side.  They got the backhoe in the yard and started digging.  And then the glass started surfacing.  Shards of glass.  Then whole bottles.  They were popping up literally everywhere.  We took a closer look at these bottles.  They were old.  Very old.  So old that most of them didn't even have threads for screwtops.  They were corked or capped.  They say hilarious things like "Milk Weed Cream" and "Listerine" and "Full Half Pint."  They are all different sizes and shapes and colors.

 They kept digging.  The bottles kept coming.  They had to get down below this layer of infill to have a solid surface to put our foundation down.  They finally hit something solid at about six feet.

The number of bottles that came out was more than just household trash.

 My guess is that our house sits on what was a dumping group for the neighborhood.  Our backyard has the lowest hollow of the block, and I wouldn't be surprised if a creek or small stream ran through it at one point.  Before regular trash collecting and landfilling, people typically just buried or dumped or burned their trash at some place in the vicinity.  Apparently that place was our backyard.  After eighty or ninety years, it all disintegrated except the glass.

My first thought was, "If the backyard is six feet deep in buried bottles, is our house on shifting ground as well?"  But our inspection had revealed no foundation cracks, no troublesome settling, nothing.  The floors tilt slightly, but it's nothing alarming and is completely along the lines of what is to be expected in an eighty-year-old home.  Our plumber had to do some digging in the front yard for a new water line, and he said it was totally solid and even difficult to get through the soil in the front.  So I'm satisfied that our trouble is just in the back yard.

I have to say, I just kept waiting for them to start pulling skeletons out of there.  It was a little creepy at times.  But innocuous thus far.  And I think we may even make some money off selling these bottles on eBay!


Andrea said...

A former boyfriend of mine's family used to go Bottle Hunting. It is a thing, apparently. People will go locate old dumps and go digging for old glass bottles. They collect them, or sell them or whatever. That said, you can probably make a small fortune selling what you have on your property to that sort of collector! And if you're really adventurous, you could invite some Bottle Hunting clubs to come dig in your yard. And yes, there are even clubs for such things.

Oh, and if you find any that look iridescent, they're worth more. They're called "Sick Glass" because... well, something is technically wrong with them, but it's a cool effect, and they are somewhat rare. It happens with enough age and the right conditions in some glass. I'm sure I could look it up, but I'm not going to.

Emily said...

We do have some like that! The contractors called it "fish glass," because I guess it looks like fish scales. I'm sure it's called sick glass because it's leaded and makes you crazy or something.

Exciting . . . I'm looking up Bottle Hunting clubs right now! This might be the gift that keeps on giving, since we plan to expand and put on another addition eventually!

Andrea said...

The iridescence is something that happens with age as a part of the glass actually starting to (very slowly) break down. I don't recall how it happens, but I know there are people out there who know why and specialize in them. It's crazy, but kinda fun too. What an interesting back yard you have!