Sheep Farm Treasures
By: Richard Lanning
Sometimes it pays to be a police officer in the old part of town. For several months, I had driven by the sheep farm located in a rural part of Maryland, only about ten miles outside of Washington, DC. The sheep farm was in my beat, which was loaded with old homes from the 1800s and even earlier. This was one of those places that you pass by time and time again, just trying to get up the nerve to stop and ask for permission.
While waiting for that day to come, I started doing some research on the old place. I located a map book dating from the 1870s that showed the old house sitting next to some still-existing train tracks. Located in front of the house near the road, according to the map, was a small building- a store right next to a train stop. Knowing now that the home was not only over 100 years old, but had an old store on the property to boot... well, I just couldn't take it any more!
As luck would have it, while on my usual beat patrol I happened to drive by the sheep farm just in time to see the owner fetching her mail from the mailbox. Now with nerves of steel, braced by thought of mouth-watering finds, I stopped to pop the question. Much to my surprise, the kindly homeowner welcomed me and my hunting partner, Dan, with open arms. She not only told us to come by anytime we wanted, but added that she didn't want anything we found. The only thing she would want, if we found it, was her mother's wedding band that had been lost almost 40 years ago.
Our conversation lasted for about an hour, with my questions flying left and right. I discovered that her grandfather had built the home in 1865, and had also built the store that he operated until the early 1900s. The house sat on about ten acres of land that was still a working sheep farm. This meant that the fields would be easy to hunt year round due to the grazing sheep. As we parted, the homeowner dropped the bomb on me: the property had been hunted before.
Not wanting to be deterred, Dan and I showed up early the next Sunday, metal detectors in hand. Our search started around the house, with many old coins coming to surface right away. We collected numerous Indian Head cents, Barber and Mercury dimes, and Wheat cents right out of the "hunted out" yard. After several weekends, when the signals started dropping off around the house, our target then became the old store. Much to our surprise, the store yielded only one Mercury dime. No problem... we still had about nine more acres to hunt.
At this point, we felt it was time to talk to the homeowner once more. As it turned out, she told us that her church group used to have picnics on the back part of the field on a small hill, during the 1940s. Thoughts of coins once again started dancing through our heads! We could picture the happy picnickers dropping coins by the handful as they dined on hamburgers and hot dogs. Dan and I almost tripped over each other running to the back field to start our new hunt. What turned up is still a shock to us today.
We worked a tight pattern all across the wooded hill, and not a single coin turned up from the 1900s. As I crossed the crest of the hill, I got a nice signal from my White's Eagle Spectrum that read "quarter" at only 1" down. I almost fell over when I pulled out a British halfpenny from the 1700s! What was this coin doing there, and who had dropped it?
As I continued to research the property, trying to determine why the Colonial treasures were here, a local archaeologist told me that the early settlers would build "disposable housing." Constructed of green wood, the houses rotted away after about ten years, at which time the settlers would simply move on, leaving no record of the site.
Several years have passed since our first visit to this site, and now the finds are getting few and far between. Even though we never found the wedding band that we hoped to return to the owner, the "hunted out" property surrendered hundreds of old coins and still yields a few treasures now and then. So, who knows? It may yet give up the wedding band we were looking for.
Remember, even though a site has been repeatedly searched, it's never "hunted out." Also, always seek permission from the landowner. You never know what the answer will be unless you ask.