The Eagle And The Lady
By: Lance W. Comfort
On December 14, 1885 a massive fire destroyed the four-story wooden Vermont Valley Woolen Mill and most of Greenbanks Village in the process. The blaze not only consumed the mill that employed virtually everyone in the small hamlet, but also the grist mill, store, covered bridge, and several of the local farms, essentially wiping out the entire village.
The earliest inhabitant of this area was Daniel Whitcher, who built a gristmill and sawmill on the brook in 1786 and 1787. Whitcher also built a fine home which still stands today and is one of the oldest homes in the area. In 1801 and 1802, two other mills were constructed on the brook, both of which were bought out in the 1840s by Benjamin Greenbanks, who turned the small mills into a large woolen operation. During the early operations of the smaller mills, employees came from various countries to work here, including Scotland and Canada. By the 1850s the mill employed almost 50 individuals. Average pay at that time was $8 per month for a woman and $11.50 for a man.
After the fire Greenbanks moved to New Hampshire and never rebuilt in the area, leaving the village to fade away except for a few farmers who stayed in the vicinity. Those who had once worked at the mill were forced to move and find employment elsewhere. Other than these farms there are no remnants of the once busy village, save for the cellar holes and foundations of the great mill and the homes that previously existed there.
Most of the mill remnants are now under the authority of the local historical society and off limits to detecting; however, there are many fields around the area that hold wonderful surprises for the patient detectorist. Several years ago I had been given permission to detect the Whitcher property and found many artifacts and coins dating back to the late 1700s. I was now seeking a new location in the former community to see if this too could offer more insight as to what life was like in this small village back in its earliest history.
For years I had been considering detecting a large field that lay across the small dirt road from the Whitcher home, and I decided that now was the time to search this property. I called the owner, who happily gave me permission to detect the field. When my brother Rick was here last spring, on the last day of his visit we spent some time in the field, which was in tall grass by that time. We stayed in the lower part of the field, which we knew was close to where there had been a number of homes. Rick found a nice 1803 1/2 real, and we both found a number of buttons from the early 1800s.
After he returned to California I went back to the field and spent the day detecting, again staying in the lower part of the field. Once more I found a number of buttons and an Indian Head cent, but not much else of interest. Still, I had the feeling that this field held more surprises. It was late, and I was getting ready to head home, but thought I would take one run up to the higher portion of the field. On the walk up I found several more buttons and a Canadian bank token from 1837. Had this been lost by one of the Canadian employees who had worked at the mills in the early days? Perhaps there was more up this way than I'd originally thought. Even though it was farther from where I knew the houses had been, I always search the higher locations of fields since such areas were often used for picnics.
The following Sunday I asked my friend Dave Linck if he would like to come along to a new spot that I felt had some potential. He met me at my home, and we set off for a day in the field. His first inkling that this would not be an easy hunt was the length of the grass, which was now up to 18" in some places, but we both knew that we have not let that stop us before. It was not long before we were out in the tall grass, sweeping as close to the ground as we could get. I started for the higher ground, and Dave went to the lower end of the field.
As I reached the higher ground I received a signal on my White's DFX which indicated a quarter or half dollar. I did not get my hopes up too much since we had dug lots of trash in this field also, but went about carefully digging a plug and pulling it out. The target was still in the ground, and the reading was stronger than before. Trying not to get too excited, I continued to gently probe into the moist soil. Soon an object glistened up at me, and I saw a beautiful eagle on what I thought was a very large silver button- that is, until I turned it over and saw Lady Liberty looking up at me. I had just found a Capped Bust half dollar!
Gently brushing the dirt away with a soft toothbrush that I always carry, I could read the date... 1826. I saw that the coin was in nice condition, but did not brush it any more for fear of scratching it. I quickly rechecked the hole, replaced the plug, and went down to the car to rinse my prize. After pouring some water over the half dollar, I could see that it was in almost uncirculated condition, with no dings or scratches. I had just dug a coin that had been in the ground for almost 182 years, and it was like new! Whoever dropped it so long ago had really lost a lot of money, equivalent to at least several days' pay.
I casually walked over to where Dave was detecting and asked how he was doing. He showed me a pair of really nice Ives Kendrick buttons that he had dug, then asked how I had done. I held out my closed hand with my prize in it and placed it in his. For a moment he was speechless; then he just sat down on the ground and muttered a few things that shall remain unrepeated. I suggested that he come up the hill and detect where I was, since it appeared that there was more to be found... and more there was.
I went back to where I had found the half dollar to see if there was anything else in the area. Meanwhile, Dave worked his way up the hill, and it was not long before he called out, "Large cent!" I went over to investigate and found him with a nice 1851 cent. We continued searching, and it was not more than 15 minutes when he called out, "Another one!" This time it was an 1834 and in nicer condition than the first. When Dave said something about being ahead of me now, I responded that he was still 48¢ behind.
About an hour later I reached the top of the hill and got a weak signal. I dug down almost 8" and saw a crumpled piece of metal which I at first thought was just another piece of trash. Once I retrieved it from the hole, I thought differently: I recognized the shield as being from a militia cap badge. As I turned the piece around I could see part of the eagle's wing, but knew that much of the badge was still missing. I continued to hunt the area and located one other small piece but nothing else. Early militia pieces are among my favorite items to find, and this was a first for me. What a day this had been, with both a Capped Bust half and a militia shako badge.
Two days later I spent another four hours in this spot and still have not found the rest of the badge, but I plan on going back again when the grass has been cut. The following Thursday, Dave and I got to spend another day in the field, although by now the grass was so tall that we could hardly move our coils. It looked as if this would be our last hunt here until the first cutting in a week or two.
Dave and I decided that we would continue working the higher area of the field. I soon found a watch fob which I later identified as being from the 1904 presidential campaign. It promoted the Democrat ticket of Parker and Davis, who lost to Teddy Roosevelt. After a while Dave decided to go to the lower end again, while I remained on the higher ground. Several hours later I heard Dave cry out, "Large copper!" and went down to see what he had found. It was a well-worn Draped Bust large cent, but we could not see a date. Even so, it was a great find and his third copper from the field.
It was getting late and I knew this would be my last time in this field for a while, but I was hoping to make one more good find before we quit for the day. A little while later I received a promising signal and cut a plug. The item was still in the ground. With a little more careful digging I could soon see what appeared to be a buckle of some sort. I grabbed the corner and carefully pulled out an intact late 1700s brass shoe buckle. I find many parts of these artifacts, but this was only my third complete one, and the nicest I have ever found. What a way to end the day!
During the three days of detecting in this field many other artifacts and coins were discovered; but I will never forget the magnificent day that I found "The Eagle And The Lady" in this historic countryside. I wonder what else will be found when they finally cut the grass.
Author's Note: The historical information on Greenbanks Village comes from Village in the Hills by Susannah Clifford (Phoenix Publishing, 1961).