One Family’s Trash is Another Family’s Treasure

Hello, friends! We’ve been hard at work documenting the building process. If you’d like to follow along for daily updates, check out our brand new Instagram account.

Today we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with an important history lesson. 

Who knew that in the middle of all of this construction we’d unearth archeological wonders? Remember the second mysterious brick foundation Joe and his crew discovered during demolition? Well that wasn’t the only thing we found in the dirt. We’ve turned into veritable super sleuths these past few weeks and are here to tell you all about what lies beneath.

Away We Go!

Drew and Jacob’s house was built in 1910, just one year after the great Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (also known as Seattle’s first world’s fair), which was responsible for much of the development of the University of Washington and the surrounding area. Back then Seattle’s population was an expansive 237,194 people. 17,000 of those residents lived in Ballard, the cozy neighborhood in which Drew and Jacob’s home still stands today (obviously, or else we wouldn’t be here writing about ourselves in the third person).

An early photo of Drew and Jacob's house from the 1930's, complete with dormer windows and a working chimney.  

An early photo of Drew and Jacob's house from the 1930's, complete with dormer windows and a working chimney.  

Drew did some digging (pun fully intended) at the King County Archives when they first bought the house and found a few pieces of interesting info, including original photos of the property from both the 30’s and the 70’s. While there aren’t many official records of renovation on file, it seems that every family that’s owned the house has done some serious work on it. Over the last hundred plus years, a sewer line was added, the porch was turned into a kitchen, the basement was finished and turned into bedrooms, and the dormer windows were removed, as was the fireplace and half of the chimney (sad). Most importantly to this story, the outbuilding located in the backyard was torn down and replaced with a garage.

Are you still with us? Good.

Back to the present, Joe and his crew from Viking Construction began the process of demolishing Drew and Jacob’s garage about a month ago. Everything was halted once the guys stumbled upon mysterious brick “walls” underneath the garage foundation. Drew arrived home that afternoon to the scene pictured below, complete with a question mark spray painted onto the brick structure. She quickly posted it to Instagram and Facebook, asking the people of the Internet to wildly speculate as to what it might be. Answers ranged from “an old septic tank” to “a root cellar” to “a bomb shelter”. One of her friends recommended breaking out the EMF reader and doing some ghost hunting, but she’s far too superstitious for that.

After some hand wringing and calling in the experts, it was determined that the bricks were simply another older foundation that hadn’t been removed when the newer garage structure was built sometime in the 50’s (property records show right around 1951 for a little under $100). But wait! That’s when things get interesting. Beneath the area inside of the brick walls, the crew discovered trash! And lots of it. There was charcoal from wood burning, parts of a wheel assembly from an old car, manufactured metal objects, and three glass bottles. All signs pointed to the area being a good old fashioned dump site. Our super sleuthing powers were activated.

Live From the Garbage Dump

In 1905, around five years before Drew and Jacob’s house was built, The Seattle Sunday Times ran an exposé of one of Seattle’s original landfills. Seattle had successfully and horrifyingly created a pile of garbage 120 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 60 feet deep on the city’s southern tide flats. Check out these headlines:

LIVE FROM GARBAGE DUMP
Scores of Men, Women and Children Daily Gang of Scavengers Exist Upon Decayed Food Carried Away by Human Beings Make Their Homes in Miserable Huts on the Tidelands in Places Unfit for Habitation of Animals

Yikes. It was no wonder, really, as Seattle’s population nearly tripled between 1900 and 1910. After the population boom, the city eventually made a major investment in sanitation, and garbage disposal was put under the direction of the health department. Still, there existed three types of dumps in Seattle well into the 1940’s: landfills, “sanitary” dumps (how sanitary these actually were is debatable), and finally, burning dumps. The Ballard neighborhood maintained a large landfill site near Market Street at 28th Avenue NW, but regular citizens with enough backyard space could easily burn garbage of their own. And that’s exactly what the former residents of Drew and Jacob’s house appear to have done. We have the bottles and assorted car parts to prove it.

Now About Those Bottles...

Just in case you ever stumble upon a garbage dump in your backyard full of bottles in need of archeological dating, don’t fret. The Internet has your back. Drew took a deep dive into the World Wide Web’s many glass collector sites to get to the bottom of this mystery. As previously mentioned, we happened upon three glass bottles: two that appear to be beer bottles and one vessel that looks almost medicinal in nature.

The base of the smaller, clear glass bottle with imprints indicating when and where it was manufactured.

The base of the smaller, clear glass bottle with imprints indicating when and where it was manufactured.

Through researching the imprints on the bottom of all three bottles, Drew was able to determine the manufacturer of each, as well as the years they were produced.

$15, A Borrowed Horse, and Four Types of Medicines: W.T. Rawliegh's Remedies

A Rawliegh's salesman in front of his wagon, circa 1909. 

A Rawliegh's salesman in front of his wagon, circa 1909. 

W.T. Rawliegh launched a humble door-to-door sales operation in 1889, traveling the rural Illinois countryside by horse selling a whole variety of medicines and extracts. Fun fact: Rawliegh even produced a popular colic cure for horses and cattle made of cannabis oil prior to the criminalization of marijuana in 1937. 

Perhaps our bottle was purchased at New Deal Fuel. This little grocery store was located at the corner of 65th & 8th Ave NW, a short walk from Drew and Jacob's house. This photo was snapped in 1935. Credit: Museum of History & Industry

Perhaps our bottle was purchased at New Deal Fuel. This little grocery store was located at the corner of 65th & 8th Ave NW, a short walk from Drew and Jacob's house. This photo was snapped in 1935.

Credit: Museum of History & Industry

By the time 1914 rolled around, the W.T. Rawleigh Co. was recognized as one of the largest manufacturers of household products in the United States. While the horse and buggy salesmen of yesteryear were long gone when the previous residents of Drew and Jacob’s house purchased what appears to be a vial of vanilla extract, W.T. Rawleigh’s business was still booming.

A scan of the back page of Rawleigh's 1935 Good Health Guide, picturing a variety of medicine and extract bottles similar to the one found in our backyard.

A scan of the back page of Rawleigh's 1935 Good Health Guide, picturing a variety of medicine and extract bottles similar to the one found in our backyard.

The little clear glass vessel unearthed from the backyard appears to be from 1935, an early machine made bottle that could have held a number of flavorings or medicines before being discarded in our unofficial burning dump. Drew managed to find an illustration of packaging from that time from Rawleigh’s annual Good Health Guide, Almanac and Cookbook. We promptly purchased it on Ebay, of course!

“Tested in the laboratories, proved in millions of homes…and tossed in our backyard” just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, wouldn’t you agree?

“Tested in the laboratories, proved in millions of homes…and tossed in our backyard” just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, wouldn’t you agree?

“Two Bottles of Beer in the Dirt” is much less catchy than “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”

The two beer bottles were found side by side, tossed together during what we hope was a lovely summer evening of garbage burning. Markings on the bottom of each amber bottle indicate that they were manufactured by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company in 1935 at the Alton, Illinois plant. While we’ve pinpointed the manufacturer, the brand of beer is nearly impossible to identify, with many local brews sporting the popular “steinie” bottle at the time, including Seattle’s own Rainier Beer.

Steinie style bottles from the 30's, including Rainier Special Export Beer. Steinie bottles were designed to mimic familiar import beer bottle shapes. 

Steinie style bottles from the 30's, including Rainier Special Export Beer. Steinie bottles were designed to mimic familiar import beer bottle shapes. 

So what does all of this mean, anyway?

It means that the Internet is a bountiful cornucopia of information! And also that the ground on which our backyard cottage will sit has a lived a life of its own. And also that there was originally an outbuilding with a brick foundation on the property that most likely was demolished sometime prior to the 1930’s. For the next 20 years, the site was probably used as an informal dump until a garage was built in its place in 1951.

Whew! If you’d like to nerd out on bottle dating of all kinds, Glass Bottle Marks is a great resource. Looking for even more dirt? You can read more about Seattle’s early garbage woes (complete with photos) here.

See you soon with lots of photos of our progress, including framing and a second floor. And remember to follow us on Instagram for daily updates!