Treasure In Maps

by Tim Lyautey

X marks the spot. That’s one we’ve all heard. As kids, probably before we even knew there were metal detectors, and back before we’d gotten bitten by the treasure bug, most of us found a certain fascination in treasure books and movies. Treasure Island and the stories of the riches cached away by the likes of Jean Lafitte and Black Beard were probably familiar to us all. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the films of the gold rush captivated us and it seemed like someone was always trying to steal some sacred native treasure in a Tarzan film. The one thing that all these stories and films had in common was a map.

Maps have been with us since early man tried to communicate the most productive hunting areas to the rest of his tribe using a stick and scratching out landmarks in the dirt or using drawings on cavern walls. As man progressed, so did his choice of cartographic material. Wood, stone, clay, papyrus, parchment, animal skins, and paper have all been used to illustrate geography and what is located there. Eventually maps became specialized. Seafarers developed oceanographic and coastal charts and accurate world maps eventually developed.

As the Europeans populated America, the country began to be divided. Boundaries were established and colonies, later to be states, were formed. Counties were established and broken down into townships. Settlements became villages, towns, boroughs and cities. Trails became streets, roads, and later highways. The railroads grew, became popular, and eventually were able to transport people and goods across the entire nation. Each time one of these events occurred, someone constructed a map.

Old and outdated maps can be valuable tools to the treasure and relic hunter. Compare a modern map to one of earlier times and the first thing you notice is that things have certainly changed. The older the map, the fewer places and things there are, namely roads, towns, and railroad grades. As you study further, you’ll find that some of the towns, roads, intersections and train stops that are on your old map are just plain missing on your modern one. You might ask yourself why? The simple answer is progress.

As America grew, things changed. Cities grew and took over farmland and forest. Find an old map of any city and the growth is easily recognizable. Often on old city maps, places such as firehouses, post offices, schools, parks and hospitals are specifically indicated. Rivers, which today are utilized mainly for industry, community parks, and marinas, were often lined with homes prior to 1900. The old maps can show where they were. Recently, I came upon a map of Rochester, Pennsylvania drawn in 1900. It is about 20 miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburg. I guess you would call it a suburb. The place is much larger now than in 1900 and has undergone immense growth. The old map did indicate the street that my brother now lives on. The entire neighborhood at the time was a housing subdivision under development. The streets were marked out, but only a few homes had been built. Today it’s one house after another for block after block. When you drive to the end of the street, it turns into a T-intersection and you have to turn right or left. Straight ahead is just a small wooded area overgrown with weeds with some refuse mixed in. In 1900 there was a schoolhouse there. It was very clearly indicated on the 1900 map. I was able to locate the remnants of the stone foundation and with my Tesoro Conquistador µMax detected a spelling medal, some broken iron toys, an Indian Head penny and a small silver cross. As a bonus, there was a couple of old marbles and an ink well. They had been waiting there for years.

With the growth of the cities, greater demand was placed on the resources of the rural areas. Railroads moved into the forest of the East and Pacific Northwest and with them came the people needed to do the lumbering and the mining. These people built towns, many of which are only shadows of their former selves today. Whole sections of what were once large villages and towns have been given over to nature. Find the right map and you can locate where the old borders, streets, businesses and homes once stood. Look at an old map and you might be surprised at how large an area your town once occupied.

In my neck of the woods, Northwestern, PA, “ghost town” has a different meaning than it does in the west. From about 1870 until about 1930, lumbering was a primary industry in this part of the state. Railroad technology had by then advanced to the point that even the rugged Allegheny Mountains had succumbed. Along the railroad grades, which hauled the cut virgin timber, villages and towns sprouted up in abundance. As the timber was cut off and the land denuded, many of these places were torn down. Homes, business, stables and barns were taken apart, loaded up and reassembled elsewhere. Often the nails were even saved. That’s why when you find one of the abandoned towns here, you don’t see any buildings or streets. Foundations, too, are a rarity. You may find a few “house holes” where dirt basements once existed and occasionally some stacked stones, which had been support columns, but that’s about it.

During this period of time, the favored type of map was a warrant map. Generally, government surveyors divided counties, which had already been sectioned off, into specific parcels of land. These parcels were known as warrants. Each warrant was numbered and depending on the size of the county, could easily run into the thousands. The importance of these maps relates directly to county histories, newspapers, deeds and personal memoirs. I have often found that the only mention of a site, whether it’s a village, logging camp or railroad stop will be the warrant of land it was situated on. Without a map, which indicates the warrants of the area, you’d have no chance of discovering the site you were looking for. Some government maps still display the numbered warrants as late as the mid 1930’s.

About a month ago, while reading through the obscure, unpublished memoirs of a local resident, I ran across a mention of a logging camp, which I didn’t know existed. The only location given was the number of the warrant it had been located on. That made it easy, right? Wrong. Though the warrant map gave me the location, it didn’t indicate how to get there. Many old lumber camps were accessed only by narrow gauge railroads and this was one of those. What the warrant map did give me was the location of the camp in relation to the nearest stream. With this information, I went to the topographical map of the area. The topographical map displayed the stream and indicated the closest back road to access the site. Now it was time to go to the modern road map. Using this map, I was able to determine the easiest route from my home to the access road I wanted.

Saturday morning found me up around eight a.m. and on the road by nine. When I go on one of these expeditions, I take all the maps pertinent to the hunt with me. It went pretty well and soon I was bounding down a one-lane dirt track in my Ford Explorer. Four-wheel drive can come in handy during these adventures.

I was well into the forest and the last house I’d passed was about six miles back. Eventually, the dirt road played out into a dead end. From here, I’d have to hike. I gathered up my maps and shoved them into the backpack with my bottled water and PB and J sandwiches. Shouldering the pack, I grabbed my Tesoro Conquistador µMax and started walking. After about a mile, I found the creek I was looking for and headed downstream. About forty minutes later, I found the site of the old logging camp. A broad valley dotted with small clearings stretched out before me. It ran for about three hundred yards down both sides of the stream. The apple trees gave it away. I knew immediately that there was way more than a day’s worth of detecting here. I decided that I would break each side of the creek bank into thirds. I dropped my pack and began to work the first section. The relics practically leaped from the ground. In the first few minutes, I turned up a beautiful door from a parlor stove decorated with a Greek Key border and dated 1877. I really enjoy finding nice relics and this got my blood going. In the next hour and a half, I found several other stove parts (non as elaborate as the door), several horseshoes and three double bitted axe heads in extremely poor condition. It had also started to rain. Thinking I should just call it a day before the rain turned into a torrent, I decided to search a small, fern covered knoll amidst some old apple trees and then call it quits. Boy was I glad I did! Very near the top of the knoll, the Conquistador µMax sounded off. The signal indicated an object that was long and fairly wide. Thinking it was probably just a piece of discarded sheet iron, I set about uncovering it with little enthusiasm. That changed quickly when I uncovered teeth belonging to a crosscut saw. As I carefully uncovered the find, I was amazed to find that it was still intact! I’ve found the rusted and rotted remains of many of these saws, but I’d never even heard of anyone finding one complete. With the exception of the wooden handles, long since rotted away, this one was not only whole but also most of the teeth still held an edge. I couldn’t believe it. A complete 6-foot long, two-man crosscut saw in such good shape that the spring steel it was made of would still flex. What a find. I searched a little longer and near it found a double bitted axe head in even better condition. The six-pound two-ounce weight marking was stamped in the side clearly visible. Overwhelmed with such pristine relics and with the rain worsening, I reluctantly decided to bring this adventure to an end. Getting that six foot long saw blade out of the forest was a chore, but I didn’t mind it a bit even if I was soaked by the time I made it back to the car. Just one example of how a little information and the right maps can gain you some wonderful discoveries. (Mr. Lyautey was granted permission by the parcel manager to metal detect and recover in the forested area.)

Finding maps isn’t as difficult as you might think. There are a lot of very useful old maps out there. I’ve found them at yard sales, auctions and on eBay. US Geological Survey maps are available to anyone and can be very helpful since they show the terrain and prominent landmarks and buildings. The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress has thousands of maps covering all parts of the country and covers many decades. The David Rumsey American Map Collection is another valuable map source that’s available to the public. Courthouses, city halls and township headquarters should all have maps both modern and old, and they will generally make them available to copy. Local historical societies generally have dozens of old maps just waiting to be put to good use again. Even old highway maps can be helpful. You can also access great old maps on the Internet. Take a look at Sources for maps are unlimited.

If you start collecting maps the way I do, eventually people find out about it. Some of the finest and most useful old maps have been brought to my door and happily given to me. Generally the owner says something like, “I found it in my granddad’s house and didn’t want to throw it out. If you want it, it’s yours.” When I hear that, I know there’s usually an outing in the near future.

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