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  • Chaska Historical Society

Digging For "Treasure"

The City of Chaska determined that the house located on the NW corner of 4th Street and Pine Street was to be demolished to begin the downtown improvements for a new Public Library. The house appeared on the Sanborn Fire insurance Maps in 1885 and the maps indicated that three privy or outhouses were on the lot.The Sanborn Insurance maps are detailed, accurate and helpful because they illustrate the location of houses, factories, cisterns, wells, privies and property lines.These maps were produced for nearly every city and town between 1867 and 1920 and are dated so that it is possible to determine the age of houses.

Most early settlers handled garbage themselves, and privies have been one of the best places to find old bottles that can be rare and in great shape. The privies or outhouses have been known to yield all kinds of artifacts such as tools, crockery, dishes, pipes and other household items. At some point the privies were filled and abandoned. The fill materials would include ashes, sand, building materials and soil when a new or additional privy was added to the house. Often bottles were thrown in with the fill.

The most common privy/outhouse locations were directly out the back door, along a property line or in one of the back corners or rear middle of the lot. The diggers use a probe, usually five to six feet in length. While probing the soil, the experienced digger will know if the probe hits glass, brick, crockery or rocks as they all have their own distinctive sound and feel. After years of being filled in with dirt, natural bacteria degradation transforms any organic residue into compost, so diggers do not usually face any health hazards. However, structural safety devices must be in place to prevent cave-ins. Also, diggers must be skilled in archaeologic methods to ensure they don’t destroy valuable pieces of the area’s history. “The Essentials of Privy Digging” is a Kindle book available through

Trademarks are helpful in determining the history, age and value of the bottles. By definition, a trademark is a work, name or letter or symbol that identifies the bottles from their competitors. Over 900 trademarks were seen on bottles during the period of 1830-1920.

The color of the bottles - clear, aqua, green, blue and the glass imperfections - impact their value. Manufacturers also produced raised lettering to emboss the bottles. Paper labels and the production of machine-made bottles began in 1903 and ended the need to have embossing of the bottles. Types of bottles identified in the Chaska site included: whiskey, soda, mineral water, medicine, and household products. Like archeologists of ancient civilizations, we can better imagine the everyday lives of former residents by the articles we find in our shared ground. Here are some examples that are in a 2022 display at the Chaska Historical Museum.

Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing started in 1870 in Litchfield and was sold to Luther Ford in 1883. Operations are now in Bloomington, MN.

Mrs. Stewarts Bluing is a proprietary formula of blue iron powder suspended in water. It was and is a product primarily used in white fabrics that have become dingy or have taken on a yellow color over time. It was a laundry staple and every homemaker used it to keep their white clothes white.

Bottles were handblown until 1907, when they were manufactured on automatic bottle-blowing machines. The words “Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing” were embossed into the face of the bottle as insurance against unauthorized reuse by others. Red wooden-topped corks were tapped into the bottles and sealed with wax.

This footed vase may have been made by Fenton Glass or Mosser Glass, but it does not carry any identifying marks.We believe that it is “Vaseline” or “Uranium” glass which was produced from the mid-1880s through the beginning of WWII. The nickname “Vaseline glass” comes from the resemblance of some of the hues of color to Vaseline petroleum jelly. As little as 0.1 to 0.2 percent of uranium dioxide is added to the molten glass mixture during production to give it the yellow-green tint.The small amount of uranium dioxide not only gives the glass the color, but makes it glow when an ultra-violet light is used.The government confiscated all supplies of uranium during WWII and halted all production of Vaseline glass until the ban was lifted in 1958.

Abilena Natural Cathartic Water was used as a powerful laxative. The brown bottle base shows the brand name. The newspaper advertisement was part of the hundreds of efforts to promote “health cures” before the government passed food and drug safety legislation. The advertisement was from a local drug store in a 1904 edition of the Paducah (KY) Evening Sun.

Liquozone came into being after Nicolas Tesla invented a machine to produce ozone and the public was made aware of the presence and impact of germs in the environment. In the advertisement in the Los Angeles Herald of 1903, the properties of Liquozone were nothing less than miraculous. It didn’t turn out to be true, but even today, people are using ozone in ways that can become lethal.

Because of winemaker Paul Garrett, North Carolina provided the United States with its most purchased wine during the early 1900s and before Prohibition: Virginia Dare red and white wines. The product’s popularity rested in great part led an innovative and aggressive advertising campaign. Although Virginia Dare wine was a grape blend, each variety contained the scuppernong grape—a muscadine grape that has been North Carolina’s state fruit since 2001. The wine was noted for its sweet taste and was used commonly as a dessert wine.

Advertisement from Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, NE, 07 Sept. 1911.
Advertisement from Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, NE, 07 Sept. 1911.

In 1858, Gottlieb Heileman, an immigrant from Württemberg, joined in a business venture with John Gund, an immigrant from Baden. Together, the pair of German expatriates founded The City Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1858. The G. Heileman Brewery came to exist after the dissolution of the Gund/Heileman partnership in 1872. Still under Heileman's direction, the company remained a local brewery, producing only 3,000 barrels of beer a year for La Crosse and the surrounding community. Heileman died in 1878. Because the company was family held, following Heileman's death, ownership passed on to his widow, Johanna, who was to control the company until their nine-year-old son, Henry, was ready to take over. Along with her brother-in-law, who was Johanna's foreman in the brewery, the Heileman Brewery finally started expanding. By 1880 they were producing more than 7,000 barrels of beer. Eventually, Johanna's son-in-law, Emil T. Mueller, joined the family business. The three of them incorporated the company in 1890, calling it the G. Heileman Brewing Company – the name it held until its closing in 1991. Following the death of Henry Heileman, the heir to the company, in 1895, Mueller became Vice President of the company, behind only Johanna, one of the first female CEOs in the history of the United States.

By Sarah Carlson

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