Unlikely treasures of the past

by Sarah Melton

John Anger displays a bottle he found in the River Street Park area of Mount Holly.

John Anger took up metal detecting to get into shape before heading back to work for the U.S. Army Reserves and in the process, stumbled upon pieces of Mount Holly’s history.

The Mount Holly resident has been with the Army Reserves in different capacities since 1991. He works as human resources technician for the 108th Training Command, stationed in Charlotte. Last year, Anger began roaming with a metal detector at the Mountain Island Dam in hopes of shedding some pounds. So far, it has worked. Anger has dropped more than 50 pounds, simply from walking and digging a few times a week.

As Anger began metal detecting at Mountain Island, he found unusual items, including old glass bottles with unique shapes, colors and lettering. He started doing research online and contacted a man from Huntersville who dabbles in historical archeology. Anger learned that these bottles had significant history dating back as early as the 1800s.

“I found out that there was an entire community that concentrates on collecting antique bottles, so that really hooked me into going after different types of bottles, like this little medicine bottle here,” Anger said, holding up a small, glass bottle. “I found out what the marks meant on the bottles so I could age them. This one here is a 1934 medicine bottle.”

Anger discovered the area was once known as the Riverbend community, founded in the 1920s. He immediately became intrigued with the history and decided to explore further by delving into the River Street Park area, where several dump sites once stood.

Old soda bottles John Anger discovered while digging at the River Street Park area of Mount Holly.

“I definitely found some stuff from a doctor’s office,” Anger said. “I found a blood test tube, an insulin bottle, a syringe, an IV bottle and an eye dropper, which I thought was super, super cool. I also found a bottle of Mrs. Winslow’s Syrup, which was guaranteed to make the screaming child calm down but wasn’t always guaranteed to let them wake up because it had morphine in it.”

Other items found at the two sites are a 1941 liquor bottle in commemoration of John Paul Jones, the United States’ first well-known naval fighter in the American Revolutionary War; a Karo syrup bottle; a Dr. King’s New Discovery (for coughs and colds) bottle; and glass insulators for telephone poles.

All of the items Anger has found are not necessarily bottles. He has a collection of compacts with broken mirrors and pink makeup, a light bulb for a sewing machine, a part of a candlestick crucifix, doll heads, door knobs and a brick from the Creative Dye Company, built around 1905.

“This tells me the story of Mount Holly and how people lived,” Anger said. “It’s learning about entire generations. It’s not just learning about this part and that part.”

Anger has sold some of the artifacts to private investors and kept a few, but he is also giving many of the items to the Mount Holly Historical Society to save in their archives.

“Ultimately, I’d like to see some type of museum started in Mount Holly with this stuff so we can grab a hold of our city’s rich history right in front of us,” Anger said. “We can have it right where we can look at it and see what the people of the past used to do.”

Most of the items Anger has found are in fairly good condition with very few deficiencies.

“I am finding things anywhere from 2 inches below the surface of the ground to 4 or 5 feet below the surface of the ground,” he said. “If I were to take all of the bottles I ever found, I’d probably have thousands of bottles on this table. There is probably still hundreds out there that are in perfect condition because I cannot carry everything back.”

Anger hopes the city’s history will be preserved as plans unfold for a future greenway in Mount Holly.

“When we get this greenway built in Mount Holly, I think it is vital and important that we have two types of history keepers out there,” he said. “One, we need to have someone from the Catawba Indians, and if we happen to dig up anything that is Native American-related or from the Catawba Indians, with their permission, it needs to somehow be displayed in the City of Mount Holly. Two, as we build this greenway, we need to have someone helping recover Mount Holly history, even if it’s me.”

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