Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Todd Danelski
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Historical coin collection on display at MLAHS


September 6, 2018

Provided photo

H.K. Lower's saloon pictured (middle left) along what was formerly known as East Avenue.

Editor's note: Following is a story of unearthing clues to Moose Lake's past. Todd Danelski tells of finding a treasure trove of relics, including rare coins, during the street reconstruction last summer.

In the second week of June 2017 the sidewalk and street of the "old" downtown of Moose Lake was torn out as part of the road reconstruction we all lived through.

The day after this section of sidewalk was removed, Walter Lower III got in touch with me as he knew I like metal detecting for old coins. Street and sidewalk tear outs can really be good places to find coins that were dropped long ago and then covered by concrete and pavement.

Walt gave me a brief history of this part of town, the block just north of the traffic lights. His great-grandfather, H.K. Lower, had owned the saloon. A boardwalk extended all along that street. Walt thought it might be a good spot to check. He urged me to hurry before the new sidewalk was poured.

Later that day, my friend and fellow "detectorist," Dave Matten, called and asked if I had any good spots to check. I told him of the tear out and said that we could meet there after church. I was excited about what this spot might yield.

I arrived a few minutes before Dave and his daughter, Danica. Not wanting to cheat him out of any finds, I put new batteries in my detector and waited for them. Once they got there we made a quick plan of attack and started scanning. Within five seconds, I got a promising "high" tone. I scooped a couple inches of dirt away and out popped a 1901 Barber dime. I told Dave this might be way better than we first thought. It was.

I'll give more details of the hunt after a more thorough history of this stretch of town. The first railroad came through the area in 1872. The first depot was built just north of the current O'Reilly Auto Parts store. The first part of the city of Moose Lake was built right across the street from it. There was a hotel, a store, H.K. Lower's saloon and other structures along the street. There was a boardwalk all along this stretch. Dropped coins can slip through the gaps in the boards. This part of the "original downtown" burned in 1895 and was rebuilt along with another boardwalk. The boardwalk was then replaced with the first concrete sidewalk some time in 1904.

Back to the first day's hunt. My find was quickly followed by Dave finding an 1897 Barber quarter and then Danica found an 1893 Barber quarter. Barber coins were minted from 1892 to 1916. I saw that Dave was chasing a high tone but he couldn't pinpoint the target. After re-digging the hole several times, he found an 1887 Seated Liberty dime! Seated Liberty coins were minted from 1837 to 1891 and are fairly rare in our area. I quickly felt green with envy because Dave and Danica were digging all the good "old" silver and I'm stuck with my measly turn-of-the-century stuff.

There was a lot of "trash" (rusty nails & iron) here and it made finding anything tricky. I started concentrating on "mid" (nickel) tones. I found two Liberty "V" nickels and then a 1867 Shield nickel, (minted from 1867 to 1883). These are even rarer than Seated Liberty coins. My old coin envy faded.

We managed to find 19 coins that first day (June 11): one Seated Liberty dime, two Barber quarters, one Barber dime, one shield nickel, three Liberty "V" nickels, and 11 Indian Head pennies. Also found were a train conductor's whistle, a token from Wacker & Birk Brewing Co., two axe heads, shell casings, and hundreds of nails.

I went back to the site with my detector the following evening (June 12), and, after extensive scanning, I found only two more Indian Head pennies.

I told Dave that I thought we may be missing quite a few of the coins because of the amount of rusty nails littering the area. I thought that by bringing bigger shovels and magnets we could stir up the dirt and pull the nails out to make detecting easier.

We met at the site again on Wednesday evening (June 14). I brought my shovel but forgot my magnet. It didn't matter. We didn't need to remove the nails. Turning the soil caused the coins to be moved so they were easier to detect, and later, when turning the dirt, the coins fell out of the clumps. I told Dave we don't need detectors, we need sifters. We found more eight coins that day: one Barber dime, four Liberty "V" nickels, and four Indian Head pennies.

Both Dave and I made sifting screens and went back a few evenings throughout the week (June 15-19). We discovered that there was a "magic" layer of soil where all of the coins were found.

Under about four to six inches of sandy gravel there was a layer of dark dirt that contained nails, old cinders from the 1895 fire and coins. Just by looking at this dirt you could tell it was the original soil that the town was built upon. All the coins and other things dropped were found within about the top three inches of this soil. After sifting about five cubic yards of this material we found another 26 coins. The oldest coin found was an 1853o Seated Liberty quarter (hammered/worn), the next oldest was an 1854o Seated Liberty dime (Extra Fine condition). Another Shield nickel (no date / worn) was found along with several other Liberty "V" nickels and Indian head pennies.

I went back to the site one last time on June 20 with my detector and found two more Indian Head pennies. That brought the total to 55 coins dating from 1853 to 1904. Only 16 of the 55 were from the 1900s.

The vast majority of the coins came from about a 25-foot span starting at the door of H.K Lower's saloon to just past the utility pole (see picture). And many of those came from a small area by the utility pole (street light in modern pictures). The oldest coins also came from that area. We found remnants of an old coin purse there so someone either dropped their coin purse or maybe hid it and forgot about it.

Other relics found while sifting were old marbles, pipe stems, shell casings, and thousands of nails. I believe we filled three five-gallon pails full to the brim with old rusty nails.

Here is the total list of coins found: one 1853o Seated Liberty quarter, four Seated Liberty dimes: 1854o, 1878, 1887, 1889; two Barber quarters, 1893, 1897o; five Barber dimes: 1901 x 2, 1902 x 3; two Shield nickels; 1867 and no date; 11 Liberty "V" nickels: 1886, 1887, 1889, 1892, 1894, 1897 x 2, 1898, 1900, 1902, 1903; and 30 Indian Head pennies: 1867, 1882, 1883, 1887, 1888 x 2, 1889, 1890 x 3, 1891, 1893 x 2, 1895, 1896 x 3, 1899 x 3, 18??, 1900 x 2, 1901, 1903 x 3, 1904 x 3.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The nine days that this hunt took place are some of the most memorable in my life ­­- a true work of passion. Dave, I and all others who contributed to these finds, (Danica Matten, Jacob and John Danelski, & Zach Danelski), are happy to share this little bit of unearthed and saved history of Moose Lake.

Danelski donated a collection of the coins to the Moose Lake Area Historical Society, where they are on display in the museum. Museum hours are Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through Oct. 14.


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