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Metal detector enthusiasts hunt for artifacts at schoolhouse

The air was filled with beeping, digging, scraping and laughter Saturday when the Old North State Detectorists, a group of metal detector enthusiasts, searched for artifacts buried on the grounds of an historic schoolhouse Elon plans to restore after a local family gifted it to the university last year.

The Greensboro-based nonprofit club filled a cardboard box by mid-morning with dozens of objects, including a 19th century axe head, several glass bottles, a harmonica reed and clock pieces.

“Whenever something like this comes up we come out to help people and look for items to put on display or search for lost items,” said Jeff Brown, secretary of the six-month old organization.

Elon hopes to eventually refurbish the schoolhouse and open it to the public.

The Old North State Detectorists visited a historic schoolhouse near Rhodes Stadium on April 10 to help search for artifacts.

Originally known as the Travis Creek School, and renamed the Cable School in the late 19th century, records indicate the schoolhouse was built in the early 1850s, about a decade after the state legislature first authorized local communities to levy a tax for supporting public education and receive matching state funds. Such facilities were known as “common schools.”

Kaye Cable Murray, whose family, which has been in Alamance County for nearly two centuries and previously owned the land parcel where the two-room school now sits, made the gift to the university.

The detectorists had approached Carole Troxler, a professor emerita of history with knowledge about the schoolhouse located just to the north of Rhodes Stadium. Members offered to visit the site for recovering artifacts to display in a renovated building.

“This is my first time I’ve ever done (metal detecting) with the group,” said club member Jeremy Brown. “I’ve been doing metal detecting for six years. I like the community service part of it. I used to not be that keen on history, but now I take it all in. This is a treat.”

The group typically offers their services to individuals searching for lost items and possessions and return found objects to owners free of charge. But searching for old items with history and age is one of the more exciting aspects of the job.

“We’ve been in business for five months and already we’ve returned two rings to their owners,” said William Purkey, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and president of the organization. “Elon was very, very, very nice. Just as cordial as can be and so gracious to us.”

One of the oldest and most interesting pieces found Saturday was the 19th century axe head. Jeff Brown was able to identify the date due to the craftsmanship. During the nineteenth century, axe heads were created as two separated pieces and merged together when both were red-hot.

“We never know what we’re going to find,” said Purkey. “We always find all sorts of things – and every piece has a story. You pick up a piece and it talks to you.”

- Story and photos by Sarah Costello '11

Eric Townsend,
4/13/2010 2:26 PM