by William Minnick
Many people, especially those who have grown up on farms, understand the concept of the dump pile.
During the time of the Betten and Van Oosterhout residences in the Century Home, the dump pile was a common method to dispose of any household trash. Anything from bottles, pails, plates and even light bulbs would be thrown into the trash pile and frequently burned down, or covered with ash to keep the oder down.
Lucky for us history nerds, this is a treasure trove of artifacts and can help us piece together what life might have been like for people a century or more ago.
At the Century Home we believe that the trash pit before its time as a garden space on the property was once the foundation of an outhouse. Once indoor plumbing was completed in the home during the Van Oosterhout occupancies, these facilities were no longer used and the pit was covered over.
Several summers ago, while digging up the area, shards of porcelain, terracotta pots, canning jars and bottles started to emerge from the ashy soil. As we started to dig through the layers of dirt more and more artifacts were unveiled. The artifacts that we could date came from the early 1900s, so the time that Antonie Betten, an early mayor of Orange City, and his wife Cornelia lived in the home.
This was a huge historical find for the Dutch Heritage Boosters. Within the home, there are only two items that are originally from the Bettens. This is a silver tea service located in the dining room and an ink well in the study. Even though the artifacts found would have been trash of the family, they are still an important find to help us better understand what the Betten’s everyday life was like and what they consumed.
One item that was found was a Mazda General Electric incandescent light bulb. What remained of this item was a filament and glass shards. This dates from 1909 to 1945. Early light bulbs would have been used in the home starting from its construction in 1900. Electric light was a luxury and a sign of wealth to have a fully electrically lit home at this time.
One discovery was a fascinating discovery. It tells the story of Cornelia Betten, a proper, wealthy and educated woman who participated in beauty crazes that swept the US. A small cylindrical white milk glass jar with a metal lid was discovered. This contained Dr. Felix Gouraud’s Oriental Cream, a cosmetic face cream advertised to do wonders. A 1907 newspaper ad for the product reads, “A Skin of Beauty is a Joy Forever.” It’s benefits are, it “Purifies as well as beautifies the skin. No other cosmetic will do it. Removes tan, pimples, freckles, moth patches, rash and skin diseases, and every blemish on beauty, and defies detection.” This miraculous cream was manufactured in the late 1800s and was sold until 1936 when it was forced off the market because it contained mercury. It’s easy to say that there was no magic about this cream, just a face full of toxins and the possibility of mercury poisoning in the brain.
Before the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, there was very little regulation of medical agents being used to treat and cure people of ailments. We found evidence that the Bettens used at least two patent medicines to give household members a pick-me-up when feeling under the weather.
We found a small patent medicine bottle of Hood’s Sarsaparilla while exploring. This drink contained dandelion, gentian, juniper berries, and 18 percent alcohol, enough to really get you going. It was manufactured from 1875 to 1922.
We also found a Schuster’s Malt Extract bottle. This German-owned Rochester, Minnesota product was made from 1897 to 1922. The malt, or medicinal beer, contained 4 percent alcohol and was highly regarded in the Rochester medical community for giving strength to new mothers. The manufacturer eventually closed its doors due to prohibition and the anti-German sentiment during and after World War I.
These artifacts tell the story of the first family of the Century Home. A family whose daily life we don’t know a lot about. They tell of a time when medicine and beauty products were unregulated, when environmental sustainability was unheard of, and polluting was common. Though they might have once been trash, easily thrown in the backyard, they are treasures and representations of when the house was once the Betten home.