The metal detector started emitting a healthy series of alerts, and it was music to Al Farris’ ears as he slowly swept the Minelab Equinox 800 back and forth over the leaf and stick clutter in woods on Libby Hill in East Windham. According to long-time residents of the neighborhood, the area was once home to generations of farmers, and Farris was hopeful about locating some interesting ancient treasures.
|A shoe template is shown, before and after.
Artifacts uncovered at a cellar hole in East
Windham indicate Gideon Libby may have
been a cordwainer, a maker of shoes.
PHOTO BY AL FARRIS
Farris grew up in Windham. Upon viewing many hours of the reality show “The Curse of Oak Island,” he was inspired to uncover simple treasures close to home. Local residents told him about ancient cellar holes on a hill off Falmouth Road near Little Duck Pond. Over the course of nearly three years, Farris was rewarded with an array of fascinating artifacts that he hopes will be identified and authenticated by experts. Most of his own research has been accomplished using on-line sources.
Early on, Farris sought research guidance from the Windham Historical Society. Old maps confirmed the cellar holes were the site of a family named Libby, and genealogical records revealed the time period, occupations and even military service of at least three generations of the Libby family.
John Libby emigrated from England to America on the ship Hercules during the winter of 1636-1637, eventually settling in Scarborough. His direct descendant, Arthur Libby, born in 1760, married Mary Allen of Falmouth and purchased hillside farmland in Windham. He built a house in 1802; records show the structure, now gone, was still standing as late as 1915. Two of his 10 children, Gideon and Isaac, also settled on the hill.
Farris particularly enjoys finding what he calls “important storytelling artifacts.” He has recovered several shoe templates for making colonial footwear, ranging from child to adult sizes, “and even one for someone with a foot condition. I’ve…restored a few of the templates to bare metal to bring them back to life after a couple hundred years.” Farris speculates Gideon was a cordwainer – someone who makes shoes – as opposed to a cobbler, who repairs them.
“The things I find each tell a small portion of their lives: Oxen shoes, suspender clips and buckles, bathtub claw feet, a World War I general infantry button, a harmonica reed, an 1817 “large cent,” and an 1863 Civil War Union Army token. But the most intriguing item appears to be “a Native American medallion with a wigwam hand punched into it, which suggests that the Libbys lived alongside natives and traded with them,” Farris said. He hopes to one day meet with an archeologist to help him date and verify his finds.
Al Farris is committed, or perhaps obsessed, with uncovering all that can be known about the 200-year old history of Libby Hill, and it is perhaps just a bit ironic that a television show with “curse” in the title provided the inspiration. But as he put it, “All of their (the Libbys) history would be completely forgotten if I hadn’t stepped in to save it all, and I’m absolutely not giving up until there’s nothing left to know…once the snow melts.” <