Dumpster Diving In Appalachia

Appalachia mountains

Throughout the passage of time-man has created trash in one form or another. Before the days of dumpsters, landfills, and recycling centers people accumulated trash and were faced with disposing of it. Many items were burned, many more were dumped in an area that became the family dump.

Searching through old dumps is one of our favorite pastimes. The girls and I feel like true treasure hunters-never knowing what we’ll uncover.

broken jar

Much of the items are broken or rusted beyond recognition, but every once in a while you find a true gem. Recently we found:

saucer with pink flower
a lovely saucer with a pale pink rose in the center,

found figurine
A tiny figurine-looks kinda like a little girl or an elf,

found treasures

and my favorite- a huge 2 quart Ball canning jar. The jar only had one small chip. I just love thinking about what it held-and who used it.

treasure hunting for marbles

The items above are from a dump we discovered back in the summer. I thought it was neat-there were 3 of us and we found 3 marbles that day.

Snuff jars

The acreage surrounding my house contains a few dumps-I know some of them are from past generations of my family.

A few years ago, we were digging at one of the dumps from my Great Grandmother’s days. I found 6 snuff glasses (in the picture above) all sitting side by side-none were broken-each still had it’s metal lid attached. I assume someone set them down in a box or paper bag and over the years the container rotted away leaving the jars sitting neatly side by side-just waiting for me to find.

We use the glasses to drink from. I can’t keep my mind from wondering: Did Big Grandma ever think anyone would find them? What would she say if she knew her great great grandchildren were drinking from her snuff glasses? Is it crazy that I feel her presence lingering in the glasses-crazy that I feel a closer connection to a woman I can barely remember?

For someone like me-who is fascinated by the past-dumpster diving is big fun. Have you ever been dumpster diving?


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  • Reply
    August 16, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    when I was little my mom and dad would go pick moss to sell and we would find old homesteads.(in wv) it was a thrill to find old marbles or ceramic canning lids. your blog made me smile

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    December 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I would love to go dumpster diving with you. I have went into recycling dumpsters before. Once I jumped into a newspaper bin that was filled with old children’s books from the 30s-50s. I thought I was in Heaven. I just couldn’t imagine why anyone would throw those treasured books away.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 22, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I love the old treasures too. Wonder if you could make a collage in a shadow box from some of them.
    The short bottle with the black lid looks like a cologne my sister used to buy.
    I think the old pieces of dishes are fascinating and pretty. They have such delicate and fragile looking designs on them.
    My great grandmother dipped snuff. There were always snuff drinking glasses in my grandmothers cabinets.
    Like you, I like to wonder/imagine who might have used these treasures before I found them.
    Thanks for a great post!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    November 22, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    I have many things I have collected from trash dumps, those places where people threw their trash before there was commercial pick-up in rural areas. Aside from the spots on one’s own property where residents threw their trash, there were the “roadside” dumps, usually over a steep bank along a secluded country road.
    You may know that there are people who “specialize” in digging into old outside toilet holes (all residue has long since turned to clean dirt, well leached by time).
    Since whiskey drinking has long been a source of disagreement between husband and wife, whiskey bottles quite often ended up in the toilet hole … after the contents had been secretly drunk.
    Many very old bottles, medicine bottles, snuff bottles, beer bottles, very old jars, etc. are found in ancient toilet holes, if one is skilled enough to find the pit site.
    I stick to the remains of homestead trash piles and the remains of old roadside dumps.
    I have some real treasures … well, to me they are treasures.

  • Reply
    November 22, 2008 at 1:05 am

    oh, I love this post! We have gone dump-digging a few times with my Dad near his old homestead ranch. There used to be an old lumber mill on the hill behind his property and they would dump stuff in the river bed there. We have found ball canning jars (old ones!) , tin plates, cast iron pot, brown glass purex bottles… and other stuff. My kids and I love to dig for treasure! I’m glad we’re not the only ones.
    Love your blog by the way!

  • Reply
    November 21, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    My parents love dumpster diving and never passed up the opportunity. I don’t have any available near me. 🙁 blessings, marlene

  • Reply
    trisha too
    November 21, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    we’ve discovered several spots on our land to “dumpster dive,” much to my dear husband’s dismay . . .

  • Reply
    November 21, 2008 at 9:07 am

    My great grandmother used snuff…it came in these little silver tins.
    I remember she used to try to kiss me with it in her mouth and it was so gross.
    She would were these long dress and bonnets and she pushed mowed her yard up in her 90’s.
    She was a strong woman. I miss her.

  • Reply
    The Texican
    November 21, 2008 at 8:48 am

    If she was like my Great grandmother, she probably wanted a dip. Many proper ladies kept a little pinch between their teeth and gums. My GGM carried her little jar of snuff in a little lace hankie along with a hand carved wooden toothpick. Pappy

  • Reply
    November 21, 2008 at 5:44 am

    hi i am new here via patty and just love your blog! i have not yet read it all but the most recent post told me i would love it here!
    i have some great finds that were dug out of a ditch where i used to live in dorset… coffee bottles, medicine bottles old marmite jars with the sizes on the side. now i have moved away i need to find a new place to dig and explore!

  • Reply
    Mark Salinas
    November 21, 2008 at 5:09 am

    You have that special skill to pull it all together! Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Helen G.
    November 20, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Just two weeks ago I picked up a futon frame that was set out for garbage. I’m going to use it to make a cold frame for the garden. I do like to check out other people’s trash, but I’m going to have to start looking for old country dumping grounds.
    What fun.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    The elf makes me think of the elf on the shelf or the little fellow that has always been on my tree! This was a wonderful, evocative post. I love the treasures.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    The elf makes me think of the elf on the shelf or the little fellow that has always been on my tree!

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Oh I love to find old dump sites too! Old barns, sheds,etc I love old doors windows hinges, anything with rust and a unknown story! What great finds you found.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    No, I don’t believe I have ever gone dumpster diving. We use to look into old abandon houses and found neat things. I love your findings. Very special. 🙂

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    As kids we did this all the time. My parents property and the property above our had many old dump sites. But the kind of the dump diggers was my brother who has a huge collections of old bottles and jars.

  • Reply
    Patty Hall
    November 20, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I love finding treasures like these. When we moved here, my son found an old Esso fireking cup-that has the tiger on it and we’ve found marbles also.
    My children called their great grandmother Big Grandma.

  • Reply
    noble pig
    November 20, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Wow, so neat. It’s amazing those glasses were unbroken, what a find.

  • Reply
    Amy @ parkcitygirl
    November 20, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Those are some real treasures! I’ve never really gone diving, closest would have to be garage saleing with my dad – always looking out for the very best something, for next to nothing 🙂

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    November 20, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Oh yeah! My most memorable find was an inkwell found at the site of the Farmington Mine Disaster. I don’t know how it came to be there, but every time I look at it I remember those 70 lost miners.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Hi I am new to your blog but wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying it. I love all the treasures you found. I can remember my grandmother using the old snuff glasses to do just that..Spit snuff. It was a nasty habit, but amazingly one of the best memories I have of my grandmother. I also have some of those old medicine bottles. A friend gave them to me when I was living in TN. He had dug them up in his barn.
    So many of our old things are lost now days. It is always fun to find them.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 10:26 am

    We used to have an old caved in house in the woods behind our place. My brother and I used to find some amazing stuff in the ruins (it was beyond caved in…only a foundation left)! Excellent find on your part!

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 9:45 am

    As kids we used to do exactly this at my grandma’s house in rural Pennsylvania. When I was about 12 I would spend hours and hours combing through the dirt in search of treasures. I wonder if that is what sparked my love of thrift store shopping.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 9:43 am

    I’ve not been lucky enough to find old dump sites to dig through (but now I’ll be on the lookout)… but I will admit to having explored old outhouse sites. I know it sounds awful, but former outhouse sites are a veritable treasure trove for people who collect bottles. My dad is a bottle collector and has found some really rare and valuable ones… at old outhouse sites!

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    November 20, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Tipper: I think the closest I can come to this is when I used to go to the dump at the Shenango Pottery and collect pottery and such. It was always a joy to find a good piece that was perfect in our eyes.

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    November 20, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Dumpster diving is awesome. Hubby and I are always looking around for a great deal! LOL (he found the weed eater we use laying in a ditch near the landfill- does that count as dd?)

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 9:00 am

    I am a digger! I love to rummage through abandoned houses. Piles of Roadsideia( Road Side E Uh – curb piles ) get checked out to see if there is anything worth grabbing. I have an older shed that I hang stuff on. If I don’t know what to do with it or what it is, I hang it on the shed. Then I study on it. A lot of times somebody I know knows what it is. One Man’s Trash……

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    November 20, 2008 at 7:12 am

    How fun! I love the treasures you’ve gathered and the full set of glasses are amazing.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    November 20, 2008 at 7:01 am

    As a former Appalachian girl myself, you know I’ve been a dumpster diver for quite some time. I’ve found many interesting things in the old abandoned buildings that I’ve had access to, as well as things left behind on the curb by others in the city.
    I also go to the GoodWill as often as I can. Many treasures to be found there. I’ve bought some really interesting baskets and dishes there too. Mostly things you don’t see anymore.
    I love your glasses from Big Grandma. I wonder if she put them down while she was moving there and then wondered, “Now where on earth did I put that box of glasses?” So sweet. xxoo

  • Reply
    Dawn Dee
    November 19, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    That is sooo cool! I never thought about what our ancestors did with their trash…I guess another man’s trash is truly someone else’s treasures!

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    No, but I’ve picked up perfectly good items left out on the curb before!
    You should use the Elf for Elf on the Shelf games; perfect at Christmas.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Oh, you know I have! Every chance I get. Ya never know what someone pitched that can be recycled. I, like you, collect old bottles.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    November 19, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    This was a fun piece, Tipper! I’ve never myself since I was raised in the city; you can imagine the state of a city’s dumpster. Ugh! And I think it’s still illegal, although more and more people are dumpster diving. Many interior decorators use things they’ve found while dumpster diving. A huge recyling trend now! Fascinating!

  • Reply
    Valarie Lea
    November 19, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    That is so cool!!!! I wonder if we have any of those out in our woods. We have an old family cemetary on the land. Actually its in my SIL front yard. So I know a family lived here.

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    November 19, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Being a big city girl, I don’t access to old dump sites like that. That hasn’t stopped me fro being a scavenger extraordinaire. I come from a long line of scavengers. It is an unwritten rule that whatever you set out on the curb, you don’t want anymore. I can’t tell you how many things we have acquired that way.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Now, that’s my kind of archeological dig! 😀
    The snuff glasses remind me of my Nanny’s house. Anytime we got a glass down from her cabinet for a drink, it was a snuff glass. My Nanny never dipped it herself, but I’m assuming my grandpa or some other relative had. I need to ask my mom about that. Your posts are always reminding me of things I need to ask my mom! 😉

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    To find something of your great-grandmother’s this way is truly amazing!
    During my brief time on my father’s farm in North Carolina we had a dump spot. The farm is now a small housing tract. I wonder if the dump was cleaned up or just buried?
    The family that owned my current home before me dumped all their trash out in the woods. I haul some to the county dump each spring. So far I haven’t found anything worth keeping.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    That’s some neat dumpster diving. When we lived in the country everyone burned their trash and what couldn’t be burned was usually dumped somewhere. I’ve never went diving in those kind of dumps, but I did dive into a recycling dumpster once. (Hope no one I know reads this) We were at a roadside sale and a man had old books he was selling for 50 cents each. He said “if you like old books there’s lots of them over there in that newspaper recycle bin. Well, I was the littlest, so my husband lifted me down in the dumpster and I handed out book after book. I kept the ones I wanted and gave the other ones to the man who told us about the treasures. And it was a treasure, the books were mostly old children’s books and they were in good shape. I felt like I was at the end of a rainbow, I couldn’t believe someone was throwing them away.

  • Reply
    Matthew Burns
    November 19, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I always loved dump searching. I remember one time when we lived on the farm, a bottle collector came and dug out old glass bottles and paid us $50 for them. He got a whole truckload. We thought he was touched in the head for wanting old bottle, now I know he laughed all the way to the bank!
    My best find was a slightly used santa in his sliegh, 9 reindeer and two candles. The kind that are hard plastic and that light up. I mounted them on a board and had them our house roof for years, and after that my Aunt Pat took them and she still has them.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Oh Tipper, I’ll grab my hoe and a sack lunch and be right over. I was raised by a dumpster diving mama. LOL. She and her dear friend used to go all the time, I still have a few of the treasures they found. The best one was the dump used by the family of our town Dr. When he passed, they just threw all his doctoring things away. What a haul! BTW, he was the Dr. who delivered my dad. I have his exam/instrument cabinet. What a fun walk thru my memory lane today, thank you. Terry

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    November 19, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    I love your blog. Your photos are great and what a joy to read your wonderful essays.
    Brenda Kay Ledford

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    I’ve got harp back chairs at my table I got out of the dumpster and refinshed. The fabric on the seat has a chipmunk on each one, and I refer to them as my “chip & dale” chairs!!!

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I’m del-lurking to let you know that I enjoy your blog very much.
    I’m from Western Ky and I do remember many sites out in the woods where people “dumped” their stuff…I’ve never thought to “dive” though ;D
    You all always seem to have the best times!
    Have a great day!☺

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