Finding a Place to Detect Where None Exists

Finding a Place to Detect Where None Exists

It happens often.  You locate an incredible old school, church, farm-house or other highly promising site on an old map.  Then you pull the site up on Google Maps satellite view or drive out to check it out, and your hopes sink as you see the land has been developed.   A shopping center, a factory, or a neighborhood sits on the site your were hoping to hunt.

You’ve seen these new developments in process.  Heavy equipment is involved.   Dirt is brought in.  Dirt is moved around.  Dirt is hauled out. The site is graded for drainage.  Underground utilities are placed.   Even the areas that are not paved over or hold structures are pretty much rendered useless for the purposes of detecting.  

mall before after

A mall built in the late 1960s, before and after development. (Beaverton Historical Society)

I’ve had a lot of luck lately “reading between” the lines and pulling some great finds out of my…..subdivision.   My neighborhood is less than 20 years old.  It’s one of those heavily developed new cookie cutter subdivisions that you could film a sequel to The Truman Show in.

In order to find possible places to hunt, I recommend the following exercise:  Find an area near you that was once probably a promising place to detect, but is now developed over.  Maybe it is the relatively new subdivision that you live in.  Maybe it is the area up the road where all of the restaurants, oil change stations, and a Wal-Mart are now situated.

You can clearly see what has changed over the years.   So ask yourself the question “What hasn’t changed in the last 100 years or so?  Here are some answers to that question that have yielded some good detecting finds for me:

Property Lines
Often the property or section lines are left undisturbed during commercial or residential construction.   You can see one running diagonally across our entire neighborhood.   It is a continuous line of big trees that are much older than our neighborhood.    They line the rear of the backyards on certain streets and are only interrupted where the roads break through them.    It was as if they designed the neighborhood around the property line.  Often the land will be visibly higher on the property lines that were left alone by the heavy equipment during development.

Consult land survey maps to see how the land was surveyed and divided up in the area you are interested in, and take a look to see where the current property lines are still respected.  Detect there.

Old Trees
Sometimes, probably for aesthetic purposes, developers will actually build around an impressive older tree or two.   Maybe an architect featured it in the mockup of the site.  Maybe someone realized it was a shame to cut them down.  About a mile from my house we have an auto parts store, a burger place and a pizza joint.   Right in the middle of the parking lot, a giant magnolia tree still stands.  They just built a little stone wall around it and let it stay.   I found 3 wheats and 2 silver dimes in the little 10×10 foot area around that tree.  Detect there.

Back of Lots
Often a development such as a store or shopping center did not require all of the land purchased for use.    Since generally businesses face the road, often the excess land will sit unused behind the building/s at the back of the property.  Sometimes a pretty significant area was mostly left alone by the developers.  Usually it is kept mowed and clean looking.  Detect there.

Developers, as you may well know are subject to volumes of regulations set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency.   Generally, they can’t just fill in old creeks because they would apparently upset the “delicate ecosystem”.   Usually the developers go to great lengths to tiptoe around the creeks.   Usually not only will they leave the creeks alone with the bulldozers, but they will leave a nice buffer area around them.  Detect there.

I found this big ole’ silver ring along the creek running through the relatively new subdivision I live in.

In my town, the railroad running though it sits exactly where it sat during the Civil War.  It is illegal to detect on it, but I have received permission to hunt lots of property backing right up against it, resulting in a big pile of Civil War finds.  Usually the railroad owns a big buffer around the rails that has pretty much been left alone since forever.    Seek permission to hunt along railroads and adjacent lots .   Just be careful.  After all trains travel down those rails, right?

Topographical Obstacles
Central Tennessee is very rocky.    Often in the middle of a commercial development you will see very small rocky hills and such that seem to just break out of the surrounding land.   That rock is expensive to remove, and the small hills are too small to build over.  So they are often left alone.  Other examples are low, swampy areas and odd sections of lots such as points where a creek an a road meet at an acute angle.   Sometimes it is easily apparent that developers didn’t fool with these areas.  Detect there.

Old Homes in New Subdivisions
Often an old family in the area that had a plantation or large farm has sold their land for development into a subdivision.  A big hint is when the subdivision name tells you straight up, like:  “Worthington Farms”.  Often, you wouldn’t know it, but the original family estate home was left alone and still sits somewhere right in the middle of the neighborhood.     That is the case in my subdivision.  I’ve lived here six years, but didn’t find out until a few weeks ago.  Detect there.

Other Possibilities
Some other places I have found to hunt in the heavily developed areas around me are lots that are tied up in estate, along old pre-1900 stone walls lining the older roads that were left alone, and the areas around (not in) small old family cemetery plots that are sitting right in the middle of a parking lot or other development.

Final Thoughts
With creative thinking, you can take any given area that has been heavily developed and realize that it probably has not been 100% developed.  It has only been mostly developed – 95% or so.   Find the other 5%.  Detect there.

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Photo Credits
Mall Development:  Flickr  Some rights reserved by Beaverton Historical Society
Silver Ring: Detecting365.  Use as you wish but please credit and link back to
Rabbit out of Hat: iStockPhoto

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