The task at hand seems simple enough: a demolition crew has gathered to tear down an old house. As they slowly chip away at the abode, though, the group notice something strange about the property’s white siding. And, after taking a closer look, the wrecking crew realize that this dwelling hides a historic secret – one that has lain concealed for centuries…
The house in question stood in Prescott, Arkansas – a small city 100 miles outside of the state’s capital, Little Rock. Fewer than 4,000 people lived in Prescott, as of the 2010 census. In the past, though, the city had been a well-known spot on the map of the United States because it sat on the Prairie D’Ane. This is a sprawling stretch of land first colonized by the French.
In fact, Prescott was officially incorporated on October 6, 1874 – making it a city on the state’s register. But these lands have more stories to share than that; just ask the demolition crew sent to an unassuming old house in 2019. After all, the team’s work uncovered a lot more of Prescott – and the nation’s – history.
Before Prescott existed, you see, French colonists claimed the encompassing area, Prairie D’Ane. The name translates to “Donkey Meadow,” and the place was just about as strange as its moniker. In the middle of an otherwise thick forest of pine trees, after all, its prairie lands sprawled for 20 miles.
And the Prairie D’Ane held an important geographical position when pro-slavery Arkansas seceded from the U.S. and joined the Confederate States of America. So, during that time, state leaders had to move their dealings from Union-held Little Rock to Washington, Arkansas, which became their makeshift capital.
If you traveled west from Prairie D’Ane, then, you’d reach Washington. Trekking east led to Camden – a well-protected city that served as headquarters for many Confederate troops. And a journey to the south would end at the Red River, which proved a strategic passageway. Venturing even further in that direction would see people through to Shreveport and Dallas, among other southern strongholds.
Once the Union Army took over Little Rock, then, Prairie D’Ane became an important piece of land for the Confederacy. In fact, as southern soldiers fled their former capital, they began to build defensive works along the trail from there to Washington. It proved impossible for the Confederacy to construct adequate defensive positions across all of the prairie land, though, because it was simply too large.
Nonetheless, the Prairie D’Ane formed part of the territory between the Union and the Confederates’ new capital in Washington. So, if the Union soldiers got through this location, they’d have a clear pathway to their foes’ hub. The forces’ effort to do just that began with the Battle of Prairie D’Ane, which commenced on April 9, 1864.
Just south of Prescott, Union and Confederate soldiers fought for four days over the 20-mile stretch of prairie land. The Union forces eventually won the Battle of Prairie D’Ane and their leader, Frederick Steele, then decided to march his troops toward Camden. That’s because his soldiers needed supplies, of which they found very little in the fortified city to the prairie’s east.
In the end, then, Steele took his troops back to their base at the captured city of Little Rock. But the journey there resulted in one of the bloodiest fights recorded during the Civil War: the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. And after skirmishes lasting two days, the Union forces again emerged victorious, eventually returning to their well-protected Arkansas seat.
Just under a year later, the Confederacy’s General Robert E. Lee would wave the white flag at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. This meant victory went to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant in both the battle and the Civil War. That’s because Confederate generals across the country followed their leader and surrendered, too.
Of course, with the end of the Civil War came a new era in U.S. history called Reconstruction. This is when all slaves went free, and the country quite literally had to rebuild after years of conflict. Slowly but surely, though, the states banded together to build national unity as a single set of United States.
Although not a major landmark in Reconstruction-era developments, Prescott, Arkansas, did receive its official platting in 1873. This meant that the land was mapped or charted with all of its proposed features. In the case of the small city on the Prairie D’Ane, this meant penciling in a train station for the then in-construction Cairo & Fulton Railroad.
The railroad would help Prescott grow into a bustling city. Its original layout featured a grid of 48 blocks split down the middle by the Cairo & Fulton tracks. And local merchants relied on this method of transport to move their products in and out of town, which helped businesses, too.
The Reconstruction era saw Prescott achieving several other important firsts. For instance, the city got its newspaper in 1875, two years after it cut the ribbon on its first post office. In the last year of Reconstruction, 1877, the county seat moved to Prescott, highlighting the metropolis’ importance to the area.
So Prescott became a governmental and legal hub in the wider Nevada County limits. Telephone lines and a water and light plant arrived at the turn of the 20th century. At the same time, timber became a big industry for the city as well as cotton and peaches. All of it traveled out of town via train.
But times change, and as previously mentioned, nowadays fewer than 4,000 people live in Prescott. The city covers 6.5 square miles, which gives the place a population density of about 565 people per square mile. But not every building in town is used anymore, and in 2019 a crew attempted to remove one such home from the landscape.
The home in question sat on Prescott’s Greenlawn Avenue, and it seemed simple enough from the outside. White siding covered its exterior, and the abode had a simple, rectangular shape. Its facade featured four windows and a front door, too. It likely seemed like a basic teardown to the crew in charge.
As the crew started to deconstruct the Greenlawn Street home, however, they noticed something strange. The white siding on the home’s exterior covered the bones of the dwelling. And this structure held a secret long forgotten; indeed, the house contained a huge piece of local history.
Specifically, peeling back the layers of the Prescott home revealed that it had been built around the structure of another, much older dwelling. It was a log cabin, in fact – one that measured only 18 feet by 20 feet. And, experts found, its history may trace back to the start of Prescott itself.
The Nevada County Depot and Museum subsequently looked into the uncovered cabin’s lengthy history. And the researchers found that the structure hadn’t always sat on Greenlawn Street. So, between 1933 and 1955, someone had moved the structure to its final location. Along the way, too, someone had changed the layout of the abode.
The cabin itself measured in at less than 400 square feet – but the white house in which it sat was larger. The museum explained how the building’s footprint had changed over time in an October 2019 Facebook post. Staff wrote, “The cabin had been added onto and the exterior encapsulated with siding.”
Land ownership records revealed even more about the log cabin’s past to the museum’s experts. It seems that the home originally stood on Prescott’s Miller Hill. And documents showed that a man named John Vaughn owned that land between 1850 and 1860. This gave a good clue as to when the cabin was built.
Even more interestingly, the location of Vaughn’s land seemed to be near one of Prescott’s most famous landmarks: the Prairie D’Ane battlefield, where Union soldiers had defeated the Confederates in 1864. This meant that the cabin’s inhabitants may have witnessed a major Civil War battle.
The materials used to build the cabin seem to support this estimation of its age, as resources changed when trains started arriving in the Reconstruction era. The museum’s Facebook post explained, “It is made of hand-hewn timbers and predates the coming of the railroad in the 1870s, which brought sawn lumber.”
The museum also made it clear that the historic cabin would end up in good hands. Staff shared via Facebook that a local donor had handed over enough funds for them to buy the cabin. That way, they could disassemble it, store it and, one day, rebuild it alongside the Prairie D’Ane battlefield, where it once stood.
Moving the cabin hasn’t proved particularly straightforward, though. Soon after the museum made its intentions clear, a debate arose about the cabin’s ownership. So, until the issue was resolved, the organization couldn’t take over the structure, deconstruct it or put it on display for the world to see.
Eventually, though, the museum will have to follow quite a painstaking protocol to take the cabin down. One of the organization’s board members made a call for volunteers on Facebook. He said that they’d need a team because they would have “to tear this down piece by piece, label it, store it, then later reassemble it.”
Until then, the local and online community who saw the news of the log cabin shared their joy over the discovery. Many people highlighted the addition of siding and how the home’s previous owners had inadvertently preserved history by updating the exterior. One Facebook user wrote, “It is in magnificent condition.”.
Others pointed out interesting cabin details that the museum had missed in its initial round-up. For instance, a commenter noted, “If you zoom in, you can see the square nails that [were] used. So much history hidden from the public’s eye.” Most viewers gushed over the discovery of such a special landmark, too.
One person wrote, “Now, this is news I love seeing, the history in our country.” Another lauded the museum’s efforts to protect the cabin, writing, “Thank you for saving this building. It is a wonderful piece of history that will live on.” As it turns out, though, it’s not the only remnant of its kind to have been uncovered in similar circumstances.
One person on Facebook reported that their abode had the same Civil War-era infrastructure. Namely, they said, their home had been built with the same type of timber. The commenter added, “There is straw mixed with mud packed between the logs. The walls of this house are about ten inches thick!”
Similar finds have also made the news, just as the Prescott cabin did. In 2017, for instance, Kevin Kemp and Jennifer Alexander had big plans to rip down their Dublin, Ohio, property so they could build a new one in its place. Before that big project, though, Kemp had begun to pull wood paneling from the walls – and he noticed something.
Kemp’s friend Larry Daniels was there to help with the project. The homeowner shouted to Daniels as he peeled back layers of wood paneling, according to local daily newspaper The Columbus Dispatch. Kemp said, “We pulled off one of the pieces of paneling, and I said, ‘Larry, that’s a log.’ We pulled off another, and I said, ‘My god, this is a log cabin.’”
Finding an age-old dwelling inside of his home was a surreal experience for Kemp, to say the least. He told Fox News, “You’re not ready to see a log cabin inside a modern home, and it looks like, just over time, it was forgotten.” But his demolition work revealed it, and experts went to work uncovering the secret cabin’s history.
Dublin Historical Society’s Tom Holton shared what they found with The Columbus Dispatch. He said the cabin measured in at 30 feet by 25 feet. And it had remained untouched since its construction, which probably took place between 1820 and 1840. The earliest records relating to the cabin list its first known owner as an A. Maties, who lived there in 1856.
In the wake of the discovery, Kemp and Alexander realized their construction project couldn’t go forward as planned. Instead, they reached out to city officials so that they could take and preserve the historical building. The couple didn’t receive any money in exchange for their find, but they were nonetheless hopeful that the move could help defray the costs of their renovation plans.
It’s not just antebellum cabins that have popped back up, either. In Independence, Missouri, someone found a Civil War-era cannonball stuck in a walnut tree that stood outside of the Overfelt-Johnston house. The century-old tree gave up its historic secret when it had to be cut down.
And in 2019 one of the most devastating storms in the history of the Atlantic Ocean churned up more Civil War-era relics. After Hurricane Dorian passed through South Carolina, you see, a pair of wartime cannonballs appeared on the beach. Each one of these pieces of history paints a clearer picture of life more than 100 years ago.
That’s another reason why the Prescott cabin is such a noteworthy find. And the importance wasn’t lost on the museum that wanted to reassemble the abode at its original place on the Prairie D’Ane. The museum’s 2019 Facebook post concluded that the discovery was “a great find of Prescott history.”
Yet this is not the only tale of an amazing discovery concealed inside a building… In an old house in Scotland, something is blocking the chimney. So, reaching inside the flue, a man pulls out what looks like a crumpled ball of rags. He almost throws them away as well, but something stops him at the last minute. Could this apparent piece of trash be someone else’s treasure?
Here’s how the story unraveled. The man was renovating a house in Aberdeen, a city in the north east of Scotland, when he made the startling discovery. Yes, while working on the old chimney, he encountered what appeared to be a ball of old fabric.
Judging by the shape of the object, it seemed as if a previous owner had stuffed it up the chimney – possibly to stop a cold wind from blowing through into the house below. Now, however, it was difficult to tell what the item’s original purpose may have been.
Unable to identify it, the man who discovered the object considered tossing it into the trash. Happily, though, he had a change of heart and instead decided that his local museum might be interested.
Eventually, the object found its way to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Rolled up in a polythene bag, it certainly didn’t look like much when it arrived. However, researchers soon realized that they had uncovered an incredible find.
In fact, conservationists at the library quickly determined that this unassuming bundle of rags was actually a map – one dating as far back as the late 17th century. What’s more, they believed that it would once have been a great status symbol for its owner.
Back in the 17th century, maps were seen as enviable possessions and a sign of great wealth. And the object here was no different. Measuring 7 feet long by 5 feet wide, the “Chimney Map,” as it became known, would once have been given pride of place in its owner’s home.
Apparently, it was produced in London, England, by a mapmaker named George Wildey. However, Wildey was known for copying maps initially drafted by others, and the origins of the Chimney Map are actually thought to have lain in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Experts in fact believe that the map was based on one drawn up by Schenk and Valk, who were popular Dutch mapmakers in the 17th century. Formed from eight separate sheets of paper and designed to be hung on a wall, it would have required a great deal of space to be properly displayed.
In order to make the map his own, moreover, Wildey added illustrations of famous people and places around the edges. And, incredibly, experts at the library were able to painstakingly restore these details and provide a fascinating insight into life more than 300 years ago.
Because of the presence of William III of England and his wife, Mary, in a prominent position on the map, researchers were able to date it to around 1690. In fact, they initially speculated that the king’s Protestant religious beliefs might have caused the map to be hidden away.
It’s more likely, however, that the map’s value simply faded over time. Although it was once a symbol of wealth and power, its significance would have decreased as the world around it changed.
Nonetheless, how the map ended up in Aberdeen remains a mystery – although staff at the National Library of Scotland must be glad that it did. And after a lengthy and difficult restoration process, they were able to restore the map to its former glory.
According to conservator Claire Thomson, the restoration was the hardest job she had ever faced. “Much of the paper had been lost,” she told Discover, the National Library of Scotland’s magazine, in 2016. “And the remainder was hard and brittle in places and soft and thin in others.”
Regrettably, the canvas base that had been attached to the map had deteriorated badly. Because the fabric and the paper reacted differently to their environment over time, the map had ended up cracked and distorted.
Still, eventually Thomson and her team managed to unroll the map and split it into smaller sections in order for the conservation work to begin. First, they attached the pieces to a temporary backing and used a humidifier to gradually reintroduce moisture to the fibers of the paper.
As the paper became less dry, Thomson was then able to gently prize open the map’s remaining creases and folds. Next, the team carefully lined up all the pieces in their correct order. So, at last, the full picture was beginning to come together.
The final stage of the process involved suspending each section of the map in water at a temperature of 104 °F for 40 minutes. Amazingly, too, this didn’t destroy the fragile documents. Instead, it allowed dirt to be removed from the paper while keeping the intricate designs intact.
The restoration was a resounding success. What had previously looked fit for the bin was revealed to be a beautiful and detailed work of art – featuring everything from scenes of exploration and great sea battles, to far-off regions such as South America.
Today, the map takes pride of place once more – just as it would have done three centuries earlier. This time, though, it is on display in the Maps Reading Room of the National Library of Scotland, making it the pride of one of the largest cartographic collections in the world.
As this discovery proves, sometimes it’s the most unremarkable-looking objects that have the most fascinating stories to tell. Take, for instance, this other seemingly mundane find, which also took place in Scotland. The object in question looked like nothing more than a crumpled paper parcel when museum staff discovered it. However, it turned out to be something far more rare and valuable.
Dr. Margaret Maitland was sorting through some of the extensive collection of objects in storage at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh’s Old Town when she came across an unremarkable-looking parcel wrapped in brown paper. And although it didn’t seem very promising and was unlabeled, she decided to unwrap it anyway.
When the curator did, she discovered a bundle of old fabric. Also inside the parcel was an envelope dating from World War II, and inside the envelope was a note written in the 1940s by a previous curator. Moreover, it was when Dr. Maitland read the note that her interest was really piqued.
The note stated that the contents of the unprepossessing parcel dated from ancient Egyptian times, while what was in the package had in fact come from a burial tomb. Now Dr. Maitland realized that she may be on to something really interesting – something that had languished in storage since the 1940s.
Conservators at the museum assessed the fabric and realized that its age and fragility meant it would need careful treatment to ensure it wasn’t damaged while being unfolded. The first stage of this process involved humidifying the material, which would subsequently make the cloth less brittle and easier to handle.
Next came the painstaking task of unfolding the fabric, and this operation alone took some 24 hours to complete. It was also during the unfolding process that the museum staff became really excited. Dr. Maitland later told the National Museums Scotland website that they could see “tantalizing glimpses of colorful painted details.”
Once the fabric was completely unfolded, the conservators realized that they’d stumbled across an object of great rarity and historical value. “None of us could have imagined the remarkable figure that would greet us when we were finally able to unroll it,” Dr. Maitland admitted.
Describing the extraordinary discovery, Dr. Maitland said, “The shroud is a very rare object in superb condition and is executed in a highly unusual artistic style, suggestive of Roman-period Egyptian art, yet still very distinctive.”
Indeed, remarkably intact, the shroud is one of very few such artifacts from the Roman period, which started around 30 B.C. Consisting of linen that has been painted, the shroud depicts the Egyptian deity Osiris. Appropriately enough, Osiris was the god of the underworld and the afterlife.
Now that Dr. Maitland and her colleagues knew what they had, they could start examining the shroud in more detail. In fact, by deciphering hieroglyphics on the shroud, they were able to identify the person who’d been wrapped in it. The man, named Aaemka, was the son of two important officials from the Roman era in Egypt: Montsuef and his wife Tanuat.
Meanwhile, principal conservator Lynn McClean recalled that in the course of examining the shroud, the team had come across brown paper stuck to the back of it. This was, furthermore, moistened so that it could be carefully removed. “What we found under the head were layers of the original mummy wrapping that had obviously come away when the shroud was taken off the body,” McClean said.
What’s more, in a stroke of serendipity, the museum’s collection already contained artifacts from the tomb of the couple, Montsuef and Tanuat, including a gold mask of the former. “It is extraordinarily rare that we have such an incredible group of objects belonging to a whole ancient Egyptian family in our collections,” Dr. Maitland pointed out.
The museum’s researchers were now able to date the shroud because of their detailed knowledge about Aaemka’s parents. It is known that Montsuef and Tanuat had died in 9 B.C., so this shroud must have been created sometime early in the 1st century A.D.
Meanwhile, as well as Montsuef’s golden mask, the museum possesses a golden wreath that would have been worn upon his head and which was buried with him 2,000 years ago. Dr. Maitland explained that this wreath represented a symbolic defeat of death.
As for what fate had in store back in Egypt, the tomb of Montsuef, Tanuat and their son Aaemka remained sealed and undisturbed until 1857, when it was excavated. Other magnificent artifacts that came from this crypt include funerary papyrus documents. And these provide detailed accounts of the mummification process and funeral rituals as well as histories of the lives of Montsuef and Tanuat. The latter apparently passed away just 48 days after the death of her husband.
Now although the burial of Montsuef, Tanuat and Aaemka has been authoritatively dated to the early part of the 1st century A.D., their tomb was in fact much older than that. Located near the ancient city of Thebes, which we know today as Luxor, the crypt was actually constructed more than one thousand years earlier.
Yes, the tomb was built not long after the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen. It was a time when the Egyptian empire was at its peak of power and wealth. And high officials seemingly competed with one another for the honor of having the most lavish and richly decorated crypts.
The other motivation for creating these opulent tombs stuffed with precious jewelry and elaborate furniture was the belief that worldly wealth could be transported to the afterlife. At the time, bodies were mummified, with their innards extracted and preserved separately in special jars.
Interestingly, when it was first constructed, this tomb was actually the final resting place of the chief of police and his wife. He was an important official of the day. In fact, one of the artifacts found there is a magnificent statue of the couple. This statue would have served as a “home” for the spirits of the dead. Moreover, the chief of police, or Medjay, had the job of protecting the tombs near ancient Thebes.
Describing the rituals that took place at the tomb, Dr. Maitland said, “[People] would go and present offerings to a statue of their deceased relatives, so that they would have the food and drink they needed to be able to live forever.”
In the centuries between 1290 B.C., when the tomb was built, and the 1st century A.D., when it was sealed after the deaths of Montsuef and his family, the tomb would have been reused many times. However, it subsequently remained untouched for almost two millennia, until Victorian archeologists excavated it. The beautifully preserved shroud later sat on a museum shelf for 80 years. And history lovers the world over will be glad that it’s finally been rediscovered.