Bucks County Herald

Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

For the love of discovery



Bill Beers digs up a plug of soil after his metal detector tells him something metallic lies below the surface.

They dig for history, armed with metal detectors, spades, knee pads, amazing enthusiasm and a driving passion to uncover the secrets of the past.

Unlike scholars and other history buffs who pore though ancient records, two Upper Bucks men get down and dirty to retrieve odd bits of history’s debris. In their search, they have found Civil War and Revolutionary War buttons and badges, spoons, cuff links, keys, all kinds of coins – Spanish, Indian, a large American penny from 1843, coins from the days states minted their own – as well as larger items such as a military breastplate and ancient tools. They can detect objects buried as deep as 10 inches or a foot.

The historic treasure hunters are Jim Bongiovanni of Springtown and Bill Beers of Hilltown Township, partners in Pennsylvania Historical Recovery Services. Their goal is not to make money but to preserve history and educate people.

When not occupied at their day jobs, the pair take their equipment to historic sites and old homes and churches. They use top of the line metal detectors, which are very sensitive and operate the way sonar does. When the detectors signal something hidden underground they dig up a plug of soil to uncover whatever it is. After they retrieve the treasure, they replace the plug and leave the grass looking as though it’s never been disturbed. “We don’t ever leave a mark,” Bill said as he replaced the soil and smoothed over the grass.

I also have a special interest in history and I sat spellbound as the two men presented a program for the Durham Historical Society. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I immediately invited them to dig on our land.

They arrived the following foggy Saturday morning. Our house is near the top of one of the craggy Durham hills. It’s only 44 years old. The land was vacant when we bought it but years ago we found five-old fashioned milk bottles buried near a tree.

When we showed them to Jim, he told us they were from the 1920s or 1930s. Ever the romantic, I had hoped for older.

So Jim and Bill went to work. methodically and carefully. as we cheered them on. They started detecting near a ravine that runs through our property. It apparently was carved by a stream at one time. “Waterways are a good source of relics,” Jim said. As they worked, they were trailed by Al Kalbach, producer and director of daymarksproductions.com. He is filming the operation for a television pilot. The Discovery and History channels and PBS have indicated an interest in their story.

The best part of Pennsylvania Historical Recovery Services is that there is no charge for digging and the homeowner gets to keep whatever is found. That’s also the hardest concept to get across to people. People just cannot believe the service is free.

“We have no interest in making money from this,” said Jim. The two men have been detecting together or “hunting,” as they call it for about a decade. “For us, the rush comes from finding something and watching the expression on the people’s faces.” He said, “Ninety-five percent of what we find has no monetary value but it’s invaluable historically.” They give everything they find to the homeowner and if they don’t want it the item is donated to the local historical society.

Over the years the men have learned to listen carefully to the detectors and experience has taught them to distinguish what’s important and what isn’t. There is, for example a lot of iron underground in Durham and when they hear that specific sound, they move on. There are surprises, of course. When they were digging for something else in Hilltown, they discovered what they believe is a long forgotten hamlet – a number of old stone foundations covered over in the course of years.

One especially nice feature of is the men always try to provide a little historical background about the time span the object was in use, to place it in the right context. People often invite the men to return to dig in another area and frequently as the homeowner’s enthusiasm grows, they find something really interesting.

“Finding a little piece of American history is not a big deal until somebody actually finds it,” said Jim. The finding is the reward – even if it’s as humble as the 1890s shotgun shell they found buried on our land. That tweaked the imagination a little – but we’ll look forward to he next dig.

Those interested in contacting the service may call Jim at 267-272-2500.

kathrynfclark@verizon.net

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