House Demolition Crew Reveals Historical Mystery

Whether you’ve gone through a home renovation or only watched them on HGTV, there’s one thing that’s certain: you never know what’s hiding in the walls. Normally, it’s something common like termites or bad wiring, but, if you’re lucky, you find something much more exciting.

That’s exactly what happened to a group of construction workers in Prescott, Arkansas. As the demolition team began knocking down an old house, they noticed that they weren’t dealing with a regular building.

Prescott is a tiny town 100 miles away from Little Rock, Arkansas’ capital. Though only 4,000 people live in Prescott now, it used to be a bustling city just outside of the Prairie D’Ane. Some residents discovered just how lively it used to be.

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That find involved the scheduled demolition of a small home. With its rectangular shape and dilapidated state, the house seemed like it would be easy work for the crew. Quickly, they realized this wasn’t the case.

Nevada County Depot and Museum, Facebook

Little did they know that the building contained a relic going back to Prescott’s earliest days, when the French colonized the Prairie D’Ane or “Donkey Meadow.” This oddly named natural feature is a 20-mile meadow, which looks extremely out of place amidst the towering pines.

Nevada County Depot and Museum

During the Civil War, Prairie D’Ane was located in a geographically advantageous spot (once the Union Army moved its base to Little Rock). Donkey Meadow stood directly between the Union and the Confederates’ capital city. The meadow was also difficult to defend because of its size.

Alabama Tourism Department

This meant if the Union soldiers took Prairie D’Ane, they would have an easy path to a horde of important Confederate soldiers and had a chance to claim the forces’ major base as their own. They put this plan into action, which led to the Battle of Prairie D’Ane on April 9, 1864.

The Battle of Prairie D’Ane, Facebook

After a violent battle, the Union soldiers took control of the meadow. Frederick Steele, the army’s commander, marched his forces back to Little Rock, instead of returning to Camden to get more supplies. This altered path back home would cause one of the most devastating battles of the Civil War.

This was the Battle of the Jenkins’ Ferry. The bloody fight lasted for two days as the Confederate and Union soldiers battled against each other. In the end, the Union won. 

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In the aftermath, urban designers proposed new features for a city. Prescott’s layout featured a train station for the newly built Cairo & Fulton Railroad. The railroad was an important addition for the town, bringing in more supplies for merchants and turning Prescott into a small city.

During Reconstruction, Prescott received a few other key upgrades. In 1873, the city built its first post office, which greatly helped residents with their communication needs. Prescott also established its first-ever newspaper in 1875.

The budding city grew so prosperous, the county seat relocated to Prescott too. With its railroad, post office, and newspaper, Prescott was doing quite well for itself in the late 1800s.

In the early 1900s new technology came to the city: telephone lines and a combination water/light plant. The city also became known for its cotton, peaches and timber exports. Prescott was continuing to make a name for itself in Arkansas.

Though Prescott had a prosperous history, these times unfortunately didn’t last. Now, only 4,000 people live in the previously much more densely populated area. None of them could even remember who built that house scheduled for demolition.

Not that anybody expected much of a surprise. Once workers got into the walls of the house, however, they found something odd. The home seemed to be built over another extremely ancient structure.

They realized it was a log cabin. This cabin was tiny — 18 by 20 feet — and incredibly old. When experts from The Nevada County Depot and Museum tested the structure’s age, they realized it dated back to the start of Prescott.

The museum continued to probe into the cabin’s past. One of their first realizations was that the structure hadn’t always sat at its current location on Greenlawn Street, but was moved there in the mid-1900s.

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Originally, the 400-square-foot log cabin was located on Miller Hill in Prescott instead. John Vaughn owned this area from 1850-1860, giving researchers a huge clue about when the cabin was originally built. 

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After the Cairo & Fulton Railroad was established, residents gained access to a much wider variety of construction materials. The cabin was created with some of these, providing even more evidence about when the log cabin first existed.

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Miller Hill was close to the site of Prairie D’Ane Battle. The people who lived in the home at the time may have even witnessed some of the fighting between the Union and Confederate soldiers. What a terrifying, but amazing moment in history to witness.

Since the log cabin was discovered to have such a rich history, it will not be torn down as planned. The Nevada County Depot and Museum plans to restore the cabin and return it to its original location alongside the Donkey Meadow battlefield.

National Park Service

The Nevada County Depot and Museum shared on social media that an anonymous donor gave enough money so they could to purchase the building and carefully store it away until they are ready to bring new life to the wizened structure. Apparently, finding history is part of a construction workers’ job description.

Yet Swedish archaeologist Jim Hansson, while hard at work at work at the Stockholm Maritime Museum, was surprised unexpected phone call came in. Some workers had stumbled upon something huge — in a particularly fascinating location, too.

A construction crew had to halt their renovation of a quarry in Stockholm when they came across a big surprise in the dirt. None of them could identify the mystery object, but it looked to be made of wood — very old wood.

Doubling Jim’s interest was the location of the quarry: it was on Skeppsholmen Island, smack dab between center-city Stockholm and the Baltic Sea. If you were to visit the island today, you would mostly come across charming tourist attractions. But that hasn’t always been the case.

Historically, Skeppsholmen served as a prime military location for Sweden. It acted as a waypoint where officials could send out troops and supplies as well as a line of defense against any powers attempting to invade Stockholm. In other words, it was rich with military history.

Flickr / Marcin Zajda

Jim and some of his colleagues ran over to inspect the construction site. As they surveyed the wooden beams lying deep beneath the ground, Jim was immensely grateful the workers hadn’t interfered any more with the object. He had a feeling this was something big.

Jim Hansson

In fact, Jim theorized this Skeppsholmen dig might connect to one of his recent findings. A few months earlier, he mounted an extensive underwater expedition in southern Sweden. This was no recreational dive.

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On the dive, he and his team were the first humans in hundreds of years to set their eyes on the Blekinge. The Swedes built this mighty ship in the late 1600s while at war with Russia and Denmark. So what did this have to do with Stockholm?

As Jim unearthed more of the wooden artifact, he confirmed his suspicions. They were looking at a ship, perhaps one of the most important vessels in the history of Sweden. However, Jim knew he couldn’t get ahead of himself.

Jim Hansson

To determine the exact identity of the mystery vessel, Jim and the other scientists got down and dirty in the pit. Specific details within the ruins would tell them everything they needed to know.

Jim turned his attention to some of the best-preserved timbers. You could actually see the axe marks where the shipwrights cut and fit together the wooden beams! That wasn’t all that caught Jim’s eye either.

National Geographic

By taking just a small sample of the wood — small enough to not damage the overall vessel — they could figure out what time period the ship was from. Jim shipped the fragment off to the lab for radiocarbon dating.

Jim’s team came back with good news: the oak timbers were from 1612 or 1613, meaning the ship’s construction wrapped up a couple years after. Fortunately, the Maritime Museum had detailed records of all the major vessels built in Sweden.

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Using the records and some other clues — including this ornamental copper plate — Jim surmised they’d found the famous Scepter. It seemed almost too good to be true. After all, it was the flagship of the greatest Swedish monarch of all time!

The tactical brilliance of King Gustavus Adolphus the Great transformed Sweden into a major European power back in the 17th century. He commissioned the Scepter to lead a fleet to conquer nearby Latvia. The ship never made it.

As it approached the Baltic Coast, the Scepter suffered heavy damage from a storm. It turned back to Sweden and never sailed on a major voyage again. But how did it end up beneath a historic island in Stockholm?

Historians could not find any record of a shipwreck in Skeppsholmen. However, Jim had a wild suggestion: maybe Gustavus sunk it on purpose! It was, after all, a regular practice for the Swedish navy to sink retired vessels to provide a foundation for new shipyards.

Now that Jim and his team unearthed the top deck of the famed warship, they had to decide what to do next. A couple individuals raised the possibility of restoring the Scepter. After all, there was precedent for such a course of action.

Historians salvaged another sunken 17th century ship, the Vasa, in 1961 and put it on display at the museum. The impressive restoration soon became one of the most noteworthy cultural sites in all of Sweden. Could the Scepter follow in its footsteps?

Unfortunately, Jim knew it was not to be. While the Scepter had multiple decks in its prime, none of them remained in good enough condition to warrant the restoration. The project would simply cost too much for too little reward.

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Nevertheless, Jim and his colleagues chalked up their discovery as a major victory. He explained, “It’s a really important find because the ship is from the generation before Vasa, so we can see the technical building methods that were used, and it can help us understand what went wrong with the Vasa as well.”

Twitter / Jim Hansson

In other words, the knowledge attached to an artifact is always more important than the object itself. Plus, it will certainly lead to even bigger finds in the near future. Experts are in awe at just how much uncovered history there is in Sweden.

The Kronan was the largest ship ever built for the Swedish navy, and it served as the flagship vessel when it was completed in 1672. It took seven years to construct, and once it was finished, it sailed the seas like a multi-masted beast.

The ship’s luck ran out in 1676. During a maritime battle, the Kronan hit rough waters and capsized while making a sharp turn. The gunpowder on board ignited and that was that.

For three hundred years, the Kronan sat peacefully at the bottom of the ocean and housed all sorts of aquatic life. Would anyone ever discover its whereabouts and gather the artifacts inside?

Amazingly, in 1980, an amateur researcher named Anders Franzen discovered the shipwreck’s location. The Swedish government sponsored yearly archaeological dives to collect any lost artifacts. What was hidden in the ship for so many years?

The divers who went on the expeditions were in awe. It was obvious the ship was used for war. Openings in the vessel’s sides had old rusted cannons protruding out.

After a thorough search of the ship, it was easy to picture what the massive structure looked like sailing the high seas. There were dozens of small rooms for housing the men aboard, and each one was equipped with weaponry.

The divers had special equipment used to help clear the sand and mud that accumulated on all the surface areas. Buried underneath was a trove of ancient treasures…

Whatever the divers recovered from the wreck was going straight into the Kalmar County Museum in Sweden. The museum had an entire Kronan exhibit ready for unveiling once they excavated the items.

The dive teams found an abundance of old rifles and firearms. The weapons revealed fascinating information about seventeenth-century warfare. Information that experts may not have even known.

After the guns were excavated, researchers cleaned off the grime and rust so they looked new. They now sit on display at the Kalmar Museum. But, firearms weren’t the only amazing things found…

They also found objects that spoke more to everyday life in the 1600s, like musical instruments, including violins and trumpets. The people on board the ship needed forms of entertainment, and playing tunes certainly helped pass the time at sea.

One of the expeditions came across this pristine gold ring. Can you believe after three hundred years at the bottom of the ocean the gem inside still has a sparkle to it? This looks like something straight out of a Tiffany’s display case.

When the Kronan sank, it was carrying loads of gold and silver coins, and the divers found an abundance of them among the rubble. It was Sweden’s largest coin discovery ever, with coins minted in Sweden, Egypt, Syria, and even Turkey!

One of the most important things they found was a wooden plaque with the name of the ship scrawled across it. It may not have been worth as much as the gold and silver, but this plaque was an intact part of history, and equally as important as everything else.

The Kalmar County Museum was more than ecstatic to display all of Kronan’s lost treasure. However, they had no idea that the most interesting item was yet to be found…

Just when researchers thought they unearthed nearly everything of importance, one of them came across this black tin jar nestled in the mud – and it was heavy. More gold and silver coins, perhaps?

cheese-5Twitter / @SarahWardAU

When scientists finally pried open the can, they were overwhelmed by a pungent smell. They stared at the grayish lump of mush and suddenly it hit them. It was some kind of preserved cheese product!

They described the smell like a mix of yeast and Roquefort cheese. During the era when the Kronan was built, cheese was a real status symbol. It separated the rich from the poor. In this case, however, the cheese was well past its prime.

No one intended to add this Kronan cheese to a gourmet cheese plate anytime soon, but just the fact it was still in relatively good condition stunned everyone. Where’s Andrew Zimmern when you need him? He’d probably give this a taste!

The Kronan cheese sits on display at the museum along with the rest of the findings. Since the ship was discovered in 1980, diving teams have already collected over 30,000 artifacts! The Kronan discover proves that sometimes great men find shipwrecks, but other times great shipwrecks find men…

The coast of California is no stranger to significant storms, specifically El Niños—the unusually warm systems that move over the area in late December. Even still, the damage from one particularly massive system that battered the coast of Coronado, California, in 2016 was especially devastating.

The residents of Coronado were quick to make their way back outside after the rains and winds passed. They were ready to clean up their town, but they certainly were not prepared for what they’d find there…

When people reached South Coronado Beach, they noticed something very unusual protruding from the sandy shore. It was a massive shape of some kind, and it clearly wasn’t part of a reef. What the heck was it?

No one was quite sure what the strange formation was, but everyone was curious enough to want to get a closer look. Many residents had theories, but the truth would be even wilder…

It would take more work to find out what this powerful storm had unearthed. Luckily, as the tide continued to wash the surrounding sand away, the answer was revealed…

It was an enormous shipwreck! Everyone was in awe when they finally realized what the structure was. How amazing is it that a ship that enormous had been lying just beneath their feet all along?

This storm had to be really intense in order to uncover something the size of a city block. As the surface of the ocean increases in temperature—and the warm air meets much colder air in the sky—it causes intense wind and rain.

Any time an El Niño storm hits a populous area, it typically causes a hefty amount of damage. Usually, the best way to prepare is byboarding up windows and doors or simply evacuating the area altogether.

Obviously, the intensity of El Niño’s winds and rain regularly tossed around small boats. The discovery on South Coronado Beach, however, was completely different. This was no small boat—this thing was seriously huge!

Now that the enormous vessel was uncovered, everyone wanted to know where exactly it had come from. On top of that, what was it used for when it was a fully-functioning ship sailing the high seas?

As it turned out, the history of the ship was fascinating. Named the SS Monte Carlo, the 300-foot vessel was built in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1921. It was one of the few concrete and iron ships built after World War I.

The ship was the property of the United States Quartermaster Corps until 1923 when it was sold to the Associated Oil Company of San Francisco. This company then sold it to two actual mobsters, Ed Turner and Martin Schouwiler, in the early 1930s.

The two men had hoped to turn their new property into a “sin ship” during Prohibition. It was to be anchored three miles off the coast of Coronado Beach in international waters, so gambling, prostitution, and alcohol were all technically legal onboard… or so they hoped.

Unsurprisingly, the ship became incredibly popular. Visitors from all around came to indulge in the illegal activities it offered. The ship was by no means the first “sin ship” in existence, but it was the largest. In its prime, it would host upwards of 15,000 gamblers a week!

It’s estimated that the ship also raked in nearly $3 million a year, which by today’s standards is nearly $52 million! However, on New Year’s Day in 1937, a massive storm set the ship adrift, and it eventually ran aground on the shores of South Coronado Beach.

Over the next several years, the remains of the ship were slowly buried underneath the sand. That is, until the 2016 El Niño, which was strong enough to remove the sand and reveal the ancient piece of history once more.

With a little help of the incoming and outgoing tide, the sand slowly revealed more and more of this former “sin ship.” It didn’t take long before the residents of Coronado could make out the entire thing.

Once people could see the entire vessel, word of the discovery spread rapidly around the area. Everyone wanted to explore this real-life shipwreck for themselves! Can you blame them?

As fascinating as the discovery was, visitors needed to be extremely careful around the remains. Because the ship was built with concrete and iron, erosion had caused the frame to develop extremely sharp edges. Albeit dangerous, exploring it might be worth it…

Some rumors suggested that upwards of $150,000 worth of gold and silver coins were still on board. Even if it was just a rumor, the SS Monte Carlo remains a treasure in its own right!

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