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21Country: Dewy’s Bottle Museum

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NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA) - A privately owned museum, in an unexpected corner of 21Country, displays a vast collection of antique glass.

It’s saved by a Cromwell man whose hobby is turning him, into an historian.

Dewy Bontrager says his interest in old dumps, started as a child.

He remembers shooting BB guns at old bottles when he was 9-years-old.

Almost two decades past before he stumbled on one of those trash sites, hiking with his family.

“[I] looked down, and saw some old milk bottles, blue glass,” he explained, “started picking them up and thought, this would be cool to display!”

“Later on, me and my friend went back, and we started actually digging,” Dewy continued, “and we found amazing, amazing things.”

His home would quickly fill up with his finds, and his wife would help wash a century of dirt and grime off of his treasure.

But just by sheer quantity, he was forced to find a different place to store them.

He would build a shed to display his most coveted bottles, and other “rusty relics”.

“Dewy’s Bottle Museum” was founded out back, and if friends and family need to get in touch with the bottle hunter, they know just where to find him.

His obsession soon went to a whole other level.

Dewy began researching county archives, connecting with other bottle hunters over the internet, to learn where forgotten dumping grounds once were.

“All old dumps are located behind, or near water and cemeteries,” Dewy learned, “around railroads they’d also dump, because of old railroad stations, they’d throw their trash somewhere so they would just throw it on a hill or anywhere and just bury it.”

His most interesting trip, was to an old privy.

He tells us he has only been lucky enough to take part in one dig so far.

“If you don’t know what a privy is… it’s a place where the outhouse was,” Dewy said, “you dig into these holes and find glass where they put their outhouses at, because that’s where they put their trash at.”

“It tells a story of that family, or whoever was there,” he finished.

In April, we followed Dewy on a hunt in Ligonier.

He explained the unwritten “rules” of bottle digging: always have permission to be on the property, and always fill up your hole at the end of the day.

Dewy could tell if a bottle held soda, beer, perfume, or poison, just by their shape.

But when it comes to what he treasures the most, it isn’t measured by money or rarity, but rather the tale it tells, and the people he’s with when he finds it.

“It started off just being a ‘me’ thing, but I started to get so excited about it that I want people to learn from it,” Dewy told us, “I want people to learn there’s a history of things that you absolutely wouldn’t believe that happened or products that even existed… literally somebody else’s trash can be your treasure.”

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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