I just love metal detecting around old cellar holes. Cellar holes are the remains of a very old home site that had a basement. A cellar hole essentially is a large hole or depression left in the ground, often rectangular or square in shape. Sometimes the cellar holes we find in our area are lined with stones and sometimes they are just simply depressions in the ground.
Cellar holes are my favorite place to metal detect at. In my opinion, detecting in the woods around an old 18th century cellar hole is like visiting paradise. It brings me great delight and well it's always a little sad when I have to pack up and leave. Locating old cellar holes is not always easy. Old maps are extremely useful. There are various online apps and different programs you can use to overlay historic maps with modern maps. This process often helps you to better determine the locations of these old cellar holes and can make finding them easier. There are a lot of cellar holes out there in Upstate NY that don't show up on any of the old maps though. These are my favorite cellar holes to find and detect. From my experience, the cellar holes that don't show up on the 1800's maps are usually older sites. The homes most likely were already abandoned by the time the 1800's maps were being created. In order to locate these cellar holes you can use a variety of different methods.
I have found a few old cellar holes that were not listed on the oldest maps through sheer luck by just wandering around in the woods. I like to follow the old rock walls and look for breaks in them. I also look for visual clues such as apple trees or flowers (day lilies, lilac bushes, and or roses bushes) in the middle of the woods or other signs such as old roads. One time when I was wandering around the woods I noticed an old well. A lot of old wells are uncovered. You should always exercise great care when you are walking in the woods. When I saw the old well, I knew I had to be close to the cellar hole. I found what appeared to be an old barn first and then located the old cellar hole nearby. You just never know when you're going to get lucky and find something while wandering around the woods. This approach takes an awful lot footwork though and doesn't always end with success.
I like to talk with and ask local hunters or hikers if they know of any cellar holes in the area. You'd be surprised the number of old cellar holes hunters or hikers have seen. Anyone who spends a lot of time in the woods is a great resource. I know a few people who have had great success locating old cellar holes using Light Detection and Ranging technology (LIDAR). I personally don't have any first hand experience with it but am definitely interested in learning more about LIDAR and how it can help me to locate old cellar holes.
Once you locate an old cellar hole you'll want to spend some time detecting it. I don't like to rush the process. I learned a lot of these tips I'm sharing with you now from someone who has over two decades of experience metal detecting. I have personally followed their advice and it has brought me success more often than not. When metal detecting I have learned to grid out a small area and focus on just that area before moving on to another area. When gridding an area, in the woods, I set the boundaries in my mind and walk in straight lines. I overlap the ground I previously covered so that I don't miss any good targets. I also drag my shovel as I walk along to mark the ground. It helps me to know where I have already been. If I come to an obstacle, such as a tree that is in my way, I just detect around it and then return to my course. Gridding can be very rewarding especially in hot areas where there are a lot of good targets. If you are just aimlessly wandering around the woods near the cellar hole, sure you will probably find stuff but the odds are very good that you will also completely miss out on a lot of good targets. You can't find it if you never get your coil over it. Also, if you discover a hot area with a lot of good targets you should always stay in that area and detect it for a while before moving on to another area.
It's always wise to start detecting in the front yard area. Every time anyone entered or exited the home they walked up or down the front steps and through the front yard. It will also most likely contain less metal junk, unless there is a lot of modern trash at the site that is. Most people don't discard trash in their front yards. A lot of old houses were built facing the south. Most houses were also built facing the road. You'll want to determine which side was the front of the house and then try to figure out where the front steps were located, if you can, since that's one of the best places to start detecting. Sometimes the front stone steps are still there, a lot of times they aren't.
After searching the front area I like to search the side yards and then work my way to the back yard. The side yard areas always seem to produce a great number of finds. When detecting in the back yard, I look to see where the outhouse might have been and try to determine the path that most likely was used to get there from the house. Most outhouses were built about 50-100 feet away from the house. I also like to detect in and around areas where it looks like there may have been a garden. The inhabitants would have spent a lot of time in their vegetable gardens. It's also smart to always look for evidence of secondary structures that were located nearby such as sheds, barns, or wells. Any area on the property can produce finds. The areas that were used the most though should ideally produce the greatest amount of finds. I also like to start close to the cellar hole and then work my way out. Don't forget to search the outskirts as well and near the rock walls. The old roads are another great area to spend some time searching as well. The inhabitants and their neighbors would have traveled them often. Across the road from the cellar hole can also be a promising area as well. People who may have detected the site before you tend to overlook that area completely.
Detecting around old cellar holes is always a lot of fun. When you go out into the woods it is always wise to bring a detecting buddy along with you. There's safety in numbers. Also, remember to always be alert of your surroundings, use caution when walking in the woods, and have a great time. Happy Hunting!