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‘Good, clean fun’: Northern Maryland Dirt Diggers bond over discovery of historical artifacts in and around Carroll County

One of the bedrooms in Robby Devilbiss’s residence is home to more than 40,000 artifacts he has collected while metal detecting.

Devilbiss, a Uniontown native, is a co-founder of the Northern Maryland Dirt Diggers, a metal detecting group located in northern central Maryland, mostly in and around Carroll County. The group’s goal is to detect and save relics and artifacts that have historical or sentimental value.

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Devilbiss co-founded the group with Amy Garrison in Oct. 2018 and their Facebook group currently boasts 412 members. Devilbiss said about five to 10 people meet at his home on the first Friday of every month to do a dig for a few hours each time.

Devilbiss has been metal detecting since 1989 and said he likes to dig for historical artifacts, particularly those that have ties to Carroll County. He found a Civil War Special Officer Corps Badge in Uniontown that same year and said it was an extremely rare discovery.

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“My favorite thing about it is you never know what you’re going to find,” Devilbiss said. “I love digging up history and there’s a lot of history here to find.”

The Northern Maryland Dirt Diggers bond while uncovering, saving historic artifacts.

Garrison has been metal detecting for almost five years and said she hopes to see more women get involved with the hobby.

“I think a lot of women think it’s a man’s thing and you’re getting dirty,” Garrison said. “I’ve been really fortunate to be on beautiful properties and meet really great people and I’ve found some pretty amazing things. The biggest thing is meeting people and getting to explore places I normally wouldn’t have access to.”

Carroll County remained relatively unscathed during the two years the Civil War was fought there, according to the Carroll County Tourism website.

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Union commanders took advantage of the county’s rolling farmland and the Western Maryland Railroad depot in Westminster to bring in supplies from Washington and Baltimore. The Union Army of the Potomac set up its rail head and supply base in Westminster where it remained during the course of the war.

Corbit’s Charge, also known as the Battle of Westminster, was a relatively small clash between Confederate States of America Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry and a small unit of the Delaware cavalry that proved to be a significant factor in slowing down the general’s advancement into Pennsylvania shortly before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg.

With Robby Devilbiss, left, Amy Garrison examines an item she found, possibly a clock gear, while metal detecting an old house site near Uniontown Sunday, March 7, 2021.
With Robby Devilbiss, left, Amy Garrison examines an item she found, possibly a clock gear, while metal detecting an old house site near Uniontown Sunday, March 7, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

Instead of proceeding into Pennsylvania to inform Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee about the Union troops’ movements, Stuart’s cavalry was delayed long enough to spend a night in the Westminster area.

According to the county tourism site, historians have often wondered whether the results of the Battle of Gettysburg — a Union victory — would have been different if Stuart had arrived before the battle began on July 1, 1863.

“If you find a Civil War relic, to most people, that’s like the holy grail of metal detecting,” Devilbiss said. “For me, I like it all. I like finding anything from 1700s to 1800s. Civil War [items] are a lot that I have here but I’ve got other stuff too.”

Doug Kiser has been a member of the Northern Maryland Dirt Diggers for more than two years and grew up five minutes down the street from Devilbiss. He said sharing a similar passion for metal detecting with members of the community has inspired him to keep at it.

Kiser grew up on his parents’ mid-1700s farm and randomly found relics in areas around the land as a kid. His grandfather bought him his first metal detector when he was 10 years old and he has since devoted thousands of dollars in the hobby.

“I’ve always loved history,” Kiser said. “I just immerse myself in local history and that is this area of Carroll County … I just got turned on to it and I’ve been addicted to it ever since.”

Kiser has discovered “hundreds” of items over the years and shares sentimental value with a few of those items. He found a Civil War bullet in the field at his parents’ farm and said it’s his favorite discovery because of the artifact’s history. He also found a USA-intertwined Continental Army pewter coat button from the Revolutionary War.

From left, Robby Devilbiss, Doug Kiser and Ari Koutsouradis check out their finds after metal detecting an old house site near Union Bridge Sunday, March 14, 2021. Having secured permission from the property owner, the group spent several hours scanning the site, where a house dating back to the mid-1800s once stood.
From left, Robby Devilbiss, Doug Kiser and Ari Koutsouradis check out their finds after metal detecting an old house site near Union Bridge Sunday, March 14, 2021. Having secured permission from the property owner, the group spent several hours scanning the site, where a house dating back to the mid-1800s once stood. (Dylan Slagle)

“That’s pretty rare for these parts,” Kiser said. “Only a little over 700 soldiers from Maryland fought in the Revolution and one of those 700 soldiers dropped it right up the street from my father’s farm.”

Kiser said he hopes to find a Civil War belt buckle or breastplate to add to his collection.

“The only time we really get together and talk is when we go digging together,” Kiser said. “We don’t really congregate until the very end because we go straight to digging until we find something good. We all congregate for a minute to look at it and get the rush to go back out and find the next thing.

“It’s a rush and it’s good, clean fun.”

Garrison found a 1766 Stamp Act button during one of her outings and said only nine exist in the entire world. She has a passion for history, historical shows and documentaries, and hopes to offer introductory metal detecting classes to people who might develop a similar interest in metal detecting.

“Most of the time I go by myself and it’s nice because it’s sort of peaceful,” Garrison said. “I turn my phone off, I’m away from everything and it gives me a chance to recharge.”

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