We went searching for treasure in San Antonio’s oldest neighborhoods. Here’s what we found.

With a few simple tools, one local hobbyist is finding signs of 20th century life under San Antonio homes.

SAN ANTONIO — Have you ever wondered what could be buried underneath your home?

We’re not trying to scare you. People in San Antonio are finding treasures from the turn of the century – as in, the turn of the 20th century – underground.

As KENS 5 learned, while these discoveries may not be worth millions, it’s the stories they tell that are priceless.

The discovery

In Lavaca, one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Antonio, Adam Alvarado was doing some gardening when, suddenly, he found something unusual.

It was a coin with an inscription he didn’t recognize.

“It’s probably from the very early 1900s,” Alvarado explained. “It just says ‘John Brady’s Parlor bar. I.O.U. One drink.'”

The John Brady Saloon sat in the Solomon Deutsch Building in Main Plaza, facing the San Fernando Cathedral. It was a bustling business that shut down during Prohibition.

Alvarado posted a picture of the coin on a Southtown community Facebook page. The comments came rolling in.

“No more than a thousand were probably made, from what I’m told,” said Alvarado. “It definitely sparked my curiosity to what else could be lying underneath our yard here.”

The enthusiast

That same interest fueled Sean Ward’s favorite pastime. He responded to Alvarado’s Facebook post and offered to bring his metal detector to Lavaca to see what else could be hidden underground.

“I’m what I call an expert hobbyist,” Ward told KENS 5. “My grandfather was a coin collector, and he got me interested in that hobby.”

Using a wireless metal detector, headphones and a pinpointer, Ward explores historic neighborhoods across town, chasing the sound of his next discovery.

“I found three giant cans of ammunition… a lot of it dated back to World War II,” Ward explained, before going on to list the other items he’s dug up. 

An Indian head penny from 1879. 

Mexican centavos from the 1880s. 

Civil War-era musket balls. 

Civil War-era mini balls. 

We had to tag along as Ward searched two properties in the Monticello Park Historic District.

“[Monticello Park was] home to many prominent families back in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s,” said Jason Vasquez, vice president of the Jefferson Neighborhood Association.

Vasquez says the movers and shakers of San Antonio once ruled Monticello Park. The City of San Antonio’s website says the historic district became one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town. 

“The gentleman’s not just looking for history below ground,” Vasquez said about Ward’s searching. “We’re living in it.”

The first home we searched is a two-story pink home located on West Gramercy Place. It’s currently on the market for $499,000.

“This home was the home of the Orsinger Family, which had some of the first auto dealerships for San Antonio back in the ’20s, ’30s,” Vasquez explained. “The house next door was the home of the Lucchese Family of the Lucchese Boot Company.”

The brother of Henry B. González hosted future president Lyndon B. Johnson for breakfast on the same block.

With a crowd like that, we were confident we’d find something.

The search

On the old Orsinger property, we found several coins. The oldest was a 1941 wheat penny.

We also found an old metal flower label used in the garden once located in the front yard.

The second property we searched in Monticello Park belongs to David McLemore.

“Anything of value I’d like to know about, anything of interest I’d like to know about,” said McLemore about his hopes for what Ward might find. 

McLemore lives in the former bishop’s home of the Southwestern Conference of the Methodist Church, built in 1935. He’s called it home for 27 years.

“Floyd Curl, who was a minister in San Antonio and was very active in creation of the South Texas Medical Center—hence the name of the street that goes into the medical center—they lived here,” McLemore explained.

A quick scan through the front and backyard, over a spot where a swimming pool used to be, a few more coins signaled to us from underground.

That rainy Thursday morning in March, the ’41 wheat penny was our oldest find.

The treasure

Many may wonder how much these old coins are worth.

According to Ward: It depends. The older the coin is, he says, the more valuable it is.

If the coin is found outside, there will likely be tarnishing and wear and tear. Due to these environmental conditions, Ward says these coins won’t grade very high.

“I found an old Seated Liberty dime recently… 1890,” Ward recalled. “How much that one was worth? Maybe in the $30 or $40 range.”

Ward’s favorite find of all? An answer we least expected: a marble.

“This one is just covered with this, abalone. So it’s very special. You don’t see a lot of them,” Ward explained. “From being buried in the ground, it’s a chemical reaction, like an abalone shell.”

Back in Lavaca, Alvarado received an estimate for the value of his John Brady Saloon coin.

“Even in this condition, it’s probably worth about $100 to $125,” said Alvarado.

He decided to keep it.

To Alvarado, the true value of the coin will be much more than dollars and cents.

“Maybe hang it on the wall or something like that, so that it’s a conversation piece for sure,” he added.

For any future treasure hunters, keep in mind that metal detecting on private property is allowed only with permission from the owner. It’s illegal to use a metal detector on federal land. 

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