Forgotten and ignored, a 120-year-old U.S. flag finds an anonymous home with local veteran –
By Patricia Beech –
Treasures can be found in the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely times, and more often than not are unearthed only by chance.
Two local businessmen recently discovered a trove of collectible items – many predating the twentieth century – hidden away in a massive vault in the center of downtown Peebles.
Thomas Partin of Peebles and Nathan Skaggs of Chillicothe last year purchased the building that housed the original “Bank of Peebles” on Main Street.
The building, which dates to the late 1800’s, is outfitted with a walk-in vault lined with shelves and drawers that once stored bonds, notes, money, valuables, records, and documents for the town’s people, local farmers, and business owners.
The two business partners were taking one last pass through the building before it was sold.
Inside the vault they discovered numerous documents dating back to the early 1900’s – including a mortgage statement for a farm that was purchased for only $10 in 1908. They also found several photographs of bank executives, and one of America’s first billionaires – John D. Rockefeller.
However, the real gem of the cache was hidden away in a nondescript bag – an enormous American flag. Its white stripes were darkened with age, but otherwise it was very well-preserved.
“We figured the flag must have flown outside of the bank during its operating time,” said Partin. “And, surprisingly for a flag that flew outside it had very little signs of wear.”
Upon closer examination, Partin and Skaggs discovered that the flag’s royal blue canton contained, not 50, but only 45 stars arranged in six offset horizontal rows.
“This particular flag flew only 45 stars, meaning that at the time it was in service, the United States of America had only 45 states,” said Partin. “At the time this particular flag would have flown over the streets of Peebles, the USA was lacking Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii to make up the current count of 50 states we know today.”
According to Partin, America’s flag displayed 45 stars from 1896 when Utah became a state through 1908 when Oklahoma won statehood. bumping it up to 46.
“This symbol of freedom was taken out of service over six years before the start of World War I, while Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt were presidents, and when the estimated population of Peebles was just 743,” Partin said. “It isn’t often, when it comes to small towns like Peebles that you run across pieces of history that date back to the late 1800’s, especially when it comes to some of the buildings on Main Street – we rarely hear about the history of these 100-plus- year old buildings.”
The partners decided to keep the highly collectible flag as a conversation piece, not knowing its true worth.
Collectible items are generally considered the “antiques of the future” and many people collect all kinds of weird and wonderful things. As word spread about the 120-year old flag interested buyers began calling.
“We didn’t accept the first offers from local collectors,” said Partin. “However, when a call came in from a local veteran, the offer was hard to refuse.”
According to Partin, “the veteran said he knew the flag was worth a lot to collectors, but it was worth everything to him to have this small yet amazing piece of history that once flew over the very streets of the town so many of us have called home”.
Eventually Skaggs and Partin agreed to sell the flag to the veteran, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I think it’s safe to say that it was well worth it for the person who proudly fought for his country,” Partin said. “Although people sometimes seem to forget about the history of small communities, sometimes it can reveal itself in interesting ways, so next time you’re digging around in your old barn or up in your attic, remember, you never know what, with some digging, may turn out to be a piece of history that could be cherished by another.”