There was no actual message in the bottle, but Albert Lea insurance agent Tom Jones got the hint loud and clear anyway.
Jones' teenage son, Spencer, was using a friend's metal detector to scavenge around the large yard behind their longtime family home on Fountain Lake in Albert Lea when he got a beep — "a nail," his father said.
As he unearthed the nail, Spencer pulled something else from the ground: a soiled medicine bottle embossed with the name "Wedge." Dr. Albert Clark Wedge, Albert Lea's first doctor and drugstore owner, was Tom Jones' great-great grandfather.
"It was like he was welcoming us back to his home," said Jones, 60, who spent the first half of his life in the 19th-century Queen Anne at 216 W. Fountain St. The house went on the National Register of Historical Places in 1986.
Three years ago, Tom's family moved a couple of miles across Albert Lea into the house built by Dr. Wedge in 1887. His kids Spencer and Alexis are the sixth generation of the family to live there.
"My great-great-grandpa built his first house on the site in the 1860s and tore it down to make way for this house," Jones said. "There are still some of the original walls and cistern. I couldn't imagine driving past this house and having another family living here because of all the memories."
A barn fire in 1959, according to family lore, prompted hundreds of bats to move into the attic of the house. Once he cleared out the bats, Jones discovered dozens of old family photo albums and documents he has now stored in plastic tubs.
Downstairs, Tom and his wife, Nancy, installed a clawfoot bathtub, pulled up carpet to show off the splendid hardwood floors, refashioned the old servant's quarters and updated the kitchen. The elegant wooden staircase might be the highlight of the 135-year-old architectural gem.
"My great-grandmother, Maime, walked down those stairs to marry my great-grandfather, Mark Jones, in 1893," said Jones, the fourth generation to work in the insurance business his great-grandfather started in 1895.
Born in upstate New York in 1834, Wedge descended from a Puritan family that settled in Connecticut around 1635, according to biographies on the Freeborn County page on the Genealogy Trails website (https://genealogytrails.com/minn/freeborn/bios_w.html).
Albert was just 6 when his mother died in her late 20s, and the family bounced from Ohio to Indiana and Wisconsin. In the 1850s, he studied at Ripon College in Wisconsin and then attended medical school in Cleveland. An uncle financed his 1857 move to Albert Lea, then "a cluster of four or five log houses, and about 30 inhabitants," according to a 1900 Minnesota history. Within a few years, more than 200 people were calling Albert Lea home (for a 2015 Minnesota History column on the town's name, go to https://tinyurl.com/AlbertLeanamesake).
Military stints punctuate the family's history, including service during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Albert Wedge's service came as a surgeon for the Third Minnesota Infantry Regiment for three years during the Civil War. He was in Murfreesboro, Tenn., when the Third Minnesota surrendered to Confederates in July 1862.
"One story that's been passed down says the Confederates gave him a horse for helping with their injured after the surrender,' Jones said.
Wedge practiced medicine in Freeborn County for more than 40 years, often as the area's only doctor. "His professional life was very arduous," according to the 1900 biography. "Often he was compelled to travel considerable distances in all kinds of weather and under trying conditions."
That profile went on to describe Wedge as a man of "sound mind and body, plain and frank in speech and manner, of strong will and pronounced individuality. In personal intercourse he is pleasant, quiet, courteous and dignified, and in his practice kind and sympathetic.
"While his professional standing is very high, he is universally regarded as a useful, enterprising and public-spirited citizen ... His bearing is modest and unaffected … upon his record of rigid integrity there is not a single stain."
Wedge married Betsy Blackmer in 1859 and they adopted one child, Maime. A Republican, he served in the state House in 1870-71, the state Senate in 1879-81 and as Albert Lea's mayor starting in 1885. He was appointed tax collector by President James Garfield and served as president of the state Medical Society in 1880. As if that weren't enough, he raised thoroughbred horses, shorthorn cattle and sheep on a farm west of town called Oak Park.
And Wedge, of course, also ran Albert Lea's drug store — using medical bottles imprinted with his name, like the one his great-great-great-grandson Spencer unearthed in 2019. Tom Jones keeps it on his bedroom shelf.
Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: strib.mn/MN1918.