Privy Digging

Questions and answers relating to houses built in the 1800s and before.

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KSR
Posts: 1110
Joined: Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:49 am

Re: Out to the Out House!

Post by KSR »

Civil War Seamstress wrote:If it was straight out the back door then I have just hit the realization that my old site might be under the horse barn! That barn was put up in the 1980's. I have room to look behind the barn along the side property line, but the PO built it closer than town regulations allowed.
Actually, I should have said that we determined ours to have been...under the area of what is now the half-bath in my office! How appropriate, eh? The office is part of a later 1920's addition to the house. To be very certain, I'd have to somehow get in the crawlspace and do some 'privvy digging' of my own, and the space is just too narrow there. I felt the Sanborn maps were accurate, as they depict other out buildings that still exist on the property in the right locations.

triple L
Posts: 61
Joined: Wed Jan 17, 2007 12:30 am
Location: Hiawatha Kansas

privy digging

Post by triple L »

Thanks Civil War for the suggested web sites. I'm hoping to tie my husband to the chair to show him some of this stuff. Our son's house is out in the country so I doubt there are any maps to show where the outhouses were. There is an old narrow sidewalk that goes from the back door right to the outhouse so I'm thinking it has always been in the same place. I just found out that the daughter or grand-daughter of the original builders of the home is now 90 but still alive. I'm hoping to find out if she has any info for us. Again, thanks for the suggestions.
New to old houses

Civil War Seamstress
Posts: 1016
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:28 pm
Location: North Abington, Massachusetts

Maps

Post by Civil War Seamstress »

try the Sanborn maps even if the house is in the country. Sanborn was a fire insurance company (I think the only game in town at the time, monopolies were allowed back then) and they did detailed records of anyone's property who held a policy with them. Check, the most you can do is not find one, but at least you tried. I just moved into my old house and just haven't found the time to execute half of the thing I am eager to get to....
"If everything is coming your way....you're in the Wrong Lane!"

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beachbons
Posts: 47
Joined: Thu Feb 02, 2006 12:57 am

Post by beachbons »

I've got family photos showing the outhouse in the background. My father says it was a "two-holer". Now that I know where it was I can't wait to start digging!

Greg

Civil War Seamstress
Posts: 1016
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:28 pm
Location: North Abington, Massachusetts

don't forget

Post by Civil War Seamstress »

Check the digging sites for advice on safe digging (cave ins can happen).
Document your finds and even your dig. Would love to see someone have success on this! Heaven knows if I will ever find mine!
"If everything is coming your way....you're in the Wrong Lane!"

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leasag
Posts: 170
Joined: Mon Jul 26, 2004 10:40 am
Location: Kansas

Me me me!!!

Post by leasag »

triple L, I am in NE KS in Johnson County outside Kansas City. Where is this possible dig local? I would love to join you on your dig and hunt. It sounds like a lot of fun.
Leasa G.

Don M
Posts: 6965
Joined: Mon Dec 08, 2003 11:35 am
Location: Boiling Springs, PA

Post by Don M »

I have an aerial photo of our farm from the 1960s; there are a number of out buildings that no longer exist today. Our inside plumbing was installed in the 1940s so the outhouse was in use until 60 years ago. It's no longer present although there are flowers that come up in the lawn each year next to the outhouse probable location. We have found the farm dump the POs claimed didn't exist. :evil: We carted off a lot of old broken appliances & other trash. Local lore says there is an old tractor buried there :shock: ---I doubt it but who knows? Don
1840 Limestone Farmhouse
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Civil War Seamstress
Posts: 1016
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:28 pm
Location: North Abington, Massachusetts

Post by Civil War Seamstress »

Don, you know all this??? What are you waiting for, grab a shovel!!! :D
"If everything is coming your way....you're in the Wrong Lane!"

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http://s166.photobucket.com/albums/u86/Wackyshack/

triple L
Posts: 61
Joined: Wed Jan 17, 2007 12:30 am
Location: Hiawatha Kansas

privy

Post by triple L »

Leasag, thanks for the offer. We're in Hiawatha which is about 1 1/2 to 2 hrs from KC. Do you know how to do privy digging cause I don't. The early resident of the home was a barber and he cut hair in the little building out back. The little awning is still there as is the cabinet that held his tools. I'm attaching a picture. I would guess he threw lots of hair care and shaving bottles down the privy???? Would these be worth the dig. People around here just laugh at me. http://s154.photobucket.com/albums/s251 ... de_photos/
New to old houses

KSR
Posts: 1110
Joined: Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:49 am

Post by KSR »

Perhaps leasag has experience in privvy digging and can better answer your question, but I would imagine it is done just as any other archaeological digging is done. My background includes graduate training in anthropology, with some exposure to archaeological methodology, although it was not my particular subfield. If you really want to do a serious dig, stake the area of the privvy off, making a grid at regular increments with string. Look over the area carefully and take note of any surface features, places where there seems to be unusual objects/remnants of structures, irregularities in the color and texture of the dirt, etc. Also take note of differences in plant growth in the area, as these differences can indicate disturbed soils (I think someone here mentioned that flowers grew near the site of what was their outhouse). Make note of these features on graph paper scaled down from your string grid. Next you'll want to do a surface survey of the area, including the area around and beyond the privvy itself, gathering whatever you see on the surface of the ground and putting the items in labeled baggies. These of course would be the most recently dated items, unless you have reason to believe the ground was disturbed and they were brought to the surface from below at some point. Note the location of any of these surface items on the graph paper according to their placement within the string grid. When you're satisfied that you have found whatever there is to be found at the surface, you can start to dig below the surface, probably in 5 to 10 cm layers, which is typical in most archaeological digs. If you find anything, bag it, label it and note its location on the paper grid. Civil War Seamstress was right about being careful about a cave-in, and I'm not sure how deep you'd need to or want to go. But I do think you could safely do enough to get something informative about your site without going too terribly deep. When you are done, you can look at the types of items found, and their relationship to one another through time and across the physical space of the site, including the house and other structures on the property. You also would want to note changes in the color and texture of the soils in each layer, as this can also tell you about the parameters of the site, in addition to other kinds of information that is not probably not relevant to your particular task (if you were actually doing a dig, you would use a Munsell color chart to identify the color of the soil with a Munsell number). I'm assuming that your property is fairly flat and even, being in the Great Plains, but pay attention to any nearby slopes where heavy rain over time could have washed things either toward the area of the privvy or away from it. This kind of disturbance ('purturbation') will have some affect on how you interpret what you find. Hope this helps.
Note: My husband, who received his graduate training specifically in archaeology and also participated in an 1840 outhouse dig, suggested you wear gloves to protect your hands from sharp objects, etc. I also asked him how deep you could expect to dig, and he said he dug down about 4 feet in the one he did, so I don't think you'll need to go more than approximately that.

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