Four diggers excavated the remains of a privy on Walnut Street this afternoon. What's a privy, you ask? The dictionary defines it as: "A toilet located in a small shed outside a house or other building; an outhouse." So, why would anyone be digging up such a thing?
In the days before indoor toilets, people used the privy not only to "do their business," but also as a trash receptacle. In other words, a privy is - or can be - a trove of artifacts from a particular era.
Rick Weiner, one of today's privy diggers, told the Spy that workers were retrieving objects from about the 1890s. (A previous dig in the same area yielded objects from the 1700s.) He said the privy (shown below) was especially large, measuring six feet in diameter. He estimated it could turn out to be 15 feet deep. Most privies around town measure about four feet in diameter and four feet deep, Weiner said.
Weiner added that the top layer of digging usually consists of lime that was applied to neutralize the soil and moderate the smell of the privy. The process of excavation is laborious and time-consuming, as workers in the hole dig and load buckets that are continually hauled to the top and dumped.
Rick Weiner's website is HERE.
Workers dig and load soil into the bucket shown (left). The bucket is then pulled up and dumped.
A few finds from today's dig
Loose bricks are set aside. The privy wall consists of a single layer of bricks stacked without mortar.
Workers continue loading buckets during excavation.
Rick Weiner shows a bottle from today's dig. The inscription appears to read: "W.M. Borden, Odd Fellows Hall Pharmacy, Columbia, PA."
Another medicine bottle from the dig.
"Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription"
The remains of a comb