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Privy to our preservation process

February 5, 2016

Boardman House Privy

Historic New England's carpentry crew recently repaired an outbuilding that often gets overlooked by visitors: the privy behind Boardman House in Saugus, Massachusetts. The privy, or outhouse, was a once-common feature of everyday life that, thanks to indoor plumbing, has almost completely disappeared.

The history of this privy, as is common with outbuildings, is not well documented. Historic New England founder William Sumner Appleton often built or re-built privies at many of our properties to prevent the installation of plumbing and the inevitable changes to the character of the house. The Boardman House privy, or one that looks remarkably like it, is clearly visible in photographs by 1940, which places it within Appleton’s lifetime.

If the privy was built to prevent the installation of a bathroom, it was not successful for long. Plumbing was installed in the house in 1956 and upgraded again in 1972 to accommodate caretakers.

By the summer of 2015 the little building was sorely in need of upkeep, having suffered from both weather and vandalism. The carpentry crew undertook a comprehensive repair campaign that covered every part of the building from framing and foundations to roof shingles and stain.

The building now stands ready to withstand decades more weather, serving as a tangible reminder of how daily life was different for our ancestors.

Historic New England properties include not just houses, but also barns, sheds, and, yes, privies. All of them require upkeep. You can help by making a gift to the Preservation Maintenance Fund.

Photos of the repairs:

Boardman Privy
The “before” picture


Fig 2.
Under the roof shingles was a board marked “Bartels and Thelan Co. Chelsea.” A quick Google search found Bartels and Thelan listed as shoe manufacturers from at least 1902 to 1918. This is a historic example of reuse and recycling.


Fig. 3.
A mouse-eye view of the framing repairs


Fig. 4.
The new roof is placed onto the privy.


Fig 5.
Almost there


Fig. 6.
Repairs complete


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Privy to our preservation process