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Historic New England’s carpentry crew recently repaired an outbuilding that often gets overlooked by visitors: the privy behind Boardman House inSaugus, 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, asis common with outbuildings, is not well documented. Historic New England founder WilliamSumner Appleton often built or re-built privies at many of our properties to prevent the installation of plumbing and the inevitable changes tothe character of the house. The Boardman House privy, or one that looks remarkably like it, isclearly visible in photographs by 1940, which places it within Appleton’s lifetime.
If the privy was built toprevent the installation of a bathroom, it was not successful for long. Plumbingwas installed in the house in 1956 and upgraded again in 1972 to accommodatecaretakers.
By the summer of 2015 thelittle building was sorely in need of upkeep, having suffered from both weatherand vandalism. The carpentry crew undertook a comprehensive repair campaignthat covered every part of the building from framing and foundations to roofshingles and stain.
The building now stands ready to withstand decades more weather, serving as a tangible reminder of how dailylife was different for our ancestors.
Historic New England properties include not just houses, but also barns, sheds, and, yes, privies. All of themrequire upkeep. You can help by making a gift to the Preservation Maintenance Fund.
Photos of the repairs: