Privy preservation Portions of Moravian outhouse may date back to 1759

By on November 14, 2012

By: CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer



Photo by Preston WhitcraftHistorical-minded volunteers Bill Oehme and Tom Wentzel carefully dismantle the old Moravian privy next to the Moravian archives building.

My historical story for this month takes us to Moravian Square on Main Street in downtown Lititz. Located on the side yard of the Grosh house (which is also owned by the Moravian Church) stands an old outhouse, or "privy."

More than likely, it was built in the early 1800s when the Grosh house was built. It has been modified over the years, with the latest change turning it into a three-door facility, complete with an extra room which has been determined to be a waiting room.

Due to the age of the structure, the pits were filled many years ago, and the floors and some of the support beams are rotted. In addition, the stone and brick walls are starting to crumble and lean. If this building was to be saved, something had to be done, and done soon.

After careful discussion, it was agreed upon by the Moravian Archives Committee that this piece of Americana which is rapidly disappearing — not only from the Lititz area, but also from the American historical landscape — should be preserved. The archives committee voted to not only keep it from being torn down forever, but also agreed to rebuild it using as many of the existing parts as possible. It was decided that it was to be rebuilt in the back yard of the Moravian Mission Gift Shop which is situated just above the privy’s current location.

With hammers and pry bars in hand, two volunteers from the committee spent a fall morning several weeks ago carefully taking apart the siding and the beams. Upon closer examination, it was noticed that only one of the rooms still had its original seat intact. What’s more, it was of the "two-hole" variety which included a larger adult sized hole, and a smaller hole for a child.

The waiting room side of the structure dates to about 1908, when the Home for Aged Women (current Moravian archives building) was built. This connection was evident when some of the same pink cement bricks which make up the archives building were noticed lining the walls of the waiting room.

The three doors which made up the outhouse were discovered to be constructed from wood that was sawed in both the 18th and 19th centuries. There is evidence of kerf marks on the siding of the building, which were cut using the "pit saw" method which predates the invention of the circular saw and only came into use around the time of the Civil War. Also, the nails that held the wood in place were that of the "cut nails" variety, and are square in shape. Although these were machine made, this variety of nail was frequently used through the 19th century.

Two of the doors used to enter the privy are of special curiosity. It was discovered that these were constructed from wide planks of wood having tongue and groove joints, with a support board nailed across them on one side to hold everything in place. The nails which were found in these boards are of the "rose head" nail variety, which was very common during the 18th century.

What’s fascinating to note is that there was indeed a nail smith shop operating behind the Brother’s House (now Fellowship Hall) on the church grounds at one time. There is a very good chance that these nails may have been manufactured just a short walk from where this "necessary room" was built!

Of further note, these older doors match those that are currently in the basement of the Lititz Gemeinhaus, which was built in 1759. Several archives members have concluded that it is very possible that this was a means by forefathers of the congregation to recycle the old doors that were no longer used, but did not want to discarded.

The privy also contains, on the west wall, a louvered vent, which contains a small glass paneled door. This was likely utilized to let a little fresh air in after the user "did their business." There was even an insect-infested roll of toilet paper hanging on an old metal bathroom tissue holder found inside one of the "relief rooms."

As this article goes to press, the Lititz Moravian archives committee is working very hard to pinpoint the actual date of construction. A formal, professional excavation is also being discussed to unlock what additional information may be discovered around this area.

Although to some, it only seems like a useless old building, the committee put history and preservation first when they decided to salvage this structure, and I applaud them for all of their hard work and efforts on this project. This is the month of Thanksgiving, and I am very thankful that they have taken it upon themselves to preserve this important structure from Lititz’s Moravian past. More HISTORICAL OUTHOUSE, page A3

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