First Time Privy Dig - 9 Years Old

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amandarud55

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Hi all. Thank you for allowing me into this forum.

I’ll start with a quick background. My father in law had a love of digging bottles and passed the excitement of the hobby to our young son; an adventurous 9 year old who could spend his entire day digging. He’s been doing so since he was 6. Sadly, my father in law passed leaving my husband and I to keep the excitement alive - and we are both embarrassingly rookie at his hobby.

Though we’ve got permissions to an old town dump, our son has his sights set on a privy dig. His Papaw had him fired up about doing one but sadly never got to take him so we are wanting to fulfill that wish - no matter the outcome.

We’ve had our noses in forums, books, old newspapers and maps to cram. We’ve taken field trips to local history museums and libraries and have started the process of respectfully gaining permissions. We’re trying.


The only issue? We still feel like we aren’t doing something right. Our Sanborn maps seem to only include certain areas of our city and every permission we’ve had thus far has literally been just a block or two short of these maps. We are having trouble locating the privies. Though we’ve confidentially gathered tons of info on how to find a privy, actually finding one is something we have yet to do. We’d love that “ah ha, so this is what they’re talking about” moment.

It appears most of the privies in the area were located against the alleys and we believe the local privies were dipped. We found numerous newspaper articles that would support that.We’ve probed along the alley at a location we can frequent, but darn it, we’re just not confident on what we’re feeling.

We dug a test area and found ash about 3” deep. About 2 feet down we found a broken Duffy malt whisky, a broken applied beer and a piece of a real pretty blue aqua med. About 6 more inches down we found hard orange clay. The probe busts through it, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that indicates we should go further.

On the opposite side of the property we found ash and loads of coal by the alley. It was probably about 2 foot down. We were excited when we found some brick in what appeared to be a circular formation (though messy) but it hit that same clay about 3 foot as well and the brick seemed to stop.

Would anyone be willing to account their urban privy digs as far as what layers you’ve run into and what indicators were there for you to keep going when there wasn’t a map and obvious signs of a privy? Maybe recount a dig that surprised you? Or a dig that had a heavily dipped privy? There’s no dip/indention in the area, no lilac, no funny colored grass; no obvious indication to the rookies at all - just loads of gravel to move.

My husband and I appreciate your input in advance.
Privy Promised in Indiana
 
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CanadianBottles

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Welcome to the forum! Hopefully someone on here who's done privy digging can come along and give you more info than I can, since I never have. A couple of things that I've learned from seeing other people's posts on privy digging are that usually the walls of the privy are pretty well-defined, if not by bricks then just by the change in soil composition. Another is that clay caps were sometimes used when filling in a privy - does your probe go through the clay and then keep going with ease? Because natural clay doesn't usually have anything soft underneath, so that would suggest that you should keep digging. I think privy dipping was carried out to some degree in all cities, the question is more about whether some privies weren't dipped (presumably any privy that was around during the transition to indoor plumbing wouldn't have had its final contents dipped, unless some public health regulation required it). But even if the privy was dipped then there can still be bottles left at the bottom in the corners - from the posts I've seen on here, privy digging more often involves digging a large hole for a small handful of bottles than it does digging hundreds of bottles out of one hole. The other issue is that not everyone would have thrown their trash into the privy anyway - presumably many people would have wanted to avoid filling it up too quickly and disposed of trash exclusively at the city dump.

Depending on the age of the town dump that you've got permission for that might be the better place to start. An undug pre-1920s dump which you have indefinite permission for would be a very lucky thing to get. You'll probably be spending a lot less energy to dig a lot more bottles.
 

hemihampton

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I was hoping nhpharm would answer this since he has had lots of luck lately digging privy's. Me, not so much luck lately. LEON.
 

margclearlake

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I have dug many privies but alas, cant seem to find the one on my 1889 house. just found another weird hole, see my recent post "hole in my yard"
 

margclearlake

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not all privies are dipped. even in the city. i have always thought that it depended on wether they wanted to pay for it. also, dont ignore the cisterns for digging opps. if the house is original, would typically be right outside the back door so they could pump the water in. I have had major success with stuff coming out of those.
 

margclearlake

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gravel sounds good, maybe someone way later decided to help the sinking hole by adding it, i know its a pain, but.....
 

margclearlake

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when someone here refers to a bricker it means that a privy was brick lined and that really helps you see where exactly it was., also, yards can have lots of privies, i have read that they are often in a line. they fill one and dig another, in digging there really isnt an exact science, i believe.,
 

cor3y7

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Keep in mind that many infilled shaft features, especially privies, were capped with a layer of clay, either when finally retired (fully filled in) or in between deposition episodes. The clay you are encountering may be a cap and the artifacts are below.
 

hemihampton

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Out of the 100 Privies I've dug in Michigan I maybe only ran into 4 or 5 that seemed to have a clay cap & they were near the bottom. One for sure definately had one that was like 2 feet thick, thought we hit bottom but probing through the clay i could feel tons of broken glass or objects below it. inside this 2 foot clay cap I ended up pulling out a killer 1870's Cobalt Blue P. Wolf soda squat bottle, A nice, unexpected surprise. LEON.

Wolf2.JPG
MeHolfdingWolfinHole.png
 

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