Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Privies but Were too Polite to Ask:

Privvy restoration at Webb Deane Stevens Museum

Three rare, historic privies are fully restored and once again sitting pretty on the grounds of WDS. They will be featured in tours beginning in spring, 2015.

Connecticut Historic Restoration Fund Grant Allows for Restoration of Historic Outhouses at Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum

Wethersfield, Conn. (January 7, 2015)— Thanks to a $56,575 matching grant from the Connecticut Historic Restoration Fund, three rare, historic privies—known to some as outhouses—have been fully restored and are once again sitting pretty on the grounds of the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum (WDS).

As renovations commenced this fall, WDS held a special media open house with WDS Executive Director Charles Lyle, during which the news media was made “privy” to the practices and procedures of answering nature’s call before the days of indoor plumbing. The media responded with great enthusiasm and humor, resulting in articles, replete with photos, in the Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, Connecticut Magazine online, New Haven Register and Wethersfield Life, and with much attendant discussion in related blogs, comment sections, and on Facebook

The media enlightened the public on how the operation of a proper privy, with its own etiquette and various accoutrements, could be quite a production during the 18th and 19th centuries. Boasting a surprising number of options—multiple seats varying in height and circumference, and even armrests—the WDS outhouses, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are an element of history that continues to fascinate the public. “We get many questions about the privies,” says WDS guide and teacher, Elizabeth O’Brien. “People are very curious about them.” She adds that children ask the most pointed, and sometimes amusing, questions. The top-to-bottom restoration of the privies will enable museum’s staff to include these objects of interest in public tours and educational programs beginning in the spring of 2015.

Repairs to the outhouses included replacing the cedar shingle roofs, and restoration and painting of both the exteriors and interior walls, and the origin finial atop one of them. The Connecticut Historic Restoration Fund grant also enabled WDS to replace the Deane House wood-shingle roof, which was also badly in need of replacement. The work on the 1770 home of America’s first diplomat to France consisted of installing a new roof with pressure-treated red cedar shingles, one layer of cedar breather, and a layer of 30-pound felt on the existing wood deck. An ice-and-water shield was installed, and the three chimneys repointed, and reflashed with copper. The work was performed by JHS Restoration, Inc., of South Windsor.

“Historic houses and outbuildings of this caliber require meticulous repair and restoration,” says Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum Executive Director Charles Lyle. “We are extraordinarily grateful to the State of Connecticut for the matching funds needed to address these critical preservation issues.” Lyle adds that the Deane House siding, woodwork, windows, and masonry foundation were restored and repainted to its original 1770 appearance with matching funds from the Connecticut Historic Restoration Fund in 2011-12.

The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Connecticut (NSCDA-CT) received support for this project from the State Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Economic and Community Development through Connecticut’s Historic Restoration Fund and the Community Investment Act of the State of Connecticut. NSCDA-CT has owned and operated the museum since 1919.

About the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum

Located in the heart of Connecticut’s largest historic district, the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum provides the quintessential New England experience – from the American Revolution to the early 20th century. Tours include the 1752 Joseph Webb House, where General George Washington met with French General Rochambeau and planned the military campaign leading to the end of the Revolutionary War, the 1770 Silas Deane House, built for America’s first diplomat to France, and the 1788 Isaac Stevens House, which depicts Connecticut life in the 18th and 19th centuries. For more information visit: www.webb-deane-stevens.org or call (860) 529-0612. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WDSMUSEUM.


Charles Lyle, Executive Director
(860) 529-0612, ext.14, [email protected]

Julie Winkel, Media Specialist, (203) 815-0800, [email protected]