You’re standing in front of one of the most important buildings on the Wheatland farm: the privy. The privy, also known as an outhouse, was the standard toilet building for most Americans in the 19th century, before indoor plumbing was an option. This structure has two sections -- walk around to the southern side, facing the Carriage House, to view its two doors. The section on the east, facing the museum building, houses an impressive five seats, while the section on the west contains three seats. When William Jenkins had this structure built in the late 1820s, he knew he would need accommodations for his large family and household staff. The five seats in a row, which range from adult size to child size, could comfortably accommodate multiple members of his family. The child size holes were important to ensure child safety -- you wouldn’t want a child to fall into the deep privy pit. The side with three seats was likely used by staff.
Although most of us are used to matters of the toilet being private, modesty meant something different to 19th-century Americans. Rather than viewing a 5-seat privy as uncomfortable, they would have viewed it as a luxury and enjoyed its substantial comfort. Buchanan and his little family, in addition to their household staff, would have made use of this privy. Archeological evidence suggests it was in use regularly until the 1880s.
Today, privies can yield important secrets to archaeologists and historians. Before municipal trash pickups existed, household residents used privies to deposit their daily trash. The contents of privy pits can reveal a lot about daily life in an earlier era.