Outhouse "time capsule" in downtown Louisville
Convention Center excavation gives insight into early Louisville history
In November 1995, KAS archaeologists excavated the remains of three 19th-century privy pits (outhouses) at the site of the new Kentucky Convention Center in downtown Louisville. Funded by the Kentucky Finance Cabinet, the Convention Center excavations gave us an opportunity to examine some of Louisville's earliest privies. With the help of University of Louisville students and volunteers, thousands of artifacts were analyzed and catalogued.
Beginning in the 1810s, this area of Louisville was a thriving business and residential area. Merchants and local businesses occupied the Convention Center site, catering to the many travelers who visited the city. One of the most prominent residents was Mr. James Rudd, a wealthy politician and businessman. Rudd died in 1867; his wife Nancy died in 1880. In 1884, their house was demolished. The remains recovered from one of the privies excavated by KAS archaeologists were discarded by a wealthy household. Since this privy was located in the rear of the Rudd's property, it is possible that the materials found in the privy came from the Rudd household.
Privies are a kind of time capsule, because people discarded the objects of everyday life in them. Some of the more interesting kinds of artifacts recovered from the privy shown here include medicine bottles, smoking pipes, plain china and blue transfer-print china. Analysis of the medicine bottles indicates that members of the household suffered from periodic bouts of dysentery and had lung problems. One bottle suggests a family member was concerned about hair loss. The smoking pipes reflect adult leisure time activities. This family used plain whiteware for most daily activities, but they preferred blue transfer-print china for formal dining. The many pieces of blue transfer-print china like the one shown here reflect the family's wealth and prominence in Louisville.
By examining the artifacts left by this wealthy family, we have learned and continued to learn more about what life was like in 19th century Louisville.