recent finds from chicago dig sites and the remarkable discovery of a second privy vault wood floor

between residential and commercial salvages, i'm making an effort to also  visit and dig multiple excavation sites that are seemingly popping up all around chicago.

digging up these "portals to the past" has provided me the opportunity to collect more data in the form of bottles, fragments, building materials that were bulldozed into the ground during demolitions decades ago, and hundreds of photographs capturing these finds. I've also found buried foundations and in at least one instance, rubble from the 1871 great fire of chicago.

perhaps the most exciting discovery as of late is the retrieval of a second circular privy vault or pit wood floor (not tongue and groove). along with this, we captured a partial pit exposed "in situ" by an excavator while digging. the machine's bucket literally sliced right through the privy pit floor, leaving a straight line with darkened fill directly above it. several fragments were retrieved, including an open-pontiled medicine bottle likely dating to the late 1840's or early 1850's. both the partially intact floor and an 1857 rendering of the block where the privy pit was located are shown below.


the largely intact privy pit wood floor i managed to retrieve from the ground was discovered under a house i had salvaged a few weeks prior. the wood-framed house was constructed shortly after the fire but by the time i arrived, very little of its original interior elements remained. instead i stuck around and documented the demolition and extracted building material specimens to add to my ever-growing historic building material database.

i rushed over when the wrecker contacted me over what appeared to be a suspicious spot that was mostly black and smelled of excrement. like the russell privy, this "vault" had been cemented over sometime in the 1920's, if not mid-teens when a garage was constructed there. unfortunately, the 19th century "night scavenger" did his job all too well and cleaned out most of the debris, which likely would have been bottles, earthenware and the like.



regardless, i was thrilled to discover mostly intact floor with only minor damage along the edges. unlike the russell privy pit, this one consisted of a floor surrounded by multi-layered brick arranged in circular formation. there wasn't any tongue and groove, staves or iron strapping.

after removing the fecal-infested boards, we loaded them on the truck with a few of the bricks and let everything dry for weeks. i then took on the task of sanding the boards, sealing them and reassembling the floor with added supports along the underside to make it displayable and mobile for presentations, etc.

the galley below represents several cleaned and documented fragments in the form of china, stoneware, glass bottles (both damaged and largely intact), broken glass from a gasolier shade, doll parts and so on. the objects unearthed from this particular site date to the late 1840's e.g., open-pontiled medicine bottles) through the depression (several borden milk bottles and globe beverage company bottles.