The Immaculate Heart Academy outhouse was a wood walled rectangular shaped vault
measuring 6 feet by 13½ and was 2½ feet deep. The vault was filled with historic
refuse representing the 1880’s Immaculate Heart Academy period.
The vault was depicted on the 1888 Sanborn Insurance map and labeled as “W. C.” (a
typical designation for “water closet” or outhouse).
Having been buried since the 1920's, the outhouse vault was completely intact when
exposed by the construction excavator. In an effort to enable
new school construction to continue on schedule, a group of professional
archaeologists and 15 volunteers spent a very long weekend
excavating the outhouse feature.
Three contiguous 5 foot units (A, B, and C). These were
excavated in bulk sections. Soils from the easternmost unit (A)
and westernmost unit (C) were screened through ¼” mesh to
recover as much cultural material as possible. Material
recovered from each section was bagged separately in hopes
that further analysis may provide some hint at the overall use
of the feature (e.g. boy’s side vs. girl’s side or nuns vs. students).
Once the outside sections were completed, the central unit (B)
was hand dug and shovel-broadcast enabling the recovery of
easily observed cultural material. Soil profiles were drawn and
soil samples taken from each of the main soil layers that were
uncovered. Construction crews worked around this feature
while the crew recovered and screened its contents.
Eight soil samples and 57 five gal. buckets of artifacts were
recovered and returned to the lab for analysis. Following Cleaning
and sorting there were 1,647 catalog entries representing several
thousand individual artifacts.
Physical Characteristics of the
Soil layers throughout the privy
sloped from high in the south to low
in the north. This suggests that the
openings for sitting were located over
the southern portion of the pit. At
least 4 distinct soil layers were
observed and are pictured in this
profile drawing along with the
boundaries of the three excavation
units (A, B, C).
Site maintained as a public service by Archaeological Research, PO Box 1353, Lucerne, CA 95458.
|The Vault and its Excavation
|History and Prehistory of Lake County
|Use the buttons at right to learn about the items discovered
A. The surface of the entire privy area
and extending into the vault was
covered by broken brick and other
structural debris in a dark organic
soil matrix. It is likely that this top
layer was pushed into the upper
portion of the privy vault during the
demolition of the privy and
B. Clay and gravel soils mixed
with domestic trash.
C. Clay and gravel soils mixed
with domestic trash.
D. A layer of rusty metal both
within the soil column as well
as along the floor.
The plan view of the privy vault
shows its construction. The vault
appears to have been lined with 1” or
½” x 12” redwood boards. These
boards were supported by 4 x 4” posts
in each corner of the vault and along
the long walls at 2 or 2½-foot
intervals. The floor of the vault was
bare ground, however, in at least four
places, 4 x 4” beams were used as
spacers to hold the support posts
apart against the weight of the earth.
Redwood boards separated the western 5
feet of the vault from the eastern portion.
It is possible that this western 5 x 5 foot
square area was originally an intact/
standalone outhouse vault and that an
expansion of the outhouse was needed
prompting the addition of the 8 feet of
wood lined vault to the east.
Alternatively, it is possible that the
entire vault was constructed at once with
a separating wall between the western and
eastern areas for privacy purposes. The
addition of 1” thick, 5" x 10” pier boards
under the wall supports in the western
area, supports the “expand an existing
privy” hypothesis. If the entire vault were
constructed at one time, these pier boards
would be expected throughout the
Although this discussion of vault construction may seem esoteric, knowing its
history will make understanding its contents easier. This description will enable
comparison with similar facilities that have been discovered and excavated at other
historic sites nearby (see Chinatown project).
Unit A and C excavation took place simultaneously. Once complete, the center unit
(Unit B) was removed. During excavation, slight differences were noted in the
content of the units.