Agnes Street home page
June 7 Field School Banner After about half of the field season we've now excavated most of the well that once sat behind the home at 444 Agnes Street, much of a pit at 452 Agnes is complete, and we have uncovered the top of the two-story outhouse at 458-460 Agnes Street.  The two-story outhouse has just been uncovered, and we'll begin digging the nearly eight-feet square brick-lined pit this week.  Here are some of the things we've found so far.
This little piggy went to the market The well at 444 Agnes Street likely sat under the back porch of the very slender home built in the 1890's.  The well appears to have been filled quite quickly, probably just after World War II, and it contains typical household trash from the period:  broken bottles, some plates, food remains (ranging from pig to groundhog, raccoon, and chipmunk), and a scatter of things like a charm bracelet and a medallion from the 1927 American Legion convention in Paris.
chambsmall2.jpg (28426 bytes) Left (click on thumbnail for larger picture): this chamber pot proclaimed itself "The Smallest," and at less than an inch in diameter the Japanese-produced curio is indeed quite miniscule.
dogcharm.jpg (53381 bytes) Left (thumbnail): this small dog appears to have been from a bracelet.
Above:  Jennifer hands up a young pig's pelvis from the well.
Right:  This now well-worn bronze souvenir came from the 444 Agnes Street well.  The American Legion was formed by Congress in 1919 as a wartime veteran's organization, which by chance is based here in Indianapolis.  In 1927 the Legion's annual Convention met in Paris.  A veteran likely secured this bronze souvenir coin in France at the September convention.  It is not yet clear how the coin eventually found its way into our well:  a household member may have been a veteran at the Convention, but it may have come into the household through a wide range of paths.  The coin is 20 years older than most of the well fill, which suggests that the object had some personal or idiosyncratic importance that led somebody to keep it for two decades after the convention.  We hope to find out soon if any household members were World War I veterans who might have attended the Paris convention. 1927 American Legion Convention medal
Right (thumbnail):  the Agnes Street legion medal originally looked like this amlegmedal2.jpg (22863 bytes)
Feature 3 Left:  this roughly three-bv-four foot pit sits at the end of a laid brick sidewalk in the back yard of 452 Agnes Street, and we are not exactly certain what it might be.  The pit has numerous thin layers of coal ash and refuse that suggest it was filled in a series of distinct episodes, most of which appear to post-date 1930.  Wood remnants along the walls and in the corners suggest it was wood-lined.  We have excavated half the pit to about three feet deep (so we can see the soil stratigraphy layers of the pit in cross-section), and it now has large wood plank fragments and a dense deposit of very small animal bones.  We should soon be digging the other half, but we're not quite sure exactly how it was being used.  The pit is located in the appropriate place for a privy, but this is not a typical privy shape in Indianapolis.  If you have the answer, we're eager to hear it.
toddbank.jpg (85568 bytes)Left (thumbnail): Todd holds up a glass piggy bank from the pit feature.
2storyclear5.jpg (118468 bytes)Left (thumbnail): The yellow arrows point to the nearly eight-feet square brick foundations of the two-story Agnes Street privy. Howard Fieber's 1941 photo of the two-story Agnes Street privy is well-known on the IUPUI campus, and the notion of a two-story outhouse is pretty interesting, so plenty of folks are interested in the two-story outhouse that we uncovered June 6th.  Two-story privies are relatively uncommon pieces of architecture that were typically constructed for densely settled contexts like hotels or boarding houses.  The double at 458-460 Agnes Street was a two-story home subdivided into four household spaces, so that many people--20 people were sometimes living in this home--would have demanded more than a single-seat outhouse.
2story1.jpg (105615 bytes)Left:  The privy foundations looked like this when the surface was cleaned.
The Indianapolis example appears to be unique on the near-Westside, and the structures are most common in the Midwest, where a couple still stand.  Oran, Iowa had a now-dismantled two-story outhouse built in 1913 (ours is circa 1910-1914), and it was accessed by a walkway much like Fieber's photograph shows on Agnes Street.  A nineteenth-century Gays, Illinois example is still standing; the building it was once connected to is now gone.
2storypost8.jpg (95709 bytes) Left (thumbnail): the massive outhouse sat on a two-course wide mortared brick foundation with massive posts at the interior corners; the corner posts are shown here excavated.
fieber.jpg (137971 bytes) Left (thumbnail): Howard Fieber's 1941 photo of the Agnes Street outhouse 
2story3.jpg (108236 bytes) Left (thumbnail): Today Fieber would see this landscape with the privy foundations in the foreground and the University Hotel in the background.

It isn't clear how many seats were in the Agnes Street example or exactly how it was constructed:  some two-level privies had more than two seats on each level and chute systems that could accommodate a crowd.  We hope some field excavation can answer some of these questions in the coming weeks.

We should post more information on the excavation's findings in the next week or two, so check back for more details or drop the excavation site at the corner of Michigan Street and University Boulevard.  For more on the dig, email Paul Mullins or visit the IUPUI News Center Press release or Indianapolis Star article on the project.

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Outhouse photograph courtesy IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives.
Last updated June 12, 2003