1850s bathroom being preserved

Published 12:03 am Friday, January 13, 2012

ERIC SHELTON/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — James Davis of the National Park Service prepares to help transport items from Dunleith to the Historic Natchez Foundation Thursday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — National Park Service staff disassembled a bathroom dating back to the 1850s in Dunleith Thursday in hopes of preserving it as a cultural artifact.

Park service employees carefully took apart the bathroom’s bathtub, shower, flush toilet and three large cisterns in the attic that fed water to the bathroom.

Jeff Mansell, historian for NPS, said the bathroom is one of less than 20 antique bathrooms like it left in the country. He said it is a rare example of the emerging technology of the late 1850s.

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Mansell said he believes the house had both hot and cold water during that time. He said water was heated in the basement and piped upstairs to the bathtub and wash table basin, both of which have two faucets.

“The fact that we had one of these systems in Natchez in the late 1850s is very significant,” Mansell said. “You just don’t come across things like this very often.”

The marble basin for the wash table that goes with the system was not in the bathroom, but Mansell said NPS could possibly be getting it soon.

Kathleen Jenkins, superintendent for NPS, said the park service would like to reassemble and install the bathroom for display at Melrose. She said NPS is awaiting the final decision of what will be done with the bathroom from the owners of Dunleith.

Mansell said Melrose had a similar bathroom during the same time. He said if NPS reassembles the bathroom, it will more than likely be installed in one of the two dressing rooms at Melrose that are currently closed to the public.

Once the bathroom is installed, Mansell said, the room will be open for public viewing. He said he believes people will be surprised at the plumbing technology that was used in the bathroom.

“I don’t think (people) think of systems like this existing in the 19th century,” he said.

John Holyoak, manager of Dunleith, said the bathroom is being renovated as a guest room and is part of several renovations at the historic property to create more guest rooms.

Holyoak said moving the bathroom’s contents from Dunleith will allow the rare technology to be preserved and displayed.

“If we leave that bathroom where it is, no one will ever see it,” he said. “The benefit of having it moved is that it will be set up as a public display and tourists will be able to see something extremely unique.”