Lavatory Luxury: Images of an 1850s Bathroom

Indoor Plumbing

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

An 1850s bathroom that has survived more than 150 years in the Dunleith Historical Inn in Natchez, Miss. The bathtub, shower and toilet are all part of the same piece of wooden furniture.

1850s Toilet

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

Pipes pumped water from the first-floor laundry to the attic, where the water stayed stored in large cisterns. Opening the faucets or yanking the toilet handle (on left) would allow the water to flow down into the bathroom fixtures. Waste would have been carried out of the pipes into a primitive septic system.

Simple Showerhead

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

The large showerhead would have created a rain-like effect, not unlike today's luxury showers. Hot water would have been available, thanks to the fires burning in the laundry room below.

Old Toilet

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

Though the bathroom survived, it has likely not been used since the early 1900s. For the last 10 years, the room has been used for storage. Now, the Dunleith Historical Inn has donated the fixtures to the National Park Service so the fixtures can be installed in another mansion for public viewing.

Removing the Shower

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

Removing the large, heavy fixtures from the cramped third-floor bathroom was difficult.

Removing the Cistern

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

Perhaps the biggest challenge was getting the 400-pound zinc-lined storage cistern for the shower and bathwater out of the attic. Construction crews had to build a special ramp and use a forklift to slide the tank out.

Shower

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

A close-up look at the 1850s shower. Only the wealthiest families had indoor bathrooms in this era. The Dunleith bathroom was installed in 1959, only a few years after the White House got running water to its residential bathroom.

Bathtub Removal

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

Park Service employees uninstall the bathtub from the spot where it has been for more than 150 years.

Moving a Bathroom

Natchez 1850s bathroom

(Image credit: Natchez National Historical Park)

The fixtures will now be installed in a nearby mansion called Melrose, which dates to the same antebellum era as Dunleith.