Museum turns attention to history of bathrooms

PARKERSBURG – A group of about 20 history buffs learned about the history of bathrooms at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History on Saturday.

“Along with the kitchen, the bathroom is the most important room in the home,” said West Virginia State Park historian Ray Swick. “The history of the bathroom is more interesting than one would think.”

Since humans have been in existence, so have areas set aside for dirty business. Archaeologists have found evidence of toilets near Scotland that date back 6,000 years.

The roughly half-hour program discussed how bathrooms in the modern sense, as part of the house, did not come into existence until the Civil War.

“The bathroom is seen in not entirely in a reputable light because of what goes on in there,” Swick said.

The lecture, which took place in the third floor gathering space of the museum at 137 Juliana St., told of the lavatory technology used by the ancient Romans and Egyptians and the evolution of the chamber pot.

“After the fall of ancient Rome, public toilets and plumbing all fell away for 1,500 years,” Swick said. “Chamber pots were used for several hundred years and at times were kept in every room of the house.”

The museum held the lecture to kick off its new exhibit – “Behind Closed Doors: American Bathrooms Through the Ages” – of bathroom artifacts dating to the 18th century. The exhibit will be on display through the year and includes a Victorian-era foot bath, toilets and chamber pots as well as a bathing tub.

Swick will give the lecture again at 1 p.m. July 20 at the museum. Admission to the museum is $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 3 to 12.