Checking out the toilets in a mansion for a sanitation advocate and pioneer in the US.
The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion team showed FLUSH's Kim Worsham around the mansion to check out their impressive preservation and, well, the toilets. Legrand Lockwood was a big name when modern sanitation movements became popular in the US. His mansion tells us a lot about what can happen when someone is really motivated to change the status quo for the sake of better living. We will walk you through the story of Lockwood and his toilets here.
Who Was Legrand Lockwood?
Legrand Lockwood was a Norwalk, CT native and born in 1820. Lockwood built his professional reputation as a successful Wall Street broker after brokering railroad stock (he was a rival of Vanderbilt). His reputation got him elected as the Treasurer of the New York Stock Exchange in 1863, and he sold war bonds in Europe to raise money for the Union side during the Civil War. He also became a staunch supporter and advocate for sanitation and improved public health for the New York Metro Area. In 1869, Lockwood's investment company fell into bankruptcy on Black Friday, but we'll focus more on his sanitation legacy here.
A Major Sanitation Advocate
Before the 1860s, the concept of disease spreading through bad-smelling air (aka: miasma). The concept of miasma led to aristocrats thinking that, so long as they breathed in the sweet air, they'd be okay from deadly diseases. Sadly, this meant that cholera and other water-borne diseases could wreak havoc every few years. As a result, Legrand Lockwood witnessed terrible disease outbreaks, including three cholera pandemics in 1832, 1849, and 1866.
In the 1860s, a movement was growing in the US around sanitation. A sanitary revolution may have been inevitable with deadly outbreaks and 750,000 Civil War soldiers dying from infections (rather than in battle). Lockwood financially supported the women-driven US Sanitary Commission to provide sanitary medical relief for Union soldiers.
Fun Tangential Fact: Clara Barton used the US Sanitary Commission as inspiration to create the American Red Cross in 1881.
From 1864 to 1869, Lockwood also was a patron and member of Dr. Stephen Smith's Citizens' Association of New York. This group worked to report on the city's sanitary conditions and improve public health for all residents – not just the rich.
The last cholera outbreak happened while Lockwood was a seasoned professional in 1866. John Snow's epidemiological study in London and the growth of Germ Theory spurred many public health discussions about sanitary reform. The Citizens' Association was well-placed to advocate for clean living environments and put together new standards and regulations for better public health and sanitation systems. The group also advocated for creating NYC's Metropolitan Board of Health in 1866, the US's first municipal public health authority.
The Tour: Ahead of the Times
With the spread of infectious diseases in urban areas in the 1860s, Legrand Lockwood was keen to build his mansion with sanitation and hygiene in mind. The mansion had a 2,000-gallon water tank at the top, fed from a local private reservoir through gravity to supply the estate with clean water through running raps. Common with the times, the mansion has a sink in each bedroom so visitors and residents could wash their hands or face quickly without leaving the comfort of their room. The house is fully plumbed – sinks, baths, and toilets were piped into the home, making the collection of waste and water unnecessary.
Images of the ground-floor bathroom and the ornate sinks (Credit: FLUSH/Kim Worsham)
Lockwood's progressive living arrangements start showing almost immediately when visiting the mansion. The ground floor entrance had a men’s bathroom with a few sinks and a toilet to use when using the billiards room nearby. This was unusual; in Victorian times, bathrooms – where the baths and toilets sat - were commonly put on the higher-level floors of houses. The idea was that bathrooms should be near the private sphere of bedrooms for the wealthy, which were on the upper levels of a multi-story home. So to see more of the bathrooms in the mansion, we had to go upstairs.
Images of the lady's first-floor bathroom, its pretty sinks (Credit: FLUSH/Kim Worsham)
One of the first striking things when entering the bathrooms is the ample use of wood in the Lockwood toilets. This makes sense – wood was the most popular way to design a bathroom until after the 1880s when porous wood was swapped out for easier-to-clean tile during the influenza and tuberculosis era.
Note: We weren’t able to go to the third floor – the children’s quarters – because of safety, but we can guess their toilets looked much the same.
The fanciest toilet in the mansion was Lockwood's very own – and a real water closet, too! The bathroom is fully paneled in wood, and the toilet is locked away in a closet whose key only Lockwood had. This was interesting to see – the toilet has a pipe system, so why would you lock up your toilet? Some may say it would be to keep the toxic gasses from sewage out of the room. However, the S-trap was created 100 years before the mansion by Scotsman Alexander Cummings, which trapped the gasses in the pipes and septic system by trapping water to act as an impermeable barrier.
That said, we couldn't verify that the toilet had an S-trap in the back. Also, miasma was only freshly dead as a disease theory. We could imagine that Victorians may have had some harmful leaks to be concerned about without having vents in their toilets. Or maybe Lockwood really wanted to keep his fecal matter private – even modern wealthy folk covet their toilets for exclusive use.
There is also a chance that this toilet in Lockwood’s water closet was installed later. It’s a Meyer Sniffen Company’s Vortex toilet, which our search makes it seem that it was available in the company’s 1880s catalog. Maybe the next owner – Mathews – upgraded the toilet.
Images of one of the servants' bathrooms (Credit: FLUSH/Kim Worsham)
Lockwood was also revolutionary in his estate’s design because everyone in the houseguests and servants - had good access to indoor plumbing running water, and 12 flush toilets. That's a lot of toilets! There were also about 40 sinks, where servants had their own private sink in their living spaces.
The servants' bathrooms existed on several floors, too; they didn't have to climb stairs to attend to their natural needs. Legrand also designed the mansion so that each of the servants’ bathrooms had a window for ventilation to make things all the more pleasant while using the bathroom.
Luckily, the toilets in the servants' bathrooms are more exposed, and we could see the beautiful S-trap was indeed part of the toilets the mansion used. The toilets in the servants' bathroom and the water closet look like the same manufacturer – are they the original toilets? We’re not sure.
We also saw a toilet paper hook, though toilet paper was a pretty new thing (the first commercial TP was sold around 1857). Did Lockwood install those hooks, or maybe the next family in the mansion (the Mathews) put them in? Also not sure.
Sadly, no one is sure where the mansion's pipes specifically drained. Septic tanks came to the US in the 1880s, so what did they use for all of this plumbing? Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of information on that. One theory was that the pipes could have drained near the greenhouse, where Lockwood's servants grew stuff. Or maybe it drained further to the nearby Norwalk River. Maybe we'll figure it out later.
It was revolutionary to have so much plumbing in the home back then, especially when modern sanitation was in its infancy. Still, Legrand was on a mission to keep his servants and family healthy from vicious diseases.
A big thank you to the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion's team - particularly Melissa and Iliana -for giving us the red-carpet tour and fact-checking this blog post for us!