The first photo here is of the Division Street end of the Saratoga Springs, NY, rail depot. Behind it looms the back wing of the United States Hotel, which ran two full blocks down to Broadway and then back again, enclosing several acres.
The engraving and second photo are of the courtyard of the hotel, said to be the world’s largest building at the time of its construction, eclipsed a few years later by the Grand Union Hotel next door.
The United State Hotel surrounded this courtyard on 3-1/2 sides. Here guests could wander among the splendid flower beds and fountains, separated by the huge wall of the hotel from the din and smell of the city.
On the south side is what was known as “cottage row” – basically small rowhouses connected by porches to the main building. This afforded wealthy patrons (and it’s said, often their mistresses) an opportunity to be out of sight of the gawkers, yet within range of the hotel’s servants and wait staff.
Part of the wonder these hotels brought was their sheer size. These were not really due to major advances in building construction technology, so much as two auxiliary advances that made these buildings possible. The safety elevator was one. The second was indoor plumbing. These allowed for the rise of enormous hotels like those at Saratoga Springs, luxurious apartment buildings in the late 19th century, and skyscrapers in the 20th.
Indoor pluming – ahem, toilets – was not an idea no one had ever thought of. Norman castles had toilets arranged along the outer walls, which opened above the moat. (Toilet is derived from the French lette suffix for “little,” hence a place to toil over oneself, i.e., a dressing room, and only later, a bathroom.)
In more modest dwellings, outhouse was placed far to the rear of a lot. (See the 1870s photo of Salem, NY.) As a result, the typical urban plot was 25 feet wide and 100 feet deep – as per the map of Troy in about 1858.
This helped limit housing to single-families, as one needed to go down the stairs and outside to relieve oneself. Typical row houses had the master bedroom on the second floor, a kitchen and servant space in the basement (the “upstairs-downstairs” concept of English upper classes) and the secondary residents – children, unmarried family members and such, on the third floor.
When it was not convenient to go outside, particularly at night, there was the chamber pot – basically a fancy bucket – in one’s bedroom (hence going to the “potty”). It was often the disagreeable task of children (or servants if you were luck enough to have them) to empty the chamber pots in the morning.
A key invention of the indoor toilet was the water trap, an “S” shaped piping on its side. The lower curve holds water than traps sewer gases from coming up into the house. This is built into the toilet itself, but the same idea applies to the “P” pipe, under every sink. The water trap in invented by Scottish mechanic Alexander Cummings in 1775, but it took almost a century for it to become common.
One important reason was that water traps work best when there is a source of running water at the drain. For urban dwellers, this had to wait until the installation of municipal water supplies, and powered pumps where gravity feed wasn’t sufficient. (The use of metal pipes one of the many changes wrought by the use of “hot blasts” in blast furnaces around 1830).
The landmark Saratoga Hotels were the utmost in luxury, but they still had common bathrooms on each floor.
(In England, Richard D’Oyly Carte, the third partner of the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas, opened the Savoy in 1899 – said to be the first hotel in the world with a bathroom in each room).
Illustrations, from above: Division Street end of the Saratoga Springs depot; engraving of courtyard of the United States Hotel; courtyard of the United States Hotel; Salem, NY in the 1870s; map of Troy c. 1858; and “P” pipe.