Outhouses

Today's guestpost was written by Garland Davis.

Old outhouse in western nc

OUTHOUSES by: Garland Davis

Every house outside the city had one. You know, the outhouse, the privy, the little house away from the house, the shed house, or just the toilet. The first indoor toilet that I ever saw was at Walkertown Elementary School. The first place that I ever lived with indoor toilets was the barracks at the Naval Recruit Training Center, San Diego, California.

There was only one house in our neighborhood that had an indoor toilet. They also had an outhouse. No one was permitted to use the indoor facilities unless it was dark or the weather was bad. This was done to prevent filling the septic tank.

Shed houses came in different styles. I remember an out house near Vienna Elementary School that was built and painted to resemble the main house. Most toilets were built for use by one person at a time. However, some people built two or more ‘holers’. A gas station in Walkertown a four holer. I cannot envision anyone other than four giggling little boys who would use it.

There was usually a box of newspaper, corn shucks, or a Sear’s catalog made available to those who needed them.

When Harry Truman left Kansas City, Missouri in 1935 to become a U.S. Senator his house still had an outdoor privy. Indoor plumbing was not installed until he returned to the house in 1953. Truman was famous for rising early and taking a walk around Washington, often eluding his Secret Service protection.

Dave Gardiner, a southern comedian from the late fifties and early sixties maintained that Harry was just maintaining the custom of getting up in the morning and walking to it away from his living quarters. Gardiner said that it was ‘Yankee technology’ that brought it into the house to start with.

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I hope you enjoyed Garland's post as much as I did! It reminded me of 2 things: this song and this article I recently read. The song is a funny one Pap and Paul used to sing about the little brown building aka the outhouse. The article is about the differences between today's high tech bathrooms and the outhouses of yesteryear. 

Tipper

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    April 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    At our house in Southern Indiana, we had one as late as 1963 or 1964. Our house was bult in the late 50’s and included a bathroom. Mountain folk like,my folks did not hook it up until they could pay for it out right. From 1963 until 1967, I went to a 2 room school that had them also. One for the boys and one for the girls. My Granny and Papaw had one that my Papaw built. It had 2 holes, one for an adult and a cut down low one for us grandkids. Bless his heart, he thought of us little ones trying to get up to the taller hole!! Not sure I would want to do it again, but as the old sayin’ goes, “I could pick with the chickens if I had to.” Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    Howland
    April 13, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    O my! I’ve not thought about that song in ages, I do, however, have fond and recent memories of ‘Brother’ Dave Gardiner, one of the funniest men, ever. Brother Dave didn’t take prisoners, he insulted every race, color, creed and national origin equally…
    Outhouses; O yes, I remember them! Mom and Dad would rent a house, he’d ‘upgrade’ it with running water and the landlord would raise the rent because now he could get more from someone else. We moved a lot.
    But I digress….
    WE lived on the outskirts of a small town in upstate NY, there was no running water in the village as there had been an outbreak of scarlet fever in the 30s and the county health department ordered that all the wells be filled in. Everyone in the village had an outhouse, and each morning the women would gather at the town pump at the Grange Hall, buckets in hand, where the town had drilled a deep well and installed a pump so that the people had access to safe water. There were, of course, no water mains in this era, the early 50s Mr. Ellis and his family live about 2 doors up the hill from the Grange Hall and had a lovely outhouse,painted white with green gingerbread trimming; it was a sight to behold. Now, Mr. Ellis was a BI-IIG man; I remember one time when a bunch of fellows were trying to pull up a corner post in a fence-row, with little success, Mr. Ellis, who worked for the gas company, came along and in his deep, slow-talkin’ voice said Havin’ trouble, boys?” Then he bear-hugged the post and up it came, slow but surely. It was said that he didn’t know his own strength.
    Well, Hallowe’en came and us boys were up to our usual meanness, and we gathered together and went to tip Mr. Ellis’ outhouse over. With as much silence as a half-dozen exuberant teen-age boys could achieve, we slipped up behind the outhouse and carefully flipped it over…..
    …On the door…
    …Mr. Ellis was in it….
    The last thing we heard as we scampered away was that low rumbling voice of Mr. Ellis, saying “Boys, whenever I get out of here…..!

  • Reply
    RB
    April 13, 2014 at 12:47 am

    I got two stories about outhouses. (Tell me you’re not surprised. LOL)
    The first one is, I attended one of the last one room schoolhouses in the nation, not the last one, but it was among some of the last. It had outhouses, two actually – one for the boys and one for the girls. The boys, now they were naughty (tell me you’re not surprised about that either). They would dig up worms to toss over the privy screen onto the toilet seats in the girls bathrooms, so when we went to use the bathroom, those who were squeamish among us, had to go for someone who wasn’t to clear the toilet seats so we could use them.
    The second is, when I was about 4-5 years old, we were at a July or August family picnic at our Great-Grandparents hunting camp down in the hills of PA. Now practical joking seems to run in that bloodline, and as I am of that bloodline, well, when I saw our Great-Granddad, a huge man, trekking through the woods to the outhouse, I quietly (I thought) followed, and when he got inside, I slid the outside lock so he couldn’t get out, thinking that I’d sit there until he realized he was locked in and would let him out. Well, in the way of children, I got distracted by boy cousins playing football in a nearby field, wandered over, hunkered down to watch, and quickly forgot about my little joke upon Great-Granddad. Some time later, Great-Grandma noticed him missing for quite some time and went off looking for him. As she neared the outhouse, she heard growling, fussing and banging, like an old bear had gotten in there. Carefully, she pulled the lock to the side, and out he shot. Seeing me hunkered down by the field, he started off after me, with Great-Grandma quickly following behind trying to calm him down. It didn’t work. Suddenly, I saw the boys all straighten up, looking into the woods with fear. Before I could look though, I was jerked up by the arm, soundly swatted on the rump, and set back down again, leaving me bawling and Great-Granddad hot and sweating from being locked in that stuffy smelling hot box of an outhouse, fuming and tromping off towards the camp with everyone questioning what the heck had happened. Apparently, he’d heard me giggle as I slid the lock to, so he’d known it was me. Years, and years, and years, later I asked our Dad if he remembered that. He said he did and he asked me if I knew Great-Granddad had gone into the camp, straight to his bedroom, and sat down and cried, because he felt so bad for swatting me. No, I hadn’t known that, and that made me feel even worse. But boy, what a family picnic that was. whew
    Thanks for hanging by while I reminisced, about those glorious shacks out back. LOL
    God bless.
    RB
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  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    April 12, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    I hated the outhouse with a passion! It terrified me- I always knew there was a snake or a wasp just waiting for me every single time. Still hate ’em!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    April 12, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    tipper. I enjoyed Mr Davis article.Sure glad those days are in the past. but such a noted conversational piece. We had a two sedater when I was a small girl. My big brother make me a small setter and a step up . I was always afraid of those outside John’s, as a small child my imaginations went ram pet.I thought of snakes and spiders etc.Mother would boil water and keep it scrubbed out and poured lime down in it.That wasn’t good old days to me. Soon Dad build us a new house with inside plumbing, we thought we on high liner Hill.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 12, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Tipper,
    How much I loved everyones comments…some so funny, I nearly fell off my rollalator…
    Dad used to tell this one about the outhouse at home, as he called
    it…I know everyone of you Appalachians has heard rough as a cob…Wellll, my Dad said his parents kept two buckets of corn cobs in the outhouse along with the expired catalog…One bucket contained red cobs and the other contained white cobs…This is how he told it, you used the red cobs first, then used the white cob to see if you needed to use the red cobs again!…Sorry ’bout that, but that is a NC true tale and the catalog was for the girls!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Donna W
    April 12, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    I was 12 years old before we had indoor plumbing, and even then we shared the bathroom with 2 other tenants of an apartment building.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Tipper,
    Thanks Garland, for the educational
    reminder of how things once was. I
    was in the 8th or 10th grade before
    we had indoor plumbing and a bathroom.
    I remember the Sears or Aldens
    catalogs laying in reach in our out-
    house and all them Spiders above. But
    when you ain’t been accustomed to the
    better things in life, you didn’t even
    miss ’em…Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    April 12, 2014 at 11:28 am

    We used one until I was a teenager. Even our rural school had outhouses. The one for the boys was a three-holer and a seperate, slanting “trough” that emptied onto the ground. Couldn’t get away with that nowadays.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 12, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Tipper,
    and Garland…thank you for the reminisce of the “outdoor john”!
    I know that both my sets of Grandparents had outdoor toilets before they built their new homes, with the fancy Oak box way up on the wall, that had a pull chain…LOL My grandmother (after my grandfather died)moved near her daughter and had to go back to the service of the outdoor toilet. I stayed there many summers and got used to the outdoor toilet. It was a scary thing..but I was lucky my Granny would escort me to the “john” when I was little. While I was in there, she pulled any weeds that were in or around the path, while she patiently waited on a scared little girl! My Granny did furnish, hanging on a circle of clothes hanger wire from a nail, a roll of toilet paper. She also painted the indoors white, to help keep, (or see) the creepy, winged devils away, so she said!
    I do believe that every little church in NC has Male and Female outdoor toilets…Other than the brick one in Clyde, have I ever been to a small church, picnic on the ground, decoration day or service that didn’t have an outdoor privy!
    Oh by the way, I would consider the article about the lock-down city toilet as a step-back futher than the “outdoor john” and very scary. First thing… If it’s not cloudy, the half-moon let in a wee bit of light (from the moon) or the back porch to the outdoor toilet. Two…Grannies are within hearing distance or at least the hound-dog would go barking! Three…”Outdoor johns” are very easy to knock over, allowing escape!…If you don’t believe me just ask my deceased Dad! He had 4 brothers with “the meaness” you know and he told me so!!!
    Thanks Tipper and Garland
    PS….Let’s go outside it is going to be beautiful and HOT today…Within 24 hours all the trees leafed out here, amazing!
    No, gradual Spring into Summer again here this year!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 12, 2014 at 10:11 am

    I remember my grandparents’ outhouse in Sylva, NC. When visiting at Christmas, we learned quickly to get the business done before going to bed. The path was cold and spooky in the middle of the night!

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    April 12, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Here’s another: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VnqErYoQXM

  • Reply
    P
    April 12, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Here’s another: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VnqErYoQXM

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    April 12, 2014 at 9:56 am

    OUTHOUSES
    While the Work Projects Administration is known for a wide variety of public architecture, one of their more prolific programs was a health-related campaign to provide sanitary privies, particularly in rural areas. This program ultimately resulted in 2.3 million WPA-built privies in the nation; nearly 32,000 of those were in Colorado. While other New Deal programs supplied some 600,000 sanitary privies across the nation, the WPA concrete vault sanitary privies provided a substantial change in sanitation infrastructure for rural American communities, creating a significant increase in the quality of public health. These simple buildings are readily recognizable due to their standardized plans. – See more at: http://www.historycolorado.org/oahp/wpa-privy-1935-1943#sthash.kdjjoiIE.dpuf

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 12, 2014 at 9:42 am

    I remember a few outhouses still in use when I was a kid. I am thankful for indoor plumbing! I remember going to a great aunt’s house in Walker county Georgia when I was a boy and they did not have indoor plumbing. We stayed overnight there and the next morning it was off to the privy and to the wash stand on the porch to wash up and brush our teeth. Daddy said they could have very well afforded the indoor plumbing but was to frugal to do it. Did you know that a man named Thomas Crapper was instrumental in improving flush toilets way back in the 1800’s?

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    April 12, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Wouldn’t want one now but I am thankful for the experience. I remember them as cleaner than most convience stores facilities.

  • Reply
    dolores
    April 12, 2014 at 9:11 am

    We had one of them at our summer house. We used it for many summers, but going out during the night was a bit scary. I never liked the spiders. We did have an indoor cammode to use usually during the night, but emptying it was no fun in the morning. Taking a bath during those rustic years was in a huge round metal tub in the back yard under the mulberry tree, and yes, the ringer washing machine. I remember those days with fondness, but at the time I was a kid, it was a bit trying. Loved today’s article.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 12, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Garland, you take me back it time to a place near and dear to my “Heart.” Remember Stringbean’s letter from home?
    My childhood home had just such a “rest room.” It was a respite from the hoe, the weeds and the hot sun but only if there was enough of a breeze to waft away the vapors emanated from the basement below. Under ideal weather conditions and with available reading materials, the need to linger longer looms large.
    Our toilet was on runners that allow it to be moved. Just dig a new pit, hook the horse to the little building and drag it over the new one. Then cover the old one with dirt. Quick, efficient and sanitary!
    We lived at the head of the creek and our toilet was over a pit. All the neighbors downstream had their’s built across the creek. Two sturdy poles were stretched across the stream and the toilet built on them. They never had to worry about theirs filling up and apparently didn’t worry about the neighbors further downstream. My siblings and I were allowed to play in the creek anywhere as long as it was above where the neighbors branch ran into the creek.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    April 12, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Short story on Outhouse from one of my books;
    OLD RED AND THE WORM
    One of the many places where we lived was in a house located up one of the deep hollows of little Sam Mountain. There were no level places to build a house, so it was built on wooden poles. In this kind of mountainside house, the front was usually five or six feet high while the back was touching the ground. All the buildings were built to fit on a sloping hillside. This included the outside toilet. It was built from rough lumber. We had what you would call a deluxe model: it was a two-seater.
    The “outhouse”, as we called it, was a very popular meeting place for the womenfolk to sit and gossip. The men folk would use it for reading or simply as a resting place. Of course, it was also used for what it was built for.
    We had an uncle who would visit pretty often, and the outhouse was his favorite place to relax and meditate. When asked why he stayed so long, he usually said he was reading about the latest farm equipment in the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs that were always there. We used them for our toilet paper.
    This was also a special building for Old Red, our Rhode Island Red Rooster. He was a very smart chicken and knew where all the good things in life were. He dearly loved worms as one of his favorite meals, and there was no better place to find them than under the outhouse. He would make a couple of trips there every day checking for worms.
    Now, this uncle was visiting one day, and it just so happened that he and Old Red paid a visit to the outhouse at about the same time. Uncle was relaxed, catching up on his reading and Old Red was checking out everything below, looking for the big fat worms. Red happened to look up. He batted his eyes, shook his head, and all at once he leaped up. Uncle let out a blood curdling scream, and out of the outhouse he ran trying to get his overalls on. Old Red now knew that what he had thought was a giant worm was not a worm after all. He to started running in a direction opposite from the way Uncle was going.
    After Uncle regained his breath, he asked, “Where do you keep the shotgun? I’m going to kill that crazy rooster.”
    No one was about to help him. The whole family liked Old Red. He kept the farm yard safe for all the other animals. So, Uncle cut his visit short. He packed up and went to visit some of his other relatives, and Old Red came out of hiding. We all knew that we wouldn’t be seeing this uncle again any time soon.

  • Reply
    tmc
    April 12, 2014 at 7:57 am

    When I was a boy we had one, cannot say those were fond memories, but makes you appreciate your blessings more, especially in the winter time, if you know what I mean….

  • Reply
    Jeanette Minix
    April 12, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Really enjoyed this post. We still have two operating outhouses on our rancho. They were built back when we used to host Cherokee stomp dances.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 12, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Cute article and song! My grandparents had an outhouse that was replaced by indoor plumbing when i was still small. I did not like that outhouse though I did use it a few times.
    I’m picky about the toilet paper I buy, forget the idea of corn shucks or a sears catalog! LOL

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 12, 2014 at 7:27 am

    My grandfather had an outhouse that was in use until the 80’s when he was in a car accident. My uncle added a bathroom on the back porch.
    The house used to be the old school house. One main room with two smaller rooms off to the side. They used these as bedrooms and a kitchen was tacked on the back at a later date. He raised 4 children there.

  • Reply
    Patsy
    April 12, 2014 at 7:18 am

    I’ve made many a trip to that little house out back while visiting my grandparents!

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