Appalachia Music

Outhouses

This week’s guest post written by Ed Ammons reminded me of the outhouse post below-it was originally published here on the Blind Pig in 2008.

Outhouses in appalachia

I’ve only used a real outhouse one time. I was about 4 or 5 years old. Pap and I were at one of the local country stores-Doris Jean’s. Pap was taking forever talking to someone and I wanted to go home because I had to go to the bathroom. I kept on and on until Pap sent me to the store’s facilities which was an outhouse. I remember it was creepy with spiderwebs around the ceiling. I also remember wishing I hadn’t pestered Pap about having to go to the bathroom.

Even though I dream of by gone days and all the knowledge they hold, I’m very thankful I grew up with indoor plumbing. Matthew Burns gives a clear perspective about growing up with an outhouse in A Malodorous Memory.

Outhouse use in appalachia

After doing some research on Outhouses I came up with some interesting tidbits.

  • I’ve heard about 2 seater outhouses I thought it was only so more than one person could use the potty at a time, however some cases one seat was made larger for adults one smaller for kids.
  • Thomas Crapper was one of the first installers of water-closets.
  • Folks had different names for outhouses such as: I’m going to: the white house, the garden house, the la-la, the throne, the summer house, the library, the shiver shanty, and many others. One I still hear on regular basis: I’m going to see a man about a dog. (from The Deer Hunter)
  • Outhouse diggers are folks who find old outhouses and dig for treasure. They find all manner of items in old outhouse holes.

In the 1960’s Billy Edd Wheeler wrote a satirical song, Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back, about losing a beloved outhouse.

For this week’s Pickin’ & Grinnin’ In The Kitchen Spot- Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back.

Hope you enjoyed the song. I ask Granny and Pap if they had any outhouse stories for me. Pap said one of the elementary schools he went to had outhouses. Granny said she didn’t care to remember or hear any outhouse stories at all 🙂

The song does remind me of something an older lady told me a while back. She said she still had her outhouse in the backyard and even though she hadn’t used it in years, she tried to keep it in good condition. Someone from the county told her she could keep an existing outhouse but once it was torn down she could never build another one. I guess the outhouse was ‘grandfathered in’. The lady said she tried to keep it up because you never knew what the future held and she might need that old bathroom again someday.

How about you got any outhouse stories to share?

Tipper

 

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42 Comments

  • Reply
    Becky
    March 2, 2012 at 8:45 am

    I haven’t heard that song in years. Love it!
    Like you I am thankful I grew up with indoor plumbing, but I had friends that did not.
    The modern day Port-a-Potties remind me of outhouses.

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    February 26, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I am happy to say that I have never had the experience of using an outhouse, but I can say I’ve used a composting toilet and it was rather rustic!
    Great song, must add to the collection. Thanks Tipper and everyone else for an interesting discussion! ; )

  • Reply
    quinn
    February 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve had outhouses at two places, but they were no longer the only option, happy to say. When I bought the little house I live in now, it had just been upgraded from no plumbing at all to a cold water tap and a toilet…in one corner of the kitchen!
    Don’t know if this is a regional thing, but it’s “see a man about a horse” in my neck of the Massachusetts woods. 😉

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    February 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    We had an outhouse for the first few years after we built our house — it wasn’t all that bad. One night when my six year old came back from a visit to the little house, he said, “I’ll bet city kids don’t get to hear owls when THEY go to the outhouse.”
    Even when we finally got a septic tank and indoor facilities, the outhouse came in handy for times when water was scarce or the power was out.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    February 24, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I love my indoor plumbing!! Didn’t see where anyone mentioned that bees LOOOVE outhouses-very scary for a small child with an urgent need. In the dark, in the rain, in the cold-the pot under the bed was for extreme emergencies only. Everytime we went to Grandmaw’s my sister & I had a contest to see who could hold it the longest. When I moved to Cocke County back in the early ’80’s many folks still depended on their outhouses & a few didn’t even have that. All that early childhood training sure did come in handy!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    February 24, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I’ve used an outhouse many a time. I’ve walked many a pathways to them. The little country church we now attend had an outhouse up until just last year, but we are proud to now have indoor plumbing :o)

  • Reply
    Mary
    February 24, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    I have too many outhouse experiences to share, LOL! They are still quite common here. In fact, I can see one from my kitchen window–my folks built it when they first started coming up here to build their house. We used it for about 6 months after we moved here before we got running water.
    Our church has only had indoor plumbing for about 7 years. Before that, if you had to go, you had to go out to the little white house out back:). Believe me, we are all very thankful to have indoor plumbing at the church!

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    February 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I know about out houses, was raised with one up until I was about 10 or 11 years old, Thank God for indoor plumbing, took a bath in a #2 wash tube up until then also, we thought we were up town when we got a real tub and commode, memories that I will never forget, winter time was really rough, if you know what I mean..

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    It’s been another wonderful day here just east of Heaven. I started out with and spent all day with outhouses on my mind. Even spent an hour or so trying to remember if the outhouse door had iron or leather hinges. When I read over the comments this afternoon I actually laughed out loud which is rare for me. This is just a fun place to visit. I think I’m movin in!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Tipper—For a mountain gal you sure are mighty nigh uppity in your raisin’. Only one experience in an out house almost makes you citified.
    My favorite privy story involves a fellow Don will remember (and possibly some others) by the name of Henry Truett. He was pretty much citified but joined a bunch of guys on a camping/fishing trip on one of the creeks which empties into the north shore of Fontana Lake (as Grandpa Joe would have said, I disremember which one). Anyway, the place, and the more I think about it the more I feel it might have been the I. K. Stearns place on Noland Creek, had an out house.
    Henry got a mighty urge after a fine supper of fried trout and taters, along with ramps, branch lettuce, and other things (I suspect some peartin’ juice might have been in the mix). I should note at this point that ramps are, among other things which give them a distinctive quality, a powerful purgative. He headed out to the privy in the dark, only to come back screaming and hollering at the top of his lungs, stumbling as he tried to run with his pants around his ankles. Turns out a bear had gotten into the outhouse hole and made its presence known just as old Henry got comfortably seated. Others wore that he wanted to go home right then and did have any urge to visit the out house for the rest of the trip (of course, he probably got rid of all excess effluvium the moment the bear growled).
    Jim Casada
    http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    February 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Shortly after I bought an old country homeplace in rural Tennessee in 1997, Hollywood showed up and – very long story short – used my house as Tom Hanks’ house in “The Green Mile.” They built an outhouse and set it up out back for a particular scene and, at my request, left it there when the movie was finished. I brought it back with me to North Carolina in the fall of 2002 where my now-husband accepted it as part of my dowry along with a slightly used bush bog. Ain’t love grand? By the way, the outhouse scene was cut from the television version of the movie, but is included in the rental version. I was there the night they sprayed Tom Hanks’ face to feign sweat and then filmed the scene of trying to make it to the outhouse to relieve his bladder infection. He fell short, literally, and peed in the yard via movie magic.

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    February 24, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    I remember Mama cleaning our toilet out on Saturdays and some that were so full you were afraid to use them. lol

  • Reply
    Ethel
    February 24, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Oh boy, do I have an outhouse memory!
    When I was four or five my folks took me with them to a Spicer family reunion in West Virginia. To get to the host’s home we had to cross a swinging rope bridge over a very deep gorge – thank goodness I was too young to realize how scary it was! The doors of our host’s house were customarily left wide open, and I remember being stunned to see chickens meandering around in the kitchen!
    When the inevitable happened Mom escorted me to the ‘backhouse’. I had seen outhouses before, as we live in a pretty rural area of Ohio, but imagine my shock when I looked down the hole and saw, far below, a creek! No worries about the vault getting full there! While I’m sure the neighbors downstream didn’t appreciate it, it was the least smelly outhouse I’ve ever been in!
    One of my grandmothers passed away in the early 1980’s, and while she had running water indoors, she never did have any commode but the outhouse.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    February 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Oh, if a bottle collector could find and have the energy to dig into the old toilet holes, any organic material long since decomposed into earth, that collector would often find a treasure of old bottles from the user’s whiskey and Hadacol consumption; a proclivity hidden from Wife and kids, and the evidence thrown down a hole where Wifey’s probing stopped abruptly at a distance.

  • Reply
    Tom
    February 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Still laughing about Thomas Crapper and the water-closet, too funny! I’ve also heard outhouses called the la-la. The Deer Hunter’s “I’m going to see a man about a dog” is hilarious too! My only experience with an outhouse was when I was ten years old. We were at a reunion way out in the country and all they had was an outhouse. I remember looking in and not liking what I saw or smelled! I quickly closed the door and did my business out in the woods. I never would go near one since! Really enjoyed the song, great as usual!

  • Reply
    Ken
    February 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Tipper,
    I remember using our old outhouse
    when I was young. Lordy, I hated
    that thing, but it was all we had.
    Then when I was about 12 we got an
    indoor commode and I helped dig the septic tank system. Not only
    did I learn the dignity in work,
    but we did it ourselves…Ken

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    February 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Tipper, did a little research and found this:
    Thomas Crapper (1836-1910) did exist and is credited with improving the functionality of the early flush toilet (or “water closet,” as it was then called), but he did not, contrary to popular belief, invent the pseudo-eponymous bathroom appliance from scratch.
    Credit for that goes to 16th-century author Sir John Harrington, who not only came up with the idea but installed an early working prototype in the palace of Queen Elizabeth I, his godmother. The first patent for a flushing water closet was issued to Alexander Cummings in 1775, sixty years before Thomas Crapper was born.
    The son of a Yorkshire steamboat captain, Tom Crapper’s destiny was fixed when he was apprenticed to a master plumber at the age of 14. He owned his own plumbing shop in London by the time he was 25. Crapper was awarded nine patents for plumbing innovations during his lifetime, three of them consisting of improvements to the flushing water closet. Though he made his name as a sanitary engineer to bluebloods, Crapper himself was lowborn and never knighted, so it’s a mystery why storytellers consistently award him the title “Sir.”

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    No stories, but I remember one at my grandfathers house, hated it. They didn’t get an inside toilet until I was in high school.

  • Reply
    Dennis Price
    February 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    One of my favorite numbers from days gone by. Tell Pap and Paul and others I enjoyed their rendition. Hope to visit again one of these days soon. Pappy

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    February 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    PS
    Forgot to say that I loved the song and harmony….Thought I caught a little grin from Pap and Paul near the end of the last chorus….
    Great post Tipper,

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    February 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I remember the days of outhouses. We had one by our summer home in NJ. We had a camode system we often used during the night, but we had to empty them in the morning. It was rather unpleasant, but we survived. I remember the spiders and whatever else could sneak in under the door. My brother used to make sounds outside to scare me whenever I was in there. Interesting memory!

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    February 24, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Isn’t it amazing that we can get such great tales (notice I didn’t spell it tails) about even outhouses? LOVE this blog!
    My only experience with “doing my business” outdoors that involves any kind of building involves Port-A-Potties. Ever since my “friends” turned one over with me inside, I really hesitate to go into any kind of outdoor structure to take care of “things.” I’d much rather head off further into the woods and take my chances with bears and bugs.

  • Reply
    Nancy Wigmore
    February 24, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Oh yes, Tipper, I remember very well using the outhouse growing up. Ours was a one seater. Oh how happy we were when inside facilities were installed. I was about 10 years old…I was so excited that the first night…I slept in the bathtub…Thanks for sharing the memories…Have a great weekend! 🙂

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    February 24, 2012 at 10:45 am

    My Granny had an outhouse down below the house. I hated the walk down and back on a dark night. Seems like all the haints and boogers were hiding in the dark waiting for a little boy. I think the old outhouse was still there when Granny died, even though there was running water and a bathroom in the house by then.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    February 24, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I could write a book about outhouses, but have been a bit like Granny and prefer not to think about outhouse stories until now. Tipper, somehow you make it seem fine and an important part of our culture.
    I could tell the story of the time my baby Sis dropped her puppy into the John; Dad saved the pup of course. Then there were the episodes where sisters would jump out from behind the outhouse screaming like a banshee, and totally eliminate any need to go. My Grampa had a box of corncobs in his John until he died in ’69. Spiders could lurk! An old man told me a story about a man blowing himself up smoking in the John, and not certain how authentic this tale was.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    February 24, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I remember well the outhouse at my grandparents’ house in Sylva, NC. When visiting, especially in winter, you made sure you took care of business before bedtime. A trip down the path in freezing weather wasn’t fun, nor was the honey pot under the bed.
    I always heard, “Gotta see a man about a horse.”

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    February 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Tipper,
    I’ve had the priviledge to use many a little outhouse…some very rustic and some cute as can be for an outhouse…painted white and kept as clean inside as one can for that type of building..
    My husband said he remembered going to an outhouse once that had this detail inside.
    On the side of the privy hung two buckets…One bucket had red corn cobs in it and one bucket had white corn cobs in it…He said you used the red cob and dropped it in..Then you used the white cob to see if you needed to use a red cob again!….LOL
    Sorry the devil made me do it!!!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Connie
    February 24, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Pap had an old family farm near Terra Alta, W.Va. It had an outhouse and no indoor plumbing. We carried the water for drinking, cooking nad washing up from the spring house.
    Although I loved going to the farm, I hated the outhouse. Pap and Grandma had moved to town and only went to the farm on occassion.
    Once when I was in the outhouse, Grandma (who always acompanied me…to keep me from falling in!), kept trying to get me to hurry up. Later, when I was listening to adult conversation, she told them that there was a big snake in the rafters. She knew for a fact that if she had told me, she would have had to fish me out of there!

  • Reply
    Cee
    February 24, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Garland’s story about the hen reminded me of something that happened at my grandma’s house. She had lots of chickens and biddies running around the yard. My cousin who was about 6 or 7 at the time took one of the biddies in the out house and somehow it fell down the hole. My grandma was furious so she somehow was able to retrieve it.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    February 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I had to laugh at your comment from the Deer Hunter…I’ve gone to see that man about that dog a few times myself. 🙂 Also used a two-seater at my Mamaw’s many times.

  • Reply
    Shirla
    February 24, 2012 at 8:50 am

    You had indoor plumbing? Granny and Pap must have been rich! Only the well-to-do had indoor bathrooms where I came from. My parents had a bathroom put in sometime after I was married. I still have an outhouse here on the farm. My ex-husband used it all the time. I also heard that once it’s gone, I can’t build another one. My elementary school had two outhouses, one for girls and one for boys. I think they had four or six seats each. The mischievous boys in my hometown always looked forward to Halloween so they could turn over outhouses belonging to people who had been ‘mean’ to them.

  • Reply
    Alica
    February 24, 2012 at 8:45 am

    This is really interesting…I can’t say that I’d want to be digging for treasure under an outhouse! 🙂 Our daughter goes to a summer camp where they uses…you guessed it…out houses…all week long! And she LOVES it!

  • Reply
    Jen
    February 24, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Love the song, but I must say that Granny’s comment when you asked her about outhouses made me laugh. Is it strange that I have always wanted an outhouse in my yard? Not to use, mind you but as a part of history…I know…it is wierd. 🙂

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 24, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Tipper, I don’t even want to think about an outhouse. Like you, I was about 4 when we went to visit my great grandparents. It was evening but not yet dark when I told them I had to go. You know, GO. So, with snickers among the adults, they sent me to a path behind the house that lead to the facilities. I can still remember standing in front of that outhouse and not wanting to go in. It was creepy and smelly, but I had to go! I would have just squatted in the woods there but it was almost dark so in I went. That was the shortest bathroom trip in history. I scooted back dawn that trail in a flash. I did NOT need to go again till we got home.
    I’m with you Tipper. Talking about the good old days is all well and good but, please, give me indoor plumbing!

  • Reply
    Bradley
    February 24, 2012 at 8:19 am

    I was at a gospel singing one night and heard this joke about outhouses. It seems that this very modest lady was at revival one night and had to go to the outhouse at the church. She really didn’t want to go to an out house but had no choice.
    The out house was a “Four holer” so she picked one out and no sooner had she sat down than she felt a tapping on her bottom. She screamed and jumped up. Then she heard a voice say “Lady would you mind moving over to the next hole, I’m paintin’ under here.”

  • Reply
    John
    February 24, 2012 at 8:03 am

    I have a outhouse in yard it was a
    two seater I change it to one seater. It give me more for my tools YES I GO USE IT IN EMERGENCY.

  • Reply
    LINDA L. KERLIN
    February 24, 2012 at 7:57 am

    Yes indeed ,Tipper we have a outhouse on our property and we refer to it as the privy—and believe it or not the orginal one had been removed and as I learned the history of our little cabin –along the way we met some of the desendents of the cabin –because of what I do here one day many a year back(about 30 years ago) a big burly man appeared and had with him an outhouse which one of his folks made and they were folks who lived here about 75 years past. So he felt since his folks were once connected to the cabin we indeed should have “THE POT” as he refereed to it sit here so that his folks could still be part of the goings on–and on occasion it does still get used–a bucket of lime is there and a broom to get rid of those spiders.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    February 24, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Hey Tipper: Garland’s story beats all I ever heeard! On a meellow kolly note, back in the 1980’s, I helped Daddy burn the wood of our torn down outhouse. He ‘felt’ it was good wood and hated to burn it. That pile of boards had laid in our pasture for years and the site BOTHERED my Mama. So on one of our many visits back to the Cove, I promised Mama that we would burn the toilet wood the very next morning! During the whole process Daddy stood nearby, silent and probably mighty sad. My Mama’s smile kind of made everything seem alright! Finally Daddy finally grinned and said, “Now she won’t have anything to worry about!”
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Gerald
    February 24, 2012 at 6:20 am

    I had some relatives that lived in a very rural and mountainous area in southeast TN. They actually had indoor plumbing, but no bathroom was ever installed in their house. Not sure why. So, they had an outhouse. Crescent moon on the door with a green tin roof.
    Growing up, the family would gather once a year there for a reunion. Usually, the hottest part of August (ugh!). Along with the various insects that made their home in the outhouse, I remember a large bag of lye in the corner and a Sears catalog.
    Good times, beautiful area, great food, and a loving family. But, a trip to that outhouse would instill a deep appreciation for indoor plumbing.
    Gerald

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 24, 2012 at 6:03 am

    I heard the Deer Hunters “got to go see a man about a dog” a lot in my younger days. Nowdays not so much. The people I interact with are much to sophisticated to use such oafish terminology. They use “little boys or little girls” room. Can you imagine the reaction when my response to “I have to go to the little girls room” is, OK bring me back something.
    You missed John or Johnnyhouse. I’ve read about Tom Crapper but never John. John, whoever he may be, deserves him moment in the sun.

  • Reply
    Special Ed
    February 24, 2012 at 5:38 am

    I never actually met them but I hear’d about some folks who got kicked out of their house cause they couldn’t pay the rent. But the landlord was kind enough to let them stay in the basement – of his outhouse.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    February 24, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Tipper, I wrote these for Vintage Vera sometime back:
    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’. There was a gas station in Walkertown that had a four holer. I cannot envision anyone other than four 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 in the house 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.
    The Hen in the Privy (By Garland Davis)
    Granny Salmons had a few chickens when we lived on Dippen Road. After she moved to Aunt Sis’s house, most of the chickens were either eaten or killed by dogs. There was a single white hen left. It pecked around the yard and would show fight every time the Rising dog came around.
    This chicken got into the out house and fell through the hole into the toilet. Mama called Daddy home from work to rescue the bird. Daddy and Richard Vanhoy were able to save the hen.
    That chicken went back to her routine and the coat of feces finally wore off her feathers. Many jokes were made about Chicken Stew and Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings. The swim in the toilet probably prolonged her life and saved her from the Dumpling pot.
    The old girl lived a long life and died a natural death. I buried her in Richard Vanhoy’s woods when we found her carcass one morning.

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