Appalachia

Using Outhouses and Slop Jars

outhouse

“I was born in the early 1950’s and until my sister and I were around 5 and 6 years old we lived at our maternal granny and granddaddy’s house…they had an outhouse and like others have described I remember it well. They had electricity, and a waterline to their property and a hydrant outside, but no indoor bathroom. Didn’t ever get one until the 1960’s when they tore down their old house and had a whole house moved from the other side of town to their property. I’m sure I didn’t enjoy some aspects of that outhouse, yet I was thankful to have it because their weren’t any woods nearby, only a few good climbing trees, and a big ole Oak that had been there long before I was. In the winter we had that little porcelain red and white slop bucket with a lid. What I dreaded about it was that it was COLD. Later when we moved away from them we had a bathroom and surely it was appreciated but we never had a phone in our house growing up, only in our grandparents houses. We still will use porta potties when we have to, and yes some are worse than others and some I wouldn’t go in and headed to the nearest gas station. My sister did get locked in one at a ball park and the only reason I happened upon her hollering to get out was when I went to get something to eat…we still haven’t forgotten that one. All in all though back in the day when our outhouse was really needed, it was still a good thing, and pretty normal in those days to have….even with all the….well most of the time anyway.”

—Susie 2018


I thoroughly enjoy indoor plumbing. I’ve used porta potties and always hated it! I can barely remember using an outhouse that was still in use when I was very young. I didn’t like it either…although it was better than a public porta potty, especially the one I was in recently—yikes!

A while back the subject of outhouses and slop jars came up at Granny’s. I asked her about having to use a slop jar at night because I thought I remembered some story about one at Granny Gazzie’s house.

Granny kept telling me she didn’t know what I was talking about and in exasperation I said “You mean to tell me you don’t remember ever using a slop jar?” She said “No they were mostly used for sick people or elderly people who couldn’t get around good. In those days you learned real quick how to manage your food and liquid intake to prevent having to go outside to the outhouse at night or use the slop jar.”

If you’d like to hear a funny song from Pap and Paul about an outhouse go here.

Tipper

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    Becky
    August 7, 2021 at 7:12 pm

    oh yes i well remember the “little building out back” ..even had them at our school (separate for boys and girls of course) and I was born in 65… our slop jar was used for scraps…we had a pee can we kept under the bed if we HAD to go at night…which best i remember was usually a big Maxwell House coffee can.. the one at home (and granny and papaws) was a 2 seater and often used for setting hens as well in both places…same at my granny and papaws but they finally had a bathroom added on I guess in prob 72…

  • Reply
    Gigi
    August 5, 2021 at 6:43 pm

    We never had indoor plumbing. Our house wasn’t even painted. But that look today of wood is worth alot of money. Anyway, at one time we did have an outhouse until one night it started raining and came a big flood and washed it on down the holler. Dad never did build one back. We just went behind the shed or woods. I never had a real bathroom to use or take a shower until I got married to my husband. That was the age of 21

  • Reply
    Randy
    August 5, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    Tipper have you ever wondered why there would be two buckets of red corn cobs and only bucket of white corn cobs in the outhouse? You used the red first and then a white to see if you need to use more red.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    August 5, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    There was once in the country a very young couple who had lots of kids, and the husband was very critical and demanding. Nothing seemed to taste as good as his Mother’s corn bread and chili beans. She finally had enough of the complaints, so she bought a new slop jar, cleaned it thoroughly and used it to cook his favorite meal, which he ate with gusto. No idea what happened when he saw the pot and the remaining beans, but he likely complained a lot less after that!

  • Reply
    Donna Sue
    August 5, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era because there are so many things I love about yesteryear. But I didn’t live back then, so my romantic notions of old fashioned living are probably just that, romantic notions. People who lived in the older days would have probably given anything to have my modern conveniences!! Outhouses and chamber pots, however, have never fallen into that romantic notion of living in past days in my mind! I love my indoor shower, and the air conditioner/heater vent that is strategically placed so nicely in my bathroom! Thank you whoever built my house!! I don’t have to worry about snakes in a corner, or spiders surprising me, should I drink too much water before bed. You will never find me near a porta-potty. In fact, I try to avoid all public restrooms, so I usually am very conservative with drinking water if I have to be away from home for awhile. I do love hearing other people’s memories about outhouses, though, but am sure glad I have never been inside one!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Randy
    August 5, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    This goes along with Ed’s comment. I heard over the years that some of the older folks didn’t think a bathroom should be in the same house you ate or slept in. Nothing to do with bathrooms but when our new church as the older lifetime members call it was built in 1963 had older members that thought it was wrong to have a social hall and kitchen in the same building with the auditorium and Sunday school classes. Some of the members refused to eat inside and would only eat on picnic tables that were outside in an area that had been cleaned out at the edge of the woods. My paternal grandparents did have inside plumbing with a bathroom but it was on opposite end of house from kitchen and dining area. He also kept a outhouse all of his life and would use it from time to time.

  • Reply
    Donald Wells
    August 5, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    My maternal grandparents, I don’t remember them ever having indoor plumbing, until my Papaw passed away. They had the outhouse that was a two holer,rain barrels lined up on one side of the house for washing ,spring water hauled from a spring a couple miles away,for drinking. I remember staying with them before I started school and while Momma and Daddy were at work. I was born in 54,we always had indoor plumbing at our home, for which I’m very thankful.

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    August 5, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    We had an outhouse and I have similar memories. The enamel slop jar with lid kept us from having to go outside at night or use the edge if the porch. Our slop bucket was scraps for the pigs. My grandmother’s outhouse was through a gate and at the back of her chicken yard. Once she had a mean rooster and a cousin who knew to take the stick left by the gate knocked the rooster cold. It survived but the rooster wasn’t a threat after that. Once my brother was sick and couldn’t play in the snow but used the excuse to need to go to the outhouse. His plan backfired when he stayed too long. There is a little book titled Nature Calls by Dottie Booth that has some interesting and unique outhouses and stories. For years I did educational history activities for elementary school groups at a museum and one question often asked was about what was used for bathrooms during pioneer days. Kids today have a hard time thinking about things like that until you point out that even today someone might have to use nature as the animals do.

  • Reply
    Ed mauney
    August 5, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    You had lights and heat WoW, uptown huh
    We had a one holed until We moved to Town with my grandmother. I was ten years old before I ever seen a commode. At our school we had a four holed outhouse and a fifth five gallon drum buried with sand in it for a uneril. This outhouse was way across the ball field and the girls was about a hundred feet from the school house. There was a big tree opposite the girls outhouse that grew fast because the boys had to go so far.

    • Reply
      Don Byers
      August 5, 2021 at 6:21 pm

      Hello! This is Don Byers, my mother was Alice Mauney Byers, and I had a Uncle Ed(Edward S.) Mauney in Blairsville, Ga where I now reside. Would like to talk to you…my email address is [email protected], my phone # is 770-402-4902. Please get in touch if you have time…..am on Facebook as Don Byers, Blairsvile GA….Thank you!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 5, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    Mommy and two of her sisters moved off to Gastonia when they got old enough to work. Another sister moved to Washington DC. One old brother moved to Knoxville and another out West somewhere. After they got to earning money and thinking they were somebody, they decided to go in together and have running water and a bathroom in my grandparents’ house. When they presented the idea to Grampaw he said “Oh no you ain’t! Ain’t nobody going to $#!+ in my house!”
    Grampaw died soon after that and Grammaw did allow them to run water from a perfectly good springhouse but no bathroom. That was in the late 40’s before I came along. Sometime in the 60’s Grammaw finally gave in and let them put in the bathroom but she kept using the springhouse and the outhouse until she got to where she couldn’t get around so good.
    Grampaw had built that springhouse and it was a thing of beauty. It was nestled among a grouping of arborvitae trees where is was always shaded. It was set into the ground about three feet and had half walls of poured concrete with a concrete floor. There was a trough that ran from the spring to the opposite end then into a pipe and out under the yard into the branch. The upper half of the wall had posts covered with lattice so that the breeze could get through but birds and animal couldn’t. I remember going to Grammaw’s house in the summer. Before I even spoke to Grammaw I would run to the springhouse and peep through the lattice trying to see if there was a watermelon in there.

    We didn’t but some of the neighbors had toilets built over the creek. They threw a couple of logs across the creek and built “that little brown building” on them. A constant flush toilet is what you would have to call it I guess. Very effective and efficient I’d say. That is as long as you didn’t live downstream. We didn’t! We were the last house on the creek. We could play in the creek and even drink from it. But, only upstream of a toilet.
    Our toilet was built over a hole dug into the ground. It was built on runners so that when one hole was filled Daddy could hook a horse to it and pull it over another hole and the original one covered with dirt. It’s strange that when the toilet was moved, in the place it stood before tommytoes would grow in grow in abundance. They were good too!

  • Reply
    Jackie
    August 5, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    My grandmother had a two holer. One for adults and one for training the little folks. We had a ceramic bucket we called the thunder bucket because of the noise when it was used. When I moved to Georgia and heard people talking about eating pecans I said, “The nut is a pecaan and a pee can is the bucket or jug you keep under the bed for night time use.” Dad put a bathroom in our house after I left home.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    August 5, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    Grannie called it a chamber. I think we just called it the pee pot. I am one of the world’s most thankful people concerning indoor plumbing! We never had a nice tidy privy like one of my aunts did. Her’s was as clean as a living room and was a double holer which fascinated me. When our neighbors got indoor plumbing their outhouse (ours was about to fall in) was moved down to where we lived. I had a friend who lived once where there was no outhouse & we had to run down into a series of gullies & find a sheltered place.

    It was still better than the porta potties of today. That water scares me and I always wonder if there’s a creature lurking down there. I will try my best to not have to use one. My husband works construction & often has no choice–he says some of them on work sites are amazingly terrible.

  • Reply
    Diane
    August 5, 2021 at 10:45 am

    I was a city girl! Born in 1956. I always had indoor plumbing. I appreciated reading these stories. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    August 5, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Yes I remember those outhouses too well. I was born in 52 and we got water in the house when I was about age 4, but did not get a bathroom til I was about 10. I still remember the miracle of having a toilet that FLUSHED!
    Our schoolhouse had no running water….smart kids that finished their schoolwork early , like me, were sent to the nearby Texaco filling station to get our drinking water in a bucket . We had an outhouse at school with two seats so kids could all get there and out during recess. One funny memory was when our two dear lady teachers would go in there together and use the outhouse to have a smoke…..you could see their smoke coming out between the outhouse boards ! All those schools were closed in the early 60s and we rode a bus to the big schools in Pound, VA. where our toilets were 4 to a room and in little stalls….amazing!
    People make jokes about our outhouses but we kept ours as best we could, swept out the spiders often. I do remember actually being taught how to soften up the pages of a catalog to use. I also remember being paid a nickel per day for a week every summer by my great grandpa Johnny to empty and bring back his slop jar.. a nickel was a lot of money in the 50s….and I thought that money easier made than hunting pop bottles.
    When I go back up to my mountain homeplace , I still see the two sunk in places at the edge of our yard where our outhouses stood . My papaw once told me I was above my raising when I told him in 1978 that I’d bought a house with 3 flushing toilets! I told him I was proud to get those bathrooms cause I remembered so well when I did not have them.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    August 5, 2021 at 9:46 am

    Never liked outhouses. My childhood church had two outhouses, one for the women and one for the men. I tried not to use it unless it was an emergency! Eventually, the church installed inside toilets.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    August 5, 2021 at 9:22 am

    I still remember the outhouse that we had until I was may 8 or 9. I can remember digging a new hole and moving the old outhouse over it. This was at a state firetower and the forestry men and my father moved the outhouse with its concrete floor by rolling on logs.

    I agree that the outhouse was better than most porta potties today. At least it was larger and cooler.

    I have an old enamel slop jar that I use to clean the cats’ litter box. It is easier than using a plastic bag and more environmental friendly. Everything goes in cycles.

    I bought the slop jar in an online auction. They had it labeled as an enamel cooking pot.

  • Reply
    Margie G for gotta go sometimes
    August 5, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Ive dug a many a hole in the USArmy for toileting needs. It’s awfully cold in December and January in New Jersey my rear will attest! I’ve used a few outhouses in my time and a lot of porta potties. I’ve carried, emptied and washed out the old slop jar many times for a sick aunt when I was a little girl about to turn teen and I remember being quite angry about this horrible chore. I’ve been in some homes where folks stated an indoor bathroom is plain nasty and filthy. My take? I’m glad for indoor bathrooms. Outdoor Johnny houses are scary cause there’s spiders and all types of insects in there. When I was in Ecuador we used toilet over diesel fuel which was burned out daily by locals for a couple bucks a drum. Activities of living certainly may be ignoble but important nonetheless.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    August 5, 2021 at 9:11 am

    Tipper, no Appalachian discussion would be complete without covering the old outhouses. I remember them well, because as a young child almost everybody I knew had one. Some of the one room schools and churches my kinfolk attended had the outhouses for male and female. My sisters once took their beloved puppy to one and managed to drop it in. The story turned out well, as our brave Dad came to the rescue. They were sometimes referred to as “Johnny houses.” Now, the slop jars were a different matter, and I recall as Granny did they were used only for sick people.

    Not too long after I started using the internet I ran across a site where a young lady’s husband had purchased her a slop jar at a flea market thinking it was an old vintage stock pot. Just goes to show if we purchase any old vintage ware we need to research its use before we go cooking the family’s chowder.

  • Reply
    Randy
    August 5, 2021 at 9:00 am

    I am also a child of the fifties and remember my grandparents using a outhouse and a slop jar. They never had inside plumbing in their home. A family member would tell a story about living on the mill hill in Pelzer, SC before the mill homes had bathrooms. The outhouse were four holers , two on each side, one side for men and the other side for the women. He was using it one cold winter morning when someone emptied a slop jar on the other side and how it splashed up on his exposed parts.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    August 5, 2021 at 8:57 am

    My parents didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was in my teens. Even then, I think the water supply was from a spring on the property. We never called them outhouses, just toilets. I still have one here on the farm that is leaning and not used much anymore. My parents had a ‘chamber’ for us to use at night so we didn’t have to go outside where we just knew the boogyman and wildcats would be waiting.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    August 5, 2021 at 8:40 am

    My parents and didn’t have running water in any house until we moved to Kansas City in 1956. I was 12 years old. Some of my aunts and uncles still had outhouses even then. When you grow up with it, and most everybody you know has them, it’s no big deal. Yes, they stink, but that’s all we had, so what choice was there? In wintertime, Mother always let me keep a chamber pot under my bed upstairs so I wouldn’t have to go outside. After Mother mopped the floors in the house, she always took the used mop-water to the outhouse and used it there before she threw it out. She also threw lime down on the waste in the toilet so it wouldn’t smell so bad and not draw flies as much

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 5, 2021 at 8:32 am

    I remember those days. We had two different outhouses that I recall. One of them was built over one of mine and my brothers “hideouts” we would dig, just re-purposed’ it as is said these days.

    We never had indoor plumbing until I was in high school and then only for a few months and only cold water. My brother and I, along with Dad and his dozer, dug over 600 feet of waterline from our house to my Grandma’s house to her well pump. Dad dug the middle, across the hayfield, with the dozer. We dug across the yard at the house to the near edge of the field then from the far edge of the hayfield down in the holler up the hill through a strip of piney woods, across a garden patch of clay to Grandma’s basement. It took all summer and from late summer to cold weather we had water. Then somewhere in that 600+ feet the line broke; couldn’t locate the break so we were out again. Got water back after I was gone from home away at college, county utility water that time.

    Guess it is obvious that summer made an impression on me, in more ways than one. That plastic pipe is still under there I reckon.

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    August 5, 2021 at 8:17 am

    This brought back a flood of memories. In the early 1950’s Dad got a job in Columbus Ohio. We moved from e.ky. to Columbus and lived in a small apt. complete with an ice box and community outhouses. I remember one day some of the girls from neighbor apts .had a squirt bottle filled with water. As we chased one of the girls she would squirt water on us until it was empty. When I asked her for the bottle she opened the door to the toilet and threw it down the toilet
    hole.
    After a few months we moved back to the farm in e.ky. Thank goodness.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    August 5, 2021 at 8:06 am

    I remember well the outhouse. We had one in the 60s and so did most of the people in the holler. My grandma never had an indoor bathroom. We never called the porcelain pot with a lid a slop jar, we called it a pee pot. It sat behind a big ole chair in my parents bedroom at night. We did have what we called a slop bucket. It’s what we fed the pigs with.

  • Reply
    JustAnOldGuy
    August 5, 2021 at 8:03 am

    Frosty mornings and outhouses were a terrible combination. At one point my grandparents lived in a house without indoor plumbing and I well remember a a very cold winter morning when I HAD TO GO – NOW! There was no time to put on a coat so barefoot and in pajamas I trod the well worn path. The hard overnight frost had pushed up frozen ice spikes from the ground. Lord-a-mercy! That was the longest 20 yards I ever trod – and that’s 20 in both directions.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    August 5, 2021 at 8:02 am

    My mother grew up using an outhouse on a farm in western Maryland, and we used an out house for the first year after moving to a mountain farm in Virginia when I was 14. Made of rough-sawn boards with shrinkage gaps between them, it was a real fanny-freezer in winter. And the 150 foot hike out to the privy definitely introduced planning into the digestive process. We always called slop jars “chamber pots.”

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 5, 2021 at 7:58 am

    There was an outhouse at my grandmother house but I don’t recall ever using it. Soon after I was born they built a bathroon onto there house that included a bathtub, toilet, and sink. The way it was built on to the side of the house it was obvious that it was a later addition. I have a vague memory of having to use an outhouse when visitingat my great grandparents home.
    I went to a camp one year that had indoor sink and shower but outhouse toilets. I didn’t like using it. It smelled bad and gave me the creeps.
    In the mountains outhouses were just a way of life and people were glad to have them…considering the alternative!
    Indoor plumbing is a great thing to have!

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    August 5, 2021 at 7:17 am

    Oh my goodness, yes. Grandma had an outhouse. I was afraid to use it when I was little. We called the “inside toilet” a chamber pot. To us, the slops jar was what you put food scraps in to take out to the little barn to feed the hog. (Although I would take the slops to the hog pen, I was afraid of the hog, too, because my cousins told me it would eat me if I fell in. Which is probably true.)

  • Reply
    Denise R
    August 5, 2021 at 7:14 am

    I remember using an outhouse at my paternal grandparents house and hated it! My husband grew up using one until he was about 10 years old. He said that there was a light and in the winter time an electric heater that was inside. So before you went out, you turned flipped the switch, waited a few minutes for the outhouse to warm up and headed outside to take care of business. So thankful for indoor plumbing and bathrooms!

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