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Thursday, November 11, 2010

OUTHOUSES -- A THING OF THE PAST?

Two Section -- Two Door Outhouse
Small Town Commercial Area
 Paint Lick, Kentucky
Now most folks will think that outhouse use is past history. Oh yes, there are the national and state parks that have outhouses -- but do households have them? Well according to my 2010 edition of The Old Farmers Almanac there are plenty of outhouses still being used in this country. In fact, 670,000 U.S. households are without indoor plumbing. According to the U.S. census this number is part of the approximately 114 million households in this country.

Outhouse basic design is a small space with door/s, roof and walls over a pit for human waste with a bench seat above covering the pit. The bench seat has usually one to three holes depending on traffic use. No air conditioning, heat etc. It is just a plain place to get in and out as soon as possible. 

Unpainted Household Outhouse
Madison County, Kentucky
Toilet paper was not used in early outhouses. Various items were used in place of toilet paper -- corncobs, leaves, rags, newspapers, catalogs, etc. Really this was a good thing. Why? It was a good form of reuse.

Today we are using up 27,000 trees a day globally to produce toilet paper. How long can we keep this up as our population grows. Using recycled toilet paper helps alleviate the strain on forests

General Store Outhouse
Estill County, Kentucky
Outhouses were not just used by households. they were also used by commercial establishments, schools, and churches.One problem with them was waste leakage into the ground water. Another was odor -- a factor that resulted in many outhouses being placed a distance from the the main structure. For household members -- this could be inconvenient as dipping temperatures were difficult to deal with in the middle of night. Usually chamberpots were used for human waste during the night. 

A one hole interior of a farm outhouse
As outhouse pits (holes) became filled a new hole would be dug and the outhouse moved over it. The old became a place where one threw away unusable items to eventually fill the hole. The items that were thrown in the old hole became history layers from items such as dishes, tools, etc  -- telling the story of the household over time. Archaologists and anthropologists are aware of this and use these old pits for archaeological digs

Leaning from age -- a country church outhouse
Madison County, Kentucky
There are even regular folks that are aware of the items to be found in these pits --  folks called diggers. They are particularlly interested in old bottles. 

So the lowly outhouse still serves a vital part in many households but also serves to tell us about our cultural life. Outhouses are as alive today as in our past.. 


SOURCES:


30 comments:

  1. Hi Barbara:

    Interesting post. We're probably the only folks in the state of West Virginia that actually built a new outhouse last year. The old one was rickety and in bad shape, too bad to repair. So, we tore it down, cleaned up the site, and built a new, larger outhouse not far away. I even ran electricity to it so it has an outside floodlight, inside light, and a recepticle where you could plug in a heater or whatever. I built the outhouse large enough to accomodate a sink, which I've yet to put in. My plan is to catch the water off the roof, divert it to a rain barrel, then gravity feed the sink inside the outhouse. I suppose I'll complete that project before next summer. Although we have indoor plumbing, we use the outhouse whenever we are closer to it than the house when the need arises. We wouldn't be without one!

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  2. Corncobs? Wow, I am amazed by that, Barbara. It doesn't sound comfortable,lol. I agree about recycled toilet paper. I can't buy anything else.

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  3. A few years ago there was a great news article about an archaeologist, in USA, who was excavating the midden heaps of old outhouses and finding an enormous treasure trove of items that told quite a few tales of the past.
    When my ex and I bought a house, in a large rural area, in the early 90s it was the first house under $100,000 with an inside loo...but it still had a functinal outhouse.

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  4. We have one. Don't use it, but could in an "emergency" (power outage, repair issues) out here JOTOLR! When we moved back to the farm, we had no plumbing in the cabin (the dye house). Instead of a "hole" we simply installed a large bucket that could be carried out and emptied into a distant hole. And you know what? It was always an adventure, using the outhouse! You never knew what would be keeping you company. A mouse, a wren, a...god forbid...snake! And it was lovely hearing the birds, the farm sounds, the rain on the roof.(noticing the roof leaking!).There are countless belly laughs as a result of getting stuck, being in it when it was tipped over. You know...maybe we'll have to consider a return to those "golden days!"

    Thanks Barbara!!! for this great post!
    Elora

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  5. What a fascinating and interesting historical and "architectural ! " post. (from Farmchick mail link)

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  6. J on Tour -- I went in and perused yur blog. It was so artistic and historic too. Beautiful to view. I will be back to check out future posts -- barbara

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  7. Jayne -- Yes, I always think about the hidden treasures in the outhouses when I take photos of them. Interesting that a functional outhouse was still on the property you bought. But if you read the outhouse comment by Thomas (above) one can realize that an outhouse out in the field would be of great utility to a farmer. -- barbara

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  8. Elora -- Great comments about the wonders of using an outhouse. I remember visiting great uncles and aunts on the farm when I was young and being facinated with the idea of having an outside toilet. They had inside plumbing as well as the outhouse out in the field. Like Thomas states in his comment, "wouldn't be without one." Maybe the outhouse offered a unique service and that is why one still finds them lingering on old properties. -- barbara

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  9. Hi Thomas. You have made a super deluxe model of an outhouse. I can understand how an outhouse would come in handy for folks that work on a farm. I think that is why so many old ones still exist on farmsteads -- they're still being used in some cases. I like the type of water system that you are rigging up for the outhouse. Thanks for the good information on your outhouse. -- barbara

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  10. LiD -- corncobs doesn't sound comfortable to me either so keep buying that recycled toilet paper like you are already doing. Will prolong the eventuality of using them. -- barbara

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  11. We had a lovely outhouse for the first five years on the farm. When we got indoor plumbing, it was still useful at times -- especially during power outages or in a dry season when we had to be careful with well water. It finally had to be removed in order to widen an access road.

    But we have another down at my husband's workshop!

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  12. I used an outhouse until I was 12, always feared snakes but never saw any, but plenty of spiders and wasps with a nest near the top. My uncle in Dry Ridge, Kentucky had a two holer with proper seats and lids which we didn't have. I always thought Kentucky was special because of that. That and Aunt Emma's blackberry cakes.

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  13. When I was a child in the 1960s, I'd say 90% of the people up the holler where we lived had outhouses. The church I currently attend, had an outhouse until we had a bathroom put in this year. I love the tv show, The Waltons, but never could understand the fact that they said they were so poor, but they had indoor plumbing. And this was in the 1930s! Having an outhouse now would come in handy when you lose water or electric.

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  14. When I was a girl my dad was in the Air Force. Every summer we would come to Kentucky to stay with my grandparents. (Hence my love of the state.) Anyway, my grandparents did not have indoor plumbing and the outhouse was totally in use....and of course the chamber pot during the night. I guess that could be another post.

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  15. Farmchick -- Always like to receive your comments. I am getting the feeling that many folks have first hand experience with outhouses and that experience is nostalgic. I bet your experience of staying with your grandparents did play a part in deciding to make KY your home -- barbara

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  16. Janet, I guess it is not surprising that in the sixties there were so many outhouses given the figures I quote in my post. Good observation about the Walton show. Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  17. June -- Aunt Emma's blackberry cakes sound very good. So many of our memories go back to small things like food. Your uncle's outhouse was a super deluxe model. Yes, I remember outhouses from when I was young visiting the farm relatives, spiders were always a concern of mine too. -- barbara

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  18. Vicki -- Apparently outhouses were a valued asset than and still are today, In some cases. I did read where you can buy very nice metal ones for farms, hunting land etc. Too bad the roadway took your outhouse away for no other reason that as a storage shed.

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  19. Outhouses are against the law in my town. Composting toilets may be allowed.

    My grandparents, who sold fruit and vegetables, would wipe themselves with treasured tissue that wrapped pears, but that supply of tissue was limited. I wonder what else they used.

    Yours for re-use & recycling . . .

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  20. Would you believe yours is the second blog that I follow who did an outhouse-themed post in the same week? :-)

    This post is informative and interesting, and makes me grateful for the luxury of indoor plumbing that we so take for granted, and gratified that we too have bought recycled t.p. for years.

    Very interesting about the "diggers" and the treasures they often find in old outhouse pits!

    My paternal grandparents lived on a 200-year old farm in rural Maine, and though it still had several historic buildings like a blacksmith shop and sap camp, there was no sign (or mention) whatsoever of any outhouse. They'd bought the place in the late 1930s-early '40s, and I can't imagine it came with indoor plumbing. Their nearest neighbor, a mile down their dirt road, never had indoor plumbing nor electricity his whole life (he died in his eighties in the late 1970s).

    I wish I'd taken a photo of it, but Scott and Helen Nearing had a little yurt outhouse out by their gardens that was a miniature version of this!

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  21. Hi Mim -- Your story of the pear tissues and grandparents was humorous. It does make one wonder what else they used. Thanks for stopping by -- you have a wonderful blog. -- barbara

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  22. Laloofah -- Your paternal grandparents had a very interesting set of buildings. Do you have photos of the sap camp or the blacksmith shop? I take it that the sap camp was used to produce maple syrup? Did anyone in the family do any research on the out-buildings or farm?

    I checked out your Scott and Helen Nearing post. I have been fans of the Nearings for years. Your post captured the essence of their thoughts quite nicely. They truly had a lovely place to live out their life. How nice that you were able to visit the center and get a first hand view of all their work and artifacts.

    Thanks --barbara

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  23. Hi, Barbara! I'll just give you relatively brief answers to your questions, but if you're interested in additional details I have about my grandparents' old farm (I don't have many, but they may interest you) or any photos I might find and scan, please email me. An email link is on my blog.

    Their farm, "Strawberry Hill," was on 200 acres of mostly woods in Waterboro, ME. I know I don't have any photos of the sap camp, which was indeed for making maple syrup. By my time only one of the original buildings remained, the rest having burned in a huge fire in 1947 that burned much of the town and its environs. I might have photos of the house and barn - the blacksmith shop is doubtful. (Wish I could go back in time with my digital camera!!)

    In addition to the sap camp and blacksmith shop, there was an old chicken coop, a pump house (with a working hand well pump in front of it that pumped the coldest, sweetest water!), a huge red 3-story barn with cupola and weathervane, and the house - a big two-story quintessential Maine farmhouse with a 3-sided wrap-around porch. The house sits up on a hill overlooking a lovely valley. You can see all of the buildings in this Google map satellite photo (assuming my link will work!) :-) The house (with its attached red-roofed woodshed addition) and the red-roofed pump house are on the right. The buildings across the road, from top to bottom, are the chicken coop, barn and blacksmith shop. (The other red-roofed building at the upper portion of the picture is a more modern garage my grandfather built.) Behind the house you can clearly see an "L" shaped stone wall. Their place had tons of those wonderful old New England stone walls!

    I'm sure my grandmother researched the place, that sort of thing was a favorite hobby of hers. But she was a terrible packrat and the matriarch of a very dysfunctional family (5 kids, 9 grandkids), and since they sold the farm in the early 80s (and were eventually moved to California and put in separate nursing homes by one of their nutjob kids), any research she'd done is no doubt lost forever. All I can remember is that there was a stone by the back door with the name Jacob Smith engraved on it, and my grandmother told me that was the man who'd built the place, sometime in the first half of the 19th century. (I found a Waterboro cemetery listing for a Jacob Smith who lived from 1798-1864, maybe that's our guy!)

    The road the farm is on, Middle Road, had a lot of farms and homes on it in the 1800s and early 1900s. By the time I was a kid spending a week or two there each summer exploring the area, there were only a couple of other inhabited houses on the entire six mile road. (Now it's quite developed again, including with a few McMansions! Yuk). I often found old stone building foundations back in the woods, along with multi-family graveyards. It was a great place for a curious kid to go exploring!

    I'm not surprised to hear you're a long-time fan of the Nearings, and I'm so glad you enjoyed my post! We loved our visit to the Good Life Center, it was so beautiful, interesting and inspiring! If you ever get up to Maine, you must visit it! (And maybe swing by Strawberry Hill on the way!) :-)

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  24. Laloofah -- Your grandparents farm is a collage of outbuildings that tell a story of a self sufficient life style. I went on the Google map and got a great view of it. With that map photo and your memories and perhaps some family photos you would have a wonderful story to share. Perhaps on your blog? I would find it very interesting. With your memories you could reconstruct the culture of the farmstead. I am sure it would have been great to have all the research that your grandmother did but one can still resurrect the place from your own personal history. You have a great place to start -- with the name Jacob Smith along with possibly checking into wills, tax and land records to round out the beginning settlement pattern of the place. Anyway, I feel that you have an exciting piece of family history and I, as well as probably others, would love to see any of your photos displayed on your blog.

    Thanks for this fascinating comment, I read it with interest -- all your family information -- will be stopping by regularly to read your blog. The post on the Nearings was really enjoyable. -- barbara

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  25. Hi, Barbara! I hadn't thought about doing a post about Strawberry Hill Farm, but it's an intriguing idea. "Family logistics" (shall we say!) make gathering photos and details difficult if not impossible. My mom may have some photos of the place, but I'm still trying to get her to send me more photos of her miniatures (she had them out to mail to me two weeks ago but never did, she suffers from dementia and other "issues"), so attempts to get SHF photos from her may be fruitless. Maybe the next time I visit her I can find some myself... meanwhile, I'll go through my own photos this winter and see what I can find. I've got a spiffy new scanner I'm dying to make good use of! :-)

    Anyway, I've got some ideas and I think you're right, that might make a fun post down the road! (I doubt I'll have time to do all that historical research on the place, but maybe the Waterboro Historical Society can help me out).

    I'm glad you enjoyed the Google view of the place, as well as my long-winded comment, and that you plan to visit my blog regularly! I have a post planned for December you'll especially enjoy (she said with great confidence, lol!) :-)

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  26. Laloofah -- I know that the logistics of finding or obtaining family information and/or photos can be daunting sometimes. I find that just a small piece can make one discover a nice story. It sounds like you already have a nice scenario going about the "meaning" of the farm in your life. -- barbara

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  27. KIMBERLY ANN STARGELJuly 9, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    HI well the house i live in has an outhouse and no running water inside. iT DOES HAVE A WATER SPICKET OUTSIDE. THERE IS A WELL THAT BE USED WITH A SANDBUCKET STILL.SOME RELATIVES ETC. THINK WE ARE CRAZY. BUT I LOVE THIS PLACE ALOT.I ALSO HAVE A WOODSTOVE THAT I CAN COOK ON IF I WANT SOME GREAT TASTING BEANS. KIMBERLY ANN STARGEL COLUMBIA KY

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    1. Kimberly -- I have not been to Columbia KY as of yet. Some day I might find the time to travel a bit more in KY. It is surprising how many places still have outhouses in various parts of the country. Your cook-stove sounds terrific. The old cook stoves have an aura about them -- the new stoves just can't come close to the nostalgic feeling of them. -- thanks for stopping by -- barbara

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  28. I found a couple of outhouses on my camera walk also Barbara.

    My dad had one at cottage till he built one in the cottage but the shanty as we called them never was taken down outside.

    My parents have passed away many years ago. So my brothers son and wife have bought my parents cottage and had a modern make over outside and added rooms with in but the still kept the Outhouse. Tee, hee for swimmers Emergencys .

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    1. sparkle -- Nice that your nephew kept the old outhouse for old times sake. I bet it stirs a lot of conversation. thanks -- barbara

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