Categorized | Projects, The Past

Outhouses in Town

There never used to be indoor toilets. A bucket was often used for children, handicapped persons, or adults who were either scared of the dark or lazy. But the contents of that bucket had to have a place to go. The options were: to the bush, gutter, or outhouse. In town usually there were no convenient bushes for this purpose, and it would have cheated someone else’s shoes, to heave it there. The best solution was to provide an outhouse. These were regularly built on each homestead or lot. For all of you so fortunate as to not know how that works, I will explain the steps.

To begin with, you dig a hole with a shovel into the ground, if it isn’t frozen, of a size that’s predesigned to fit the intended outhouse. If it’s frozen and there is a dire need, you use a pick-axe (also used for winter graves).


Building an Outdoor Toilet

You build a tall, but otherwise small dimensionally shaped type of structure for protection from viewers, mosquitoes, drafts and large bears or monsters that might roam in the dark. This structure usually has a one-sided, slanted roof for ease of construction, and to maintain a dry and ice-free seat.


Old Newspaper used for Wipe


You would also need to allow for a surface somewhere in your design, to put some paper upon. Paper didn’t come in rolls-it came in sheets called newspaper (the most common and easiest to soften by rubbing back and forth was the “Sears and Robuck”).




Next, the obvious necessity is to cut a hole the size of the average butt. You could go to a neighbours and get a pattern off of theirs, or if it was too dirty to bother with, you could measure and pattern your own.  Some got fancy and made a 2 holed seat to fit smaller or children’s sized butts. It would then be a toss-up whether you would like to spend more time and money on a larger house, or to have a small child fall down the hole and have to fish it out. This is serious business. If there is a chance that a young person could fall down the hole, one solution might be to put bars across under the seat to catch them. It will catch everything else too, but at least it would be safer.


The hole in an outhouse seat





Although it’s tempting to use trashy wood for a trashy place, you need to consider the pit falls of such a move.



 Speaking of temptation, there may be strange people who would like to view you in an unusual position from the outside area. Therefore knot holes wouldn’t be preferable. To add to that, hornets might also enter and make nests where you wouldn’t think to find them, and it may not be obvious to the human eye. That is, unless you were determined to regularly investigate the spaces that are down under the seating surface. Therefore, also, it would be wise to use good construction material for the door. This is so that you may attach a sturdy hook affair to keep it shut whilst inside and busy when some else arrives in a panicked state, or when the wind blows from an unexpected direction, or the bear or monster wants you badly. Another suggestion from my own experience – make sure that if you put a latch on the outside of the door, that you make it high enough that only a mature person can reach it. An immature person would be one that decides they don’t need your company anymore and shuts you in permanently. Our remedy for that is to make what we’ll call a “Dillon slot” (named after an immature perpetrator) where a slot is cut so that the victim can reach from within the toilet confines, to the outside, and release themselves.


Hooking the Outhouse Door


 Other than the above considerations, it is a rather simple thing to make. It’s quite another to try to get it over the new hole.

Lastly, a major decision would need to be made about how tightly you bank the dirt around the outside after placing this building over the hole. Some argue that it is good to have ventilation from that area rather than up the butt hole(s) in the seat. Others are smarter, and because of crappy experiences on Halloween Nights, opt to close this area off tightly. You see, it becomes difficult whilst shrouded by darkness, to navigate an area such that you can find leverage to push over such a shack from the back side towards its face or door. This is the usual manner, as the door is usually located on the side pointed towards the most light or visible area (being the home). I must add a note of caution at this point. If you try to experiment with this idea in order to make up your mind, be definitely sure that there is no one in the shack when attempting this, unless you are sure no one has previously used the butt hole mentioned to do their duty. It is surprisingly difficult to convince the “insider” to vacate by that hole, especially if they realize the long leap it would take to circumvent the now uncovered hole.

It is an easier task to use an outhouse that has been previously constructed – to a point. The obvious benefit, of course, is that the construction phase is deleted. The difficult part though, begins with breaking it loose from its previously used position, extracting it from the former hole which is usually full of foul human debris, and finding a method of handling it, so as to not encumber your clothing with such debris, while pushing it to your newly designed area. As well, caution is also advised in this case since the excrement pile, which might appear innocent, may be very slippery as you are attempting to push on the said building.


Open Wasp Nest

It was sometime later, after its original design, that people invented new ideas, like hole covers. This restrained the powerful odour beneath the structure, from entering the sitting room, until the moment when it was necessary to remove it add to the waste pile. The cover also made it harder for flies to enter the area and create a breeding ground of maggots and so forth. It wasn’t long until folks discovered that ashes from their wood stoves tempered the smell at least temporarily and that lye itself decreased the volume of the heap. Another modern innovation we have devised is the use of an overturned ice-cream pail with a roll of toilet paper underneath. It is quite mouse-proof. 


Bird Looking Through a Knot Hole

Pioneers of the past felt the outhouse to be a boon compared to visiting the great outdoors, where there was no such protection. These houses were proliferated in abundance until better means were afforded. They even provided an especially significant amount of wealth to the few who discovered that digging a new hole out of the hard dirt was harder than digging the refuse itself, and had made a business of it. As well, in some cases where the property available was small, there soon became a necessity to recycle the same building spot. So these entrepreneurs of the past made well from these circumstances.



I proudly come from the outhouse era. There are worse things to deal with in this life! I still have one in the backyard. Call me silly, but wait until the power goes out – you might wish you had one too.

Have you heard the song “Ode to the little brown shack?” That says it all.


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10 Responses to “Outhouses in Town”

  1. May I add some fodder to your article.
    I think you neglected to expound upon the health benefits of a nice long and relaxed visit to the outhouse and the origin of reading on the toilet. Predictably, someone would have put the sears and robuck in the toilet before you had read every page. Which meant you had to do a quick catch-up before you recycled. Additionally, softening a catalogue page took a little effort and time. So, you might dovetail, and soften as you ‘go’ – in advance. One page for No.1 and 2 for Number 2. Which just dawned on me, was probably where the numbers came from! I’ve had an epiphany here!

  2. Anonymous says:

    We had a 2 seater when we were growing up. I always thought it was a little creepy, since I misunderstood that they were there for you to choose which to use. I pictured it more for 2 people to go at once.
    I remember dad digging the new hole for it. If I recall correctly, he wasn’t so happy about the task. It was a huge job. If I had to do the digging, I would build a new one a million times over before resorting to cleaning out the old one.
    My worst memories of the outhouse:
    Going in -40 weather…. after someone dribbled on the seat and it had time to freeze.
    Having NO door. What on earth was THAT for? Maybe to save on wood. Going in the dark with a lamp was a really creepy experience.
    BUT, as bad as that played on a young child’s mind, the walls of the outhouse rivaled it. We had plywood walls, which (conveniently) had all sorts of knots in it. As little children, we thought these were evil faces staring at us as we did our business.

    • sherry says:

      I had a horrible time to get my kids to brave the dark. They secretly went somewhere else and I pretended not to notice – until someone went in the woodbox iside the house. In town there wasn’t always enough room on a lot to keep moving on. The guy that cleaned the outhouse holes in the great depression made the most money of anyone. How about that.

  3. MichaelB says:

    So we used to have outhouses in Samoa. Though we would rub banana leaves together until they were soft enough. If there were newspapers they were good too. I think the one key difference is looking out for big a$$ centipedes. You didn’t want to sit on those. :D

    OH also we had working boys to build, dig and clean out the outhouses.

    • sherry says:

      Did you have to look under the seat for centipedes, or would they be on top? Those are poisonous? What are working boys?

  4. Pamela says:

    We just bought property on the middle of nowhere and the first thing we did is build an outhouse. We will be outrun in a septic system but on the meantime we are happy to have a place to do our business =-)

    • sherry says:

      Ahaha, then you see my point. It’s still a viable, necessary, wonderful and horrible thing!
      How nowhere is nowhere: bushes, neighbors? I assume you are planning to live in something other than the outhouse – would that be of your own making or otherwise?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure why I keep coming up as anonymous. :S


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