The Outhouse: A Complete History

"Hi, gang! Time for another colorful story by Kenneth Avery."

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A lonely outhouse

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A rare, decorative outhouse

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Fake outhouse--look at the landscape

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Is this pink outhouse just for ladies?

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The outhouse--early beginnings

For the record, an outhouse is ingenuity disguised with simplicity. That’s all you can make out of it. To the more-enlightened, an outhouse was the first step in the “Evolution of The Rest Room,” or inside-facilities. And with that fact, one could make the argument for The Theory of Evolution, but Charles Darwin never did include outhouses in his controversial-theories.

The ingenuity segment of an outhouse is really the end-result of someone’s fast and sure-thinking. That happens when a person is “doing their business,” (bowel movement) outside in winter when the temperatures are flirting with two above zero. “There has to be a better way to get “this” done,” a cold and down-hearted pioneer person might have said.

So after breakfast the next day, “Zeke,” an early mountain man, told his wife, “Clara,” to leave him be as he drew-up the first floorplans for his own outhouse. Ahhh, history. I love it when it is made by an unknown underdog such as “Zeke.”

Poor “Zeke,” hardly-educated, and in –need of a place to answer “Nature’s Call,” standing all by himself gazing around his new homestead wondering where and what he must do when it came for he and his wife, “Clara,” to relieve themselves. It was a tough bone to chew, I don’t mind telling you.

And in the same ingenuis-thinking as Galleao, Einstein, and Henry Ford, an idea was born. We could have know this was happening as “Zeke’s” face lit-up his eyes commence to twinkle like stars on a clear winter night.

His eyes were glued to a flat piece of sod located out-of-sight of visiting kin, kids, and preachers, and that made “Zeke” well-up with happiness because “Zeke,” a decent-minded man, was not about to build the country’s first “facility,” that people would be able to see other people doing what they do when the urge strikes them.

So to the shanty-like barn “Zeke,” trod wishing he was inside his shanty-like cabin with “Clara,” drinking a cup of coffee and unfreezing his bones. But an early Pioneer man is a man of his word and “Zeke,” was no different. He grabbed his pick, shovel, saw, (all homemade) and set to complete his task of providing his household with the first bathroom. And he never realized with the first lick of the homemade pick as it bit into the cold ground, that he was probably the very-first man to do such a socially-awkward thing as build an “outside restroom.”

Poor “Zeke,” like the Biblical Noah, would surely be made the object of mockery and scorn by his Pioneer kinfolks and neighbors for looking so foolish standing in the cold, sharp winter wind using his pick for a half-hour, then is shovel for a half-hour. The work was slow. But “Zeke” was a determined man, as most Pioneer men were. These special men and women lived by the “never say die,” attitude.

“Zeke,” knew that the sun was setting and his body was tired and frozen, so he stopped his work until the next day, and dragged himself back to his shanty-like cabin where “Clara,” was waiting for him with a cup of hot “Deer Broth,” and a piece of cornbread for his supper. “Clara,” was the “love of his life.”

A modern outhouse probably used in Alaska

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The outhouse was very easy to use

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Outhouse Manners: Never leave the door open

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Notice the half-moon in the door?

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An outhouse for lovers

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The outhouse--a tough start

The next morning, “Zeke,” threw back the two homemade quilts that “Clara,” had made before they had left the early Appalachian Mountains, and dragged his sore, aching body off of his homemade corn shuck mattress, and started a fire in the fireplace.

By now, “Clara,” was awake and dressed—headed to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the two of them. “Clara,” knew how “Zeke,” was when he was involved with a new project, grieved, determined and never made an effort to produce small-talk. “Clara” was an understanding Pioneer wife.

“Zeke,” wiped his mouth on his homemade flannel shirt (that “Clara” made before they left for this arduous trip), winked at “Clara,” and set out to finish his “Outdoor Bathroom Project.”

No sooner than he started work when “Charlie,” and “Franklin,” two of his neighbors who also came from distant places to start life anew, stopped on their way to hunt game and laughed, “Look at that fool, ‘Zeke,’ doesn’t know how to hunt, but he shore knows how to dig a hole in the ground,” and kept walking.

Undaunted, “Zeke,” was just a few picks and shovel-full of dirt away from having the perfect foundation for “the” very-first “outdoor facility.” Prior to “Zeke’s” brainstorm, people had relied on the woods around their homesteads to relieve themselves when necessary. And it would be years until more sharp-thinking American’s would have buckets sitting by their beds just in-case their kidneys needed to act or bowels move during the night.

“Haaawwww! Just Look,” “Zeke,” yelled throwing down his homemade implements and dancing with himself. “I have done it! I have made us an ‘outdoor place to respect our waste removing innards,” he yelled as “Clara,” heard his celebratory-yell and ran to see what was the commotion about.

After the two stood and looked at “Zeke’s” successful hole-digging , “Clara,” very-respectfully, whispered, “Is this it? The project you just had to finish? Where are the walls and place to sit, ‘Zeke,’” “Clara” said.

“Zeke,’s” eyes lit-up as if a fire coal had been placed in them. “You are right, woman. I needs what you were talking about for to really have a “using place,” “Zeke” said like an understanding Pioneer man.

As a side-note to the “History of The Outhouse,” “Clara,” is to be credited for the idea of having walls and a place to sit to make the outhouse a useful invention—“Zeke,” had originally thought that he and his wife would simply undo what part of their garments that would unzip, unsnap or untie and squat down to honor their bladder and big intestines.

So “Zeke,” who did built a shanty-like cabin for his wife and him, trod back to his shanty-like barn and grabbed his homemade axe and saw and set a trail to the thick woods that surrounded his land.

“See you at dark, wife,” “Zeke,” said as he trotted into the woods until he was clean out of sight.

By 5 p.m., “Zeke,” had cut enough young trees to make the logs that would serve as walls for his great-inventon, the outhouse. But to get the trees to the worksite, he had to “eat humble pie,” and ask one of the men who made light of him for digging the base for the outhouse, “Franklin Belcher,” if he would bring his team of young mules to his place the next morning to help him haul the trees out of the woods.

“Belcher,” agreed, but only if “Clara,” would cook him one of her “settlement-famous,” black walnut cakes as pay. How could “Zeke,” say no to such a sweet deal?

The work went fast and with “Franklin’s” young mule team, the logs were hauled and stacked near the hole in the ground to allow “Zeke” the ease of movement to make the logs into needed-walls for the outhouse.

Of course that meant that “Zeke,” being an inventive sort, thought to trim the bark off of each log and smooth the surface to give the outhouse a “homely,” type of look. His thinking was: No one can really enjoy “going to the outhouse,” unless they are relaxed and happy and his idea of decorative-logs fit the bill.

After four days of labor, “Zeke,” nailed the last wooden peg into the last log that he had placed to prevent the wind, snow and rain from disturbing the occupant of the outhouse from fully-draining their bladder and flushing-out their small intestine.

This next part, the designing of the door to the outhouse complete with a half-moon, meets with strong controversy. Research does not say that neither “Zeke,” or “Clara,” or any of their neighbors had the idea of a door, so I will just assume it was one of those ideas that is acted-upon and not settled whom was to get the credit.

The half-moon cut into the door allowed the outhouse occupant to look outside (at night) to see if there were any bears, other game, or some no-count ne’er-de-well sneaking onto their property to gain access to the newest-invention since gunpowder: The outhouse.

And now, a break with some entertainment

Outhouse with its own identity

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A perfect meeting place to talk things over

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The High Desert Band, "Badger in The Outhouse"

The Outhouse--how the inside experienced an evolution of its own

  • Sears-Roebuck catalogs, after being perused a few hundred times, found a home in the outhouse for "cleaning," purposes. The slick, glossy pages made "cleaning" items such as corn cobs, leaves of trees, and grass obsolete.
  • The wall of the outhouse was a handy place for a farmer or pioneer to store his valuable names of vendors for his fertilizer, ammunition or such, but very personal information was never written on these walls for fear that some visiting cousin or nosy aunt would soak-up the information and use it to their advantage
  • Anti-odor items were once used in outhouses. Things such as striking a big kitchen match inside the facility once an occupant had finished with their bowel-movements. This was not just an act of courtesy, but a definite need to make the interior bearable for the next occupant.
  • A careful Pioneer or even a careful farmer, later on in the history of the outhouse, would carry his firearm with him to use the outhouse. He figured that there was no use in taking foolish chances and be without a defense against a charging bear, cougar, or the "settlement drunk," who would drink to excess then take out his rages on the "uppity" settlers who owned outhouses.


The outhouse had an Open Door Policy

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What all could you do in an outhouse

besides using it for relieving of your bladder and big intestines?

  • Hiding in a rousing game of hide and seek
  • Being alone to just think about things--no one would dare disturb the occupant when the door of the outhouse was closed
  • Make-out with a lover, that is if both lovers had strong stomachs
  • Write letters, songs, poetry and just "be lost" in your own world
  • Hiding in the outhouse at Halloween and do scary voices to scare people who had to walk past the outhouse to ask for a treat
  • Take naps--again, if you had a strong stomach
  • A great place for your pet cats, dogs, or hunting dogs to keep warm and dry
  • A nifty place to settle-down when a married couple had a heated-spat
  • Design pretty photos on the walls of the outhouse
  • See if the clothing you wanted was still available in the Sears-Roebuck catalog that your father left in the outhouse last month

The outhouse: a great place of solitude

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"Wasn't this an exciting piece of work? Do not go away, Kenneth had a few more important facts to share about the outhouse."

Things strictly-forbidden in the outhouse

  • Smoking--you would think that the outhouse owner would let this one slide for I had rather smell tobacco than human waste
  • Early pornographic materials--books, magazines, black and white photos that your "uncle Waldo," who was in the Navy, sneaked to his 15-year-old nephew, "Tommy," who was just hitting puberty
  • No fireworks allowed in the outhouse because this type of "Tom Foolery," would lead to the outhouse burning down
  • Absolutely no using alcohol in the outhouse. An alcohol-abuser might drink too much, fall asleep and fall in the deep, smelly pit of filth, maggots and other vermin and who would ever be able to live this down, falling into an outhouse?
  • No dancing allowed inside the outhouse for fear of getting carried-away and one dance partner stumbling and bringing the outhouse down. What an embarrassing scene.
  • No eating allowed in the outhouse for fear it might cause colonies of ants to start building ant hills near the outhouse and the occupants might be stung by these annoying insects
  • No practical jokes except at Halloween. No everyone appreciated a harmless prank and neighbors who were in unity were needful

Upkeep, maintenance of the outhouse

  • Once a week, someone, namely the oldest male child, would visit the outhouse with a bag of lime and pour some down into the nauseating-pit to kill the smell
  • Big families would take turns of sweeping out the outhouse. The thinking was here that a person can feel good about using an outhouse when their rich friends had indoor toilets/bathrooms, just by knowing that the dirt or cement floor was clean
  • Once a week, probably the dad, would check and dispose of any spider webs and wasp nests had been built by these pesky creatures
  • The dad was expected to repair the roof of the outhouse if during a sudden-downpour, it started leading on "Grandma Katherine," a stickler for cleanliness and order, who might be using the outhouse.

Next project:

I would love to do a piece on getting needed-grants and support to build America's first "Outhouse Museum."

Are you in or out?

More by this Author


Comments 18 comments

jhamann profile image

jhamann 2 years ago from Reno NV

Great hub! My dad was obsessed with everything outhouse, we were visited by Sani Claus one Christmas. The poop talk at the dinner table. Memories. Jamie


Mekenzie profile image

Mekenzie 2 years ago from Michigan

Oh my Kenneth what a creative write this is. I could picture the whole process and life back in the days of Pioneering.

I liked your characters and the blunt and colorful way Zeke expressed himself.

Something heart warming about those days. Enjoyed the read and smiled throughout.

Great Hub - voted up and across.

Blessings to you friend,

Mekenzie


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Dear Mekenzie,

I have to just humbly say, "Thank you," for your very sweet and uplifting comments. YOU made my night. And I had this on my mind for days--but the glitch in HP made me afraid to try to publish this or any hub for fear it might be erased or something worse, destroyed.

Thank God for you, my dear friend and follower.

Kenneth


moonlake profile image

moonlake 2 years ago from America

My grandparents had a grocery store and their living quarters were connected to the store. Out back was the outhouse, along with huge rats. I use to see grandpa walk through the house during the night with his red long underwear with the flap. If you didn’t go to the outhouse you had to use the pot.

Connected to their quarters was the hospital. The hospital threw all their waste out back. I would see vials that medicine had been in. On the other side of their store was the jail as kids we would go visit with the prisoners.

I always thought the half moon was to let the stink out.

We have come a long way from those days.

Enjoyed your hub and voted up.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Dear sweet moonlake, you are so kind. Thank you. I just called on the real memories and wanted to put a humorous-spin on this for someone to just laugh. You keep up your great work.


ESPeck1919 profile image

ESPeck1919 2 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

Entertaining and interesting hub, Kenneth! Though, after getting locked in an outhouse, I'll stick with my indoor plumbing whenever possible.

It probably wasn't a good idea to read it just before lunch, but it was still very good. Voted up!


sheilamyers 2 years ago

I never really gave much thought to the history of the outhouse. All I ever cared was if there was one nearby if I needed it. I'm glad you wrote about it and I enjoyed the article. I do have something to add to your list of things to do in an outhouse. Have you ever heard of a "johnny jammer"? It's when you see how many people you can fit into an outhouse.


grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

A lot of old people today still remember having an outhouse as their first bathroom, in the Philippines. This is actually very interesting. Too bad Zeke didn't get due credit for his first invention. Interesting to know that Sears and Roebuck coincided with the period when people still used outhouses. Voted up.


jhamann profile image

jhamann 2 years ago from Reno NV

I have come back for more and I am sharing this gem on my FB. Thanks for a great read. Jamie


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

LOL, Kenneth, this is great! Wow, who knew all of this about the outhouse ... well, you did, as you have written a comprehensive hub here on the history and then some on the outhouse. Perfect choice of imagery too.

Up and more and away

Blessings for a wonderful weekend


ocfireflies profile image

ocfireflies 2 years ago from North Carolina

Greetings!

What a fun and hilarious hub. A narrative told by only someone with a wonderful sense of humor. Thankful that I grew up in an era where indoor plumbing was/is the norm, yet I am still familiar with the outhouse and can even still remember when there were some still around in these here parts.

In fact, I am pretty sure Zeke is my cousin everybody once talked about--lamenting the fact that he could have made millions on his idea--if he had only had gotten out of the outhouse and intto the patent office first. But, that is how it often happens in history...Big Smile and definitely voted up.

ocfireflies aka Kim


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

ESPeck1919,

I apologize for you reading this before lunch, or as us rural people used to say, "grub."

I wish I had the money to travel to the finest eateries in New York City, those by reservation only and black tie required places. Well I would make my reservation, wear an off-the-rack black tie, be seated and when the snooty waiter came to get my order, I would lean back the chair on two legs and say, "Gimme yore finest grub, partner."

And if he got smart, I would pull out a roll of 100's and say, "What did you mean by that disrespectful hiss? Are you snake? You sure look like one."

Oh, I am sorry to be rambling on.

Thank you for your nice comment. Visit with me again.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, Jamie,

Thanks again for your very-kind comments. I will always keep them as a treasure.

To me, it is not the hub that I enjoy, although I do get into one now and then, it is comments made by writers such as you and the others on this hub.

I appreciate you all taking the time to read and comment here.

Kenneth


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hello, sheilamyers,

Thank you so very much for your comment. I never thought of an outhouse in those terms. Only if one were near. Oh, at the places my family visited when I was a kid and NO outhouse. NO inside plumbing.

Thank God for my large bladder. Nuff said.

Come back soon, Sheila.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, grand old lady (who is still NOT old)

I appreciate your comments concerning how the outhouse was a fixture in your land. I would have never imagined how far the outhouse reached in its history.

I think I need to look at outhouses with more respect.

Thank you for your nice remark and come back soon.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

@ sheilamyers,

"Johnny Hammer?" No. This is the first of that I have known, but it sounds like a lot of fun, but please allow me to wear a surgical mask soaked in mouthwash or alcohol.

LOL. Come back and visit soon.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Dear Faith Reaper,

You are one sweet friend and follower to say such nice things about this hub. I like the "comprehensive" description. I might go into business for myself as an "Outhouse Historian," open my own museum and make the folks at Ruby Falls green (bad term) with envy.

Thanks again. Your Friend for Life, Kenneth


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Dear ocfireflies,

Oh, how sweet of you to leave such a touching, memorable comment as you did.

Thank you from the heart. Yes, old Zeke. A happy pioneer for having his own earthen bathroom, but still lived a simple life and like you said, could have scored huge bucks if he had just invented the patent office.

ocfireflies, I appreciate you and your visits.

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