outhouse built by wpaA ways back, we had a little chat about outhouses, and how prior to the post-WWII boom, lots of folks still did not have indoor plumbing. Well, Sara wrote in to let us know that at the heritage family home in Pennsylvania, they still maintain and use their two-seater, the beloved “Sally”. Sara writes:

I was born in the ’50s, and every summer we traveled to rural Pennsylvania (closest town of any size, Towanda, was a twisty-turn-y, nightmare of a 10 mile drive) where my great-grandparents had in 1932 purchased a tract of land along the Susquehana River. It had a dilapidated barn, an old building that had once housed a general store, a few acres of land and a huge farsanitary-unitmhouse built in the 1850s. I had to leave a comment today because at the time my great-grandparents moved in, the WPA came through the valley and built a solid, safe, sanitary two-seater outhouse on the property, identical to the one pictured. My extended family has carefully maintained it over all these years, and it is neither smelly nor creature-infested. I’ve lived with indoor plumbing all my life, which is why using the outhouse (and the occasional chamber pot) has been important for me. How else could I otherwise appreciate my pastel bathroom???

One of my good-natured cousins snapped a couple of pics for me the other day. I’m sorry Sally doesn’t look her summertime best. Ordinarily the brush is kept mowed, and we often put geraniums in flower pots on either side of the door. There was even a little bell ages ago! You’ll notice that we raised the roof and inserted screening a few years back, primarily to let in more daylight.

We have a modest perennial garden along the slate pathway that leads to her door, and she was wisely built close enough to the house be convenient, and far enough away to be discreet. You could meander slowly down the walk, pretending to do a little weeding amongst the flowers, and no one would be the wiser.

Yes, this is the work of the WPA. Men without jobs were employed by — gasp — the federal government, to build and repair those things that Americans needed and used in their everyday lives, thereby immeasurably improving their health and safety. Imagine that.

Thank you for putting your foot down when it comes to the national habit of snickering at the colors, furniture, flamingos and other assorted accoutrementof those in the 1950s and ’60s. So many of them had only comparatively recently emerged from a backward, colorless and unsophisticated way of life. And now look — clean, fresh water in a pretty pink tub! Somebody pinch me!

Well, that was way more soap box philosophy than you’d counted on, I’m guessing.

Enjoy Sally! Aw heck, we sure do!

Thank you, Sara, for the lovely memories, and for the healthy snap-to reminder of how lucky we all have it. 🙂

  1. Karen Morgan says:

    I was born in the late 50s and in the little community where I lived in Virginia’s Blueridge Mountains, EVERYONE had an outhouse. We didn’t get a bathroom installed until 1964. There’s nothing nostalgic about outhouses, though. No matter how nice, they are nasty.

  2. Peggy Miniard says:

    I just saw this today…and couldnt resist adding my two cents. I grew up in a house (in Ky) with no running water, and no inside bathrroom. We bathed in a wash tub that served double duty for rinsing out clothes my mama washed on her wringer washing machine. (maytage.) life was tough and I very much appreciate my nice pink bathroom , that , btw, is 10 years older than I am!

  3. lisa mertins says:

    i was going to plug that radiolab piece myself until i saw eric beat me to it. this post is a great companion to it since many of us only consider outhouses as bizarre relics instead of appreciating their important place in human evolution! thanks for sharing it…

  4. Cutty Wilbur says:

    Thanks to my cousin Sara for her short history of our outhouse. I remember it well. The family rule was men were required to use it, but women could use the indoor plumbing at night. Using it was refered to as “going down the lane”.

  5. BungalowBILL says:

    I grew up in the suburbs so I have trouble even grasping the concept of a septic. I prefer to flush and have it go far far away, not collect it in my yard ( and I collect alot of things!) But I think even outhouses should be saved, and maybe painted pink. Way to go WPA helping fellow Americans and putting them to work! Thanks for sharing Sally.

  6. The crazy suburban mom says:

    Oh yes, as someone else said…A too seater is way too much company for me but I think having it is actually kind of a cool thing. Maintained as it is.

    And yes, I’m sure it does make her appreciate the pastel bathroom 🙂

  7. Annie B. says:

    My goodness! Are there no old time, “Back-to-the-Land-ers” out there?
    Having an older home with an outhouse was the epitome of cool when I was in school. Those were the days!

  8. sablemable says:

    I remember outhouses and chamber pots. My mother’s family had a small farm in Kentucky and we visited there once when I was 4. I refused to use their outhouse, as I had overheard Mom say when she was a young girl visiting and had to use the facilities, she had found a copperhead snake inside. So, I used a chamber pot instead. We also slept on straw tick mattresses.

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