Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

June 30, 2011

The Outhouse

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

The outhouse.  No, I am not talking about a new restaurant!  No, it is not that dinner theatre place!

For some it might mean a storage building out back — like a small barn, stable, or work area.  But I am not talking about such a structure.  I am talking the real thing!  I mean an outhouse!

I am not an authority on them, but we had one for a time. And I had many kinsfolk who had one. At our house it was a wooden structure about 75 feet from the back door.  For those who still have not grasped what I am describing, allow me to be less delicate.  An outhouse is a type of toilet in a small structure.  It does not flush . . . it is not attached to a sewer.  If you want more details . . . search the internet for some very vivid descriptions!

There are few that still exist.  You will see vacated ones at times in rural areas.  They can be seen around some hunting camps . . . and the modern, portable ones can be seen at various festivals and events where restrooms are not available.

One of the most fascinating things about most of them is that you will see a crescent or quarter-moon over the door or cut in the door.  What is this symbol?  Or is it a practical part of the structure.  There are many suggestions why you find the quarter-moon.  I used the word symbol, because it appeared all the old ones had it.  I just assumed it meant it was an outhouse.

But no, according to some the crescent served a practical purpose.  Many say that it was as a vent, especially if you did not have a small pipe through the roof.  But I remember most outhouses having a vent along the roof line.  Others suggest it was for allowing light to come in — especially on those moon lit nights!  There would be no windows — obviously for privacy.

Then others suggest that the crescent cut in the door — obviously high up from the bottom — is for opening and closing the door.  The shape had nothing to do with the moon, but it fit the hand! 

I remember outhouses  were always hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  And then using them at night!  Well, most folks didn’t care to venture out to one during the night . . . or in the rain.  Most folks had what was called a chamber pot that could slide under the bed —  of course, we are talking the old beds that were high off the floor!  These pots were used to avoid trips in the dark or bad weather.

By the time I was in high school, only a few outhouses were found in our town or nearby.  Yet, there were many abandoned ones that could be found.  Halloween provided a perfect excuse to remove some old ones from their premises.  A few fellows would back the pickup truck to one, tilt the outhouse over and allow it to fall on its side into the bed of the truck.  Next stop was a friend’s(?) house.  There the outhouse was unloaded on the front yard.  What a sight the next morning! 

If terrorism had been popular in those days, it would have been easy to scare folks with explosions and bring confusion and unrest.  All you needed to do was open the door, throw a firecracker through the hole, and it would have been enough spark to ignite the gases, and . . . no more outhouse!  And imagine a town without outhouses!

I have thought to build one in the garden would be a novel idea.  You could store all you tools there to save transporting them.  And wouldn’t it be a topic of conversation as guests saw it in the garden!  And just think how it could help with your house guests!  You could lock your indoor bathroom and explain that the plumbing is out.  Then assure them that they will find adequate accommodations in the outhouse!  That should keep your guests from staying too long!

Well, I have told you about all I know about outhouses!  I suppose you are wondering why you even spent your time reading this one!  And I certainly admit there is no redeeming value in this blog.  Maybe I have just stayed up too late!  But I had fun remembering . . . and sharing . . . and . . . .




  1. Lawson, I remember those days as a very young little boy on the farm of Live oak. Florida.
    Thanks for the reminders!

    Comment by Dudley Henry — June 30, 2011 @ 7:28 am | Reply

  2. That brought back some memories for me. And a couple of years ago we went on vacation to N.C. It was a beautiful spot, with a very old cabin that had been loaned to us. I have to admit we didn’t know what we were getting into. Very, Very rustic, and a hard freeze came the night we got there, no water, no facilities, no heater and nothing to cut wood for the fireplace. We slept in our clothes and coats and scarves etc.

    The next day we went for a walk and walked across the fast running, spring fed branch, crossing on a very old bridge. As we wandered we came upon an old outhouse. When I explained to our daughter that it was what we had told her about in our childhood, she was so grossed out she wouldn’t go near it, tho it was so unused for so many years it was about to fall down. What an experience.

    By the way, I think you should construct one for your garden, what a conversation piece and the young folks could get the real feel of olden days!

    Comment by doriswhite — February 13, 2012 @ 11:53 am | Reply

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