Outhouses of the early 1900s
by Ruth Baker
Nov 27, 2011 | 2116 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ruth Baker
Ruth Baker
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When coal was discovered in our area, there were thousands of immigrants flowing into the various sites of underground mines’ opening. Rows of houses were built by the large companies to provide housing for the inflow. There was a company store called a commissary where workers could spend company “clacker” which was drawn at the business office against their wages.

There was no running water in the early days. Outhouses were built behind each home in the coalmining camp. There was a large tub-like tank put in from the back and an “ice-cream wagon” ran on a regular schedule to empty the containers. This “ice-cream wagon” was a nickname for a wagon drawn by a horse or “nag.” (In many other towns and communities, it was called a “honey wagon.) The wagon had a cover and a hinged lid at the back. It would go behind the outhouse and pull the container out and dump into the wagon, place the container back under the hole.

When the wagon was full, it was carried to a convenient dumping place, usually a valley between two hills near the camp. I can remember the kids running along the sides of the road laughing and holding their nose. Just thinking about it, sickens me, but it was a way of life.

The rural areas built the outhouse in the back, not too far from the house. A pit was dug and a wood board house built over it. The most common was a two-holer and someone with a three-holer was unusual. A Sears-Roebuck catalog was recycled there. Bees and spiders loved the “atmosphere” and we walked into the little building carefully.

Lime was used on a regular basis to keep down odor. The building was scrubbed with a broom and sudsy water left from the wash day. When the pit was near full, a new one was dug and the building transferred to the new site.

The pit was filled with soil and soon there was no evidence of what “use to be.”

I remember one night when a local young man had too much to drink. He came down the gentle slope from the cemetery road and missed his turn onto the main road. He careened around the house dodging trees, and knocked over the outhouse and his old car was head first in the pit. In his drunken stupor, he crawled out, not knowing where he was, and stepped off the side of the car into the pit. My brothers never let him live that one down.

Life was raw, unrefined by the standards of “polite society,” but it took strength and perseverance to settle the land and make one’s living by the “sweat of the brow.” The outhouses were a part of the history of the South and many other areas of the nation. They stand as a symbol of the unabashed call of nature. Many poems, funny stories, and paintings have been made and told of this old structure of the past.