I grew up on an old Federalist style home, similar to, but smaller than the home pictured above. It was built in 1861. It had a lot of interesting features, such as pine plank floors, rolled glass windows, working shutters and this giant brass doorbell.
My father purchased the house in 1959 when I was four years old from two elderly sisters who were known as the Winter sisters. The Winter family were old money blue bloods in our town. I remember seeing them dressed in long black dresses with black boots and bonnets. They weren’t nuns or of any religious order. They were women stuck in the Victorian era.
The cool thing about this old house was that there were some cool out buildings. There was a buggy shed with a wooden floor. There were hitching posts. There was a garden shed. There was a well house with a stone walled well. There was a pulley with a chain attached to a bucket that I would send down and collect the cleanest best tasting water I’ve ever tasted.
My favorite building was a plaster walled, three seated outhouse. I have come to find that it is really uncommon to have an outhouse with plaster walls and ceiling; with a divided glass window with curtains, but it is equally uncommon to have three seats in an outhouse as well. Each hole and seat was of a different size, probably rated as child, women and men sizes. Each had a mahogany seat.
I have stayed in places that employed an outhouse (not a port-o-potty but a real structure), and on thing about them is that they have to be moved from time to time. Often times the owner will dig a new hole, build a new structure and then burn the old one or just leave it there to rot. If the structure was still sound they might be moved. This would not be possible with the outhouse on my parents’ property. It was far too large and it was attached to the garden shed and garage.
My father plumbed the house before we moved in. We never had to use the outhouse, though I occasionally did just because it was there. I wonder if the Winter sisters ever had to employ someone to scoop that thing out. I wonder what it was like for them to head out there on a 100 foot journey through snow drifts. They probably didn’t think of it. It was just the way of life and they probably found relief returning to a drafty house with a warm coal stove.
As a post script, the Winter sisters moved to another part of town. They lived in a small Cape Cod style house with indoor plumbing. I would see them working in their garden from time to time as I bicycled passed their house on my way through their neighborhood to visit friends. I never saw them in the black Victorian garb that they wore when the lived in the house we purchased from them. They dressed in flower pattern old lady dresses now that they had a more modern house.