My post on old coal furnaces yesterday got me thinking on another subject. I’ve lived in three houses that were originally built without indoor plumbing. There were a lot of such old homes in the town that I came from. The outhouse was the standard back in the day when houses were built before the 1920s. Both houses I lived in still had their outhouses intact. My mother’s house still has one attached to some out buildings. That was a deluxe one with three seats of differing sizes a divided glass window and plaster walls.
When it became a modern standard to have indoor plumbing one needed to find a place to put a bathroom. In the case of my mother’s house they decided to plumb a large storage closet that also housed the door to the attic. In the case of my other house and many houses like it; most homes had a front and a back porch. Instead of losing an entire interior room, most opted to enclose their back porches. This was a pretty simple solution since it is easier to plumb a new structure then to refit something already existing. It’s easier bringing a tub into a room with no walls than it is to bring one through a narrow door.
I’m very sure this was the case with my present home. I’ve done enough digging around the property to have a good idea where the outhouse was. The original bathroom was built onto the back end of the house which was the porch in the early 40s.
This is not so much of a post about romanticizing outhouses. Having used many of them in places I’ve stayed in primitive conditions I can tell you there is little to feel warm and fuzzy about in one. Outhouses weren’t all that near to houses. The wells were usually closer. I can’t imagine slogging a hundred through the snow to find cold wooden seats as a point of relief. I’m more interested in the architectural aspect of creating a necessity in a place that wasn’t designed for it. It was a challenge that somehow was always met out of necessity, yet blended into the house as though it was always there.