In the old days, everyone had a privy. Whether you lived in the city or country, a privy of some sort is what you had. A privy was also called an outhouse or backhouse. While they come in many forms, there are basically two types – indoor or outdoor. Over the years, while “doing my business,” I have seen dozens and dozens of these old privies.
There were outdoor privies that stood not far the home. And there were indoor privies. I have seen many indoor privies in years gone by.
Picture the home with an attached ell or barn. Often the privy was located in the unheated ell. It was a small room with sit down service. I have seen privies with a “five-holer.” This means there were five places to sit down. Most often I saw three-holers.
Try to imagine a privy occupied by five people, all sitting next to each other at one time. I heard tell of a seven-holer. Toilet paper was yet to be invented so privies were stocked with a Sears & Roebuck catalog or corncobs.
In hot weather, there would have been odors, and in the winter a nice frosty seat awaited your highness. Lime was spread over the waste below. This helped control odor and hastened the decomposing of waste. Indoor privies had obvious advantages. You walked from the house undercover through the ell.
In a previous life, I lived on Farrar Road up in Potash. It was a small cabin without electricity or running water. Drinking water we carried from George Farrar’s cow barn. I got to talk with George many times.
In the summer, we bathed in the brook. In winter months, we joined the “Racquetball Club” located near where Joe’s Discount Beverage now is in Springfield. Here we took showers and a Jacuzzi.
We had an outhouse in Potash. It was a single-holer with a plastic toilet seat. The cold, plastic seat really got your attention. My girlfriend Cyndi complained bitterly.
I had an old fur coat that was badly ripped and torn. I used it for packing between pieces of furniture I was trucking. Well, this ratty old coat had a fur collar. So, I cut the collar off the coat and glued it to the plastic toilet seat. Wow, what an improvement! Even at 25 below, it was now tolerable.
The daily pace was much more leisurely in those days than our crazy world today. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to return to a privy. But, I don’t get caught up with all the stuff going on today. I don’t own a smart phone, a cell phone, or do any un-social media.
My advice: step back before you get wound up and ask yourself, “Will my being upset put any food on my table?” If it doesn’t put food on my table, I say, “Frankly, Scarlet.”
Jim Bolton, Outhouse man
Ted Spaulding told me about Jim Bolton whom I nicknamed, “Outhouse man.” Bolton was a sometime resident of the Chester Town Farm, a general laborer and sometimes the man who cleaned out your outhouse. Below I tell the story and give locations.
Bolton was hired by Mrs. Earle to clean the outhouse. Today, this is the old brick house in Bailey’s Mill where Lloyd Earle lived. When Bolton finished the job, Mrs. Earle paid him his $2.
Then Mrs. Earle gave him another $2 to stop at Ernest Horton’s and clean their outhouse. Ernest Horton’s wife was sister to Mr. Earle. This would be the brick house on Route 103 where Roy Benson last lived. Bolton, already paid for the job, collected two more dollars from Mrs. Horton. Later, Bolton went to the Depot where he saw Mr. Horton and collected another $2 from him.
Another story Ted told me was about Floyd Bemis. Floyd worked for the power company. He and his crew were working up in Popple Dungeon about where the Windham line is. At noon, the men broke for their dinner. When Floyd finished his dinner, he felt the call to nature.
Looking around, Floyd saw an old run-down outhouse, so he entered. While he was seated, his co-workers tipped the outhouse over with Floyd in it.
The next meeting of the Chester Historical Society is Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m., upstairs of Chester Town Hall. The monthly slideshow will include several photos from Kim Kendall. The Kendalls have lived in Baltimore and North Springfield for generations. All are welcome, whether members or not.
Instead of an old saying: In the 1980s, collectors of antiques were buying privy seats. Behind each hole was placed a mirror. I’ve seen many a three-holer decorating walls.