Thursday, February 07, 2008

Outhouses: the smallest shed in the house

The art of the shedlike atmosphere arguably reached its height in the construction of the outhouse. Shedworking starts a regular new Thursday Outhouses slot today with a look at one of the finest sites dedicated to the genre, the photo gallery at The site has been an ongoing 15-year project by Jon Schladweiler, Historian of the Arizona Water & Pollution Control Association, who has researched and collected materials related to the history of sewage conveyance systems worldwide over the last 5,500 years: it's an ambitious project and certainly an intriguing one. Here's what Jon says:
"While outhouses are one of the humbler elements of our sanitation systems, they have received a surprising amount of design attention and even public affection. They were actually a considerable advance over many older disposal methods in the United States (open trenches, cesspits), and the U.S. government actively encouraged their use in rural areas in the 1930s and 40s. Outhouses remaining from older times are the subject of photography books and posters, while new outhouses are constructed for parades and competitions. The outhouse seems to have an enduring place in the public imagination."
Here are a few of the many examples from the site which include outhouses made of old cars, sacks and adobe. First, Calvin Coolidge's privy in Vermont (Photo by Samuel H. Gottscho, Library of Congress)
Next a poster created for the Federal Art Project by John Buczak in 1940 to promote sanitary facilities (source:Library of Congress).An 1847 privy in Monterey, New Castle County, Delaware (source: Library of Congress)And finally, below is the ruin of General Israel Putnam's privy, Brooklyn, Windham County, Connecticut. The outhouse was built in 1776 by Israel Putnam, and was overturned in the hurricane of 1938. Photograph by Stanley P. Mixon.
Many thanks to shed champion Ben Locker for the alert.


  1. While on the subject of outhouses do not forget that fantastic book "The Specialist" by Charles Sale. A short classic that follows the thoughts and ramblings of Lem Putt, specialist privy builder.

  2. I'm so glad I'm a 'shed champion' now!