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Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project

May 22, 2009

Most of us have grown up knowing about outhouses. If we didn't have one at home, we used 'em at parks, country churches, country cemeteries, and other such places at one time or another. We had one, utilizing it when we were out working about the barn lot and chicken house.

Stepping inside an outhouse in the wintertime was like entering a deep freeze. In the summertime, it was like walking into the desert, only there were flies buzzing about. One also had to be on the look out for wasps and hornets. Wasps and hornets seemed to believe an outhouse was the ideal spot for a nest for some reason. Although we had a roll of toilet paper in our outhouse, I've heard tales from others who stocked their facilities with either corn cobs or an old Sears and Robuck catalog. Which provided reading material along with a more practical use.

Most outhouses were either a one-holer, a two-holer, or, if one was from an affluent family, a three-holer. Public facilities could be up to a four-holer.

Some places, like the Grand River park had two outhouses. One for the men, one for the ladies. The Athelstan Church [in Taylor County, Iowa] had three outhouses. I'm not sure, though, who used the third outhouse. Kids? Reserved?

Outhouses provided plenty of entertainment, in particular for teenaged boys, around Halloween. Someone in town usually woke up one morning, finding that their facilities had been tipped over during the night by a group of pranksters.

I'm sure almost everyone has heard a tale about a wise homeowner who had moved their outhouse to the determent and dismay of teenaged pranksters. Someone who claimed to be in the know - but not one of the pranksters - would tell about it on the school bus. Then we would whisper about it throughout the day and chuckle to ourselves. It could have been a conspiracy, however, designed by some adult as a warning to not be or grow up to be an outhouse tipper.

When we were traveling through Ringgold County on May 22, 2009, we stopped at the Middle Fork Church and Cemetery. I must say that out of all the outhouses I've seen, all of the photographs of outhouses I've looked at, the outhouse at this site is probably the most beautiful outhouse I've ever seen.

Middle Fork Church and Cemetery Outhouse

Photographs and article by Sharon R. Becker, May 22, 2009

Don Elias writes, saying:

I just wanted to add that my dad always put a fresh coat of paint on an outhouse he had at a remote location [ where no one would be able to observe what was happening to it's up-right condition :^) ] on Halloween evening. It was hoped that it would either be detected and keep the pranksters from touching it or else stain their hands and clothes as revenge.

Bonnie Minthorn Wilson writes, saying:

That looked to me more like an outhouse one would find in a park or roadside somewhere. I grew up using an outhouse all my Kellerton days and we never had one that looked like that. We had a three-seater although we mostly stored fire wood on the side where the third hole was. It was a small hole, made especially for Reuben [Bonnie's younger brother]. I remember when my dad built that outhouse. The old one was falling in. Mother finally put a bathroom in the house after Daddy died in 1973. I think many people call them 'long drops' now when they use them in a park or campgrounds. Or in the city where they have them lined up a dozen in a row for use at a sporting event, like a marathon. I still cringe when I have to use one, remembering the old one back home.

Once my brother, Reuben, and I took a new box of band-aids from the house and escaped to the outhouse with it, and proceeded to open and stick to the walls of the outhouse, the whole box of band-aids. I can't imagine what we were trying to prove. Being five years older, I probably caught heck for it. Of course, Reuben never did anything wrong.

Bonnie, as I recall, little brothers never did anything wrong!! - Sharon

Another Bonnie writes, saying:

Loved your piece on "ye ole outhouses" and it brought back some memories for me, even though we dont usually want to remember those. Our country school house had separate ones for boys and girls, and since it was quite a walk, and of course freezing in the winter, I remember trying to run quickly, without coat so as to expediate the process, and believe me, after a dash into the cold, one was always more alert and ready to study upon return.

Shed and outhouse (far left), Union Church, Davis City, Decatur County, Iowa

LeRoy Town Hall Outhouse, "Ladies" and "Gents", Decatur County, Iowa

To contribute to "Tales from the Front Porch: Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project"
contact Sharon R. Becker at
Please include the word "Ringgold - Front Porch" in the subject line. Thank you.

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