Remember when there were outhouses?

Published 1:55 am Saturday, September 10, 2016

“They passed an ordinance in the town; They said we’d have to tear it down, that little brown shack so dear to me. Though the health department said its day was over and dead, it will live forever in my memory!”

sue_bass_wilson“It was not too long ago that I went trippin’ through the snow, out to that shack behind my old hound dog, where I’d sit me down to rest like a snowbird on his nest, and read the Sears and Roebuck Catalog!”

“I would hum a happy tune peepin’ through the quarter moon, as my pappy’s kin had done before. It was in that quiet spot daily cares could be forgot. It gave the same relief to rich and poor!”

“Don’t let ‘em tear that little brown building down! For there’s not another like it in the country or the town!”

The words to this song, one of my all-time favorite real country songs, brings to mind one of most famous landmarks of days gone by which structures dotted the country sides of pioneer days and a little beyond – the “outhouses.”

How many still remain? I dare not guess. Has anyone ever taken a survey? Not to my knowledge! What good would the statistics be anyway?

For years the historical society has been looking for an outhouse to be housed on the grounds of the Three Notch Museum. It would be perfect for a “little brown shack” to be situated beside the Clark Family Log Cabin. This would lend itself to much curiosity and inspection on the part of the school children who visit the site. I won’t even speculate how many adults who remember the past, the way it was, might come to have a renewed appreciation of today’s running water, electricity, and the modern commodes, some fancier than others.

Not too many years ago, I was thrilled to finally locate a two-seater outhouse in Cohasset which the owner of the plantation house agreed to donate, but, alas, the property was sold shortly thereafter, and the prospective purchaser desired that it be included in the sale.

Can someone shed some light on this matter? Were the two seats, one for mother and child, or was it like a second restroom in case one couldn’t wait any longer? It is “yucky” to think of (Is that a word?), but the chamber pot under the bed is worse – especially for the one who had to empty it in the morning!

So the search is on again! I hope when a South Alabama outhouse is located, it will have a half moon on the door and a basket of yellow and red corn cobs and maybe even a Sears and Roebuck catalog to go with it! Do I need to go into more detail or can you just use your imagination to discover the need for those items, young people?

There was once a children’s playhouse located way in the back yard of an historic Victorian-style home here in Andalusia once owned by the McGowin family. I took notice of the little small frame structure covered in vines and kudzu so out of the blue, I asked Jack and Francis, what the little place had been. They said it had previously been their brothers’ playhouse, but they thought that the family who had lived there before them had used it for a playhouse for girls.

After some time, I offered to buy the little house decayed somewhat by age and the elements, but Jack generously offered, “We will give it to you if you can get it out from around those vines and out of the back yard!”

So we proceeded to employ a house mover in the mid 1980s to move it to our house in Bellwood. Well, we hired carpenter Denny Nall to work on it and to restore it to its days of glory, and in the construction stage, people would ride by slowly and call out, “What is that – an outhouse, a chicken house, a shotgun house or …?” It finally took shape, and we matched the painting up with our house, an antique ivory color.

When we later moved to another neighborhood in The Woodlands in the mid 1990s, the playhouse, of course, went with us, thanks to house mover Max Barton. We again matched the paint up with the new house, a shade of light grey. Then our grandsons and a neighborhood full of children enjoyed the old playhouse for many a day. The boys would lock out the girls unless they knew the password which was “Bubblegum!” They all stomped through that little playhouse from the front door to the back door, opened the windows and jumped in and out for several years until now those children are mostly teenagers and older.

In the late 1980s a Mrs. Barbara Burgess Wassell came to my office asking about the playhouse. She was traveling and passing through town, and it seems that she would always ride by the old neighborhood to see the house where the Burgess family once resided. Some neighbor told her that she might learn the fate of the playhouse if she would look me up.

This is the story she told as we visited that day: “My father and mother, Bob and Alma Carson Burgess, bought the Montgomery Street house on the corner of Carson Street in 1935. (Alma’s father John Carson, once mayor of Andalusia, had built the house for his new bride, Mae Dunson, who helped establish the first garden club in town.) Mae passed away in 1935, and John Carson sold the Burgesses the family house. John and Mae’s daughter Alma was actually born in the house in 1905. Bob and Alma’s children were Barbara (born 1930) and John Burgess (born 1939).”

In 1936 Barbara, called “Bobbie,” came down with the chicken pox. Her father employed a local carpenter to build the playhouse for his little girl and her friends as a “get well” gesture. It was built with a closet in it against her mother’s wishes. When Bobbie got well, she had a new playhouse. The family later moved to Opp when Bobbie was in the 6th grade, and the playhouse was used by the next family who occupied it which was the McGowins with a family of rough boys who used it as a scout hut!

We have loved that vintage playhouse built in 1936 which makes it now 80 years old this year (2016)! We landscaped around it planting day lilies, running roses, crape myrtles, and boxwoods. The tin roof finally had to be replaced. When it was removed, it had a snake skin in the attic space! Children still romp and stomp on the wooden floors of the picturesque little playhouse. Hopefully it will be around for a long time to come and give happiness to a lot of little lads and lassies, Lord willing!

“Playmate, come out and play with me”…and we can REMEMBER WHEN together!