1913 photo of back of Little Grey Schoolhouse as it would come to be known. Photo is from Janie Fitzsimmon’s Early Histories series.
You will note the two small buildings nearest. They are the boys and girls outhouses serving the school—and at opposite back corners of the school lot. Note that the girls’ had a sidewalk to it, while the boys does not.
No one talks much about outhouses in NP in early days. Of course they were there in abundance—and abundantly fragrant—multiples lined up behind every store—and behind every residence and business in town. One soon learned which merchant kept the best outhouse!
The Bower Hotel, as was the custom of the time, had a four holer for men and one for women. There were, of course, every combination of numbers.
From time to time, it was necessary to clean them for the next iteration. In some small towns, particularly in the west, the custom was to burn them clean—old newspapers were set alight in them burning up the contents (remember that they are a pit, dug down 3-4 feet). This emitted a pretty noxious smoke.
There are accounts of Old Abe continuing this burning in his own outhouse long after the town got sewers in late 30s via WPA—Abe was not hooked up to the sewer because his little house was merely dragged to new locations when needed.
Of course after the rest of town had desisted, well then, it was not ok for Abe to continue. There are accounts of some closer residents to the smoke taking a rolled up newspaper to beat on Old Abe when he persisted in a practice he claimed went back to his earliest recollections.
For school students, outhouses were a constant irresistible source of pranks. At Halloween, pranks taking someone’s outhouse and hauling it off to be placed somewhere else (like schoolhouse steps, or on top of some one’s garage) endured until the 50s as many folks retained them for spares.
Probably the single most profound change to take place in NP during my lifetime (in my opinion) was the WPA putting in sewers—including waste water handling (no more sea of mud behind the stores).
It caused the disappearance of the long line of outhouses behind all the businesses.
At the same time, the city fathers also banished the town dump—which had been in an empty lot/ditch behind White Hardware/Creasy feedstore. Now the dump was put out by the Blackbridge—across the river from the sewer farm, which was just west of the old Griffin farmstead.
It also meant that customers afterward only came in the front door. Before, when driving buggies or wagons to town, one could tie up behind the feedstore (and behind the outhouses) and enter via the backdoor to the store, saving what could be a half block walk to go around to get in front door. And/or shortcut through one store to get to another across the street.
Many merchants then discouraged customers coming in through the back of their stores—after all they could now leave a mess with packing, and supplies askew in the back room—which would become, “private” or “staff only.”
As a small boy, I clearly remember how disconcerting this was. Suddenly the backrooms seemed “off limits,” and one felt uncomfortable there. Before, they were merely a hallway leading to backdoor and outhouse. I saw merchants and stores in a whole new light. Our freedom to come and go was curtailed.
Indoor plumbing was a major benefit in our Big Redbrick Schoolhouse (BRS). Started in 1904 before indoor plumbing, the second half built in 1915, had indoor plumbing long before it became standardized in town (using long leach lines in athletic field because there was no sewer yet).
The boys’ bathroom was elevated four feet over rest of first floor in order to scrounge more headroom for the janitor’s room/basement now underneath. And, a boiler room (for the steam for radiators) and a flimsy coal shed was tacked on to the back of the school—like a pimple.
Such indoor plumbing was fairly new to school architects so ours was pretty much an after thought—an obvious jury rigged modification to the front half—and looked that way.
(As a long time builder I had often gained space on some floorplan engineering drawings. It is called in the trade, “sliding.” One merely slides one part of the drawing over to make room for a modification.)
The architect, to make room for the girls and boys indoor bathrooms—after the fact, had simply slid the floorplan over about eight-ten feet in order to make room for the restrooms indoors—and had jury rigged the boys restroom to get the room.
Remembering back to the floorplan for the BRS. This also had an effect also on the upper floor—where we gained the same space for what we called, at the time –“the music room.” Just a small room equal in size to the restrooms on the first floor.
Fruitland’s new school (begun in1908, finished 1915) had the same problem. Corrected when building their second half—they just made the building even bigger (longer) in order to accommodate the new fangled restrooms. What a difference 9-10 years make!
For most of us farmers, the new fangled “restrooms” at school were our introduction to indoor plumbing. Perhaps the majority of us would not see it in our homes for twenty, even thirty years.