A Reader Finds an Outhouse…and is pretty psyched about it!

The outhouse v2 – web res, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

From a reader:

“Unbeknownst to me, when I bought my house I bought a three-bath place instead of a two-bath — when cleaning out my tool shed, I found out that it was really an outhouse. Noting that you haven’t had this discussion online before, I have to ask whether anybody else still has one? I think it is way cool and want to keep it if at all possible, but one of my neighbors said that DC inspectors forced them to remove them a while back. Is this still true, and if so, does having had mine blocked a plumber mean I’m okay? I can’t find anything in the DC website about it, except that apparently it is still a crime to burn an outhouse.

And third question – I’d love to know whether people would keep it, or get rid of it? Folks either seem to love it, or look at me strange for keeping it around. My real estate agent and my friends strongly agree with me about how cool it would be to keep it. The plumber asked why I just didn’t remove the whole thing, and I know neighbors who’ve had theirs removed, even recently. I am curious as to why remove something so quaint/bizarre/fun? Kid safety? Resale value? Mine’s safely blocked now, I have no kids, and I don’t plan on moving for a good, long while. Besides, I love the historical aspect, and it certainly makes for interesting conversation at backyard BBQs. But I am curious about what the wider world of PoPville knows and thinks.

P.S. Because I figure people will ask – there are pipes that lead down and connect to another, dry pipe. I had the pipes blocked to prevent rats and other interesting things from living below. And yes, because someone will no doubt ask – I do plan on keeping it blocked during those backyard BBQs – sorry.”

Wild. I would totally keep it if it were legal. What a cool novelty. But I too am interested in what the community thinks: would you keep the outhouse? Anyone know if it’s legal? Do you need a special permit for it? Super, super cool.

The throne - web res

27 Comment

  • That is basically the coolest thing ever. I did not know this was commonplace. is it a rowhouse or a detached? I would definatly restore it and have it open for use at bbqs. Eff the police. too cool

  • Very cool! I’ve seen a couple of ice boxes, and often see the lone basement emergency commodes, but never a city outhouse.

  • hipchick: what sort of emergency does an emergency commode serve?

  • The kind of emergency that happens when there is an entire family sharing a house with one bathroom upstairs.

  • I am soooo burning your outhouse! 😉

  • decades of fecal matter deserve preservation! i am all for respect for the po po, but i do think some rules were made to be broken…dont take it out! (but maybe you could clean and restore a bit?) :/

  • TOO COOL! keep it, or i’ll spank you as if you were my woman!

  • restore it! i don’t know if i would want to use it for bbqs? would you have to clean it out after, to be honest i don’t really know how an outhouse works.

  • Too stool.

  • Another vote to keep it as a unique and historic relic of an earlier time. Why not use it for “number 1” emergencies? 😉

  • If there’s no public safety issue (it’s blocked after all), I say keep it. It is going to be so hard tipping it over, given that it’s made of brick.

  • That’s interesting you still have the wooden seat, too. And it’s completely round, so unlike toilet seats of today. And the toilet itself looks like an upside down party hat. Somewhere there’s a toilet historian who would like to document this.

  • wow! That’s a great find. Where do you live? Can we all come over and see it? Absolutely… you have a really unique find and hope you can keep it!

  • I would keep it for the novelty alone!

  • I once lived in a house that had a toilet and a sink in the closet under the stairs. we called it the “Sneak-a-Dook.” This is possibly the coolest and earliest example of the Sneak-a-Dook phenomenon, definitely a keeper.

  • keep! if just for the historical aspect!

  • Was there any old-fashioned grafitti on the walls like, “For a good time call Beatrice!”?

  • You should get a composting toilet for it (they don’t smell as long as you use throw in some dry stuff & turn the crank after using). Then use it. Think of the water you’ll save!

  • I suspect this may be featured in a future PoP “Lawn Decoration of the Day”

  • I would keep it and make it usable. if you can’t use it, what’s the point?

  • It may be more accurate to call this a privy. The term outhouse (or backhouse) tends to be more appropriate for a building that stands alone, i.e. the classic “hillbilly” outhouse with a moon carved on the door. In England these tend to be called privies. My wife grew up in a council estate in the 1970’s where these were still very much in use.
    In the US, full indoor plumbing, as a matter of course, didn’t really hit full scale till after WWII – even in cities. Especially older homes might very well run indoor plumbing for sinks and tubs but leave the “necessity” (as my Grandma called) outside – at least leave one outside.
    My guess as to why the city would rightly want you to shut these down is I bet that it doesn’t go into the sanitation sewer, but maybe the storm sewer. Could be wrong but that’s my guess.

  • Perhaps you can turn it into a moonshine still?

  • Im going to have DCRA stop by to see

  • Thanks for the comments and support! It does make sense about the storm sewer – I need to get someone to map out the underground pipe network in my backyard to know for sure, but the toilet is right next to what looks like a previous gutter drain.

    In answer to the first question – yes, its at the back of a rowhouse.

    My grandparents and one uncle still had outhouses (in “toes” definition) into the 70s in rural central US. My uncle was even bitten by a black-widow spider sitting down once. Ouch. I am sure, with as many Petworth houses that have had families live in them for 40-50 years and going, that there are some more of these privies/outhouses out there. But they probably aren’t blogging that much and thus able to tell me how to convince DC that I can keep it. Darn. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep it legal, and learn about privy restoration methods.

    Glad y’all like it too!

  • You can buy plastic bags made to fit temp toilets. I had one in my horse trailer – when at horse shows we would go back and use it, and the bags were guaranteed dependable – tie up and dispose of responsibly like dog do bags. Same use for cabins in the winter when the water systems are off.

  • Wow. That last one makes sense. How amazingly practical you all are. Beauty and function!

    It’s been fun sharing this. thanks.

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