What In the Helen of Troy is This?

DSCN7515, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Now this is truly odd. I had seen some archways between rowhomes that were apparently used as an entry for horses back in the day but this is completely different. The small door to the left is actually in the front of the house. Any idea what the story is here?

Ed note: I reserve the right to use this as a future caption contest…

7 Comment

  • Night soil passage. The house on the left isn’t original. The original house on the left would have been a mirror image of the right hand house with it’s own weird door next to this one. Both doors would have gained access to a night soil passage: a passage direct from the front of the house to the rear yard. Night soil as in outhouse muck. Middle of the night your hired man would use the night soil passage to go to your back yard, empty out your outhouse and cart it away. The door is a modern addition. Original passage would just be open, or have an iron gate.

    You still see night soil passages on Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Mount Vernon Square, Alexandria, Frederick MD

  • Just fascinating. Never know what you’re going to learn at PoP. I’m going to be on the lookout for doors like this. I really wanted to know more about what Brandon wrote so Google found me some interesting history. We take our high falutin flush toilets for granted and I know that no one misses the profession of muckraker but it’s good to be reminded of how far we’ve come. And how the signs of the times are still with us.


  • Such passageways are not uncommon in long blocks of pre-20th century attached rowhouses, where access to the rear of the house would be difficult without going around the block to the alley.

  • For all you could possibly want to know. . .


  • Doesn’t anyone think it’s also odd that you have to step way up to enter the house through the main door, which has been installed high up off the landing? Presumably you’ve got an equal trip down the other side to the floor. Usually when people use short (standard size) doors in long (custom) openings, they close the difference from the top….Ugly but less awkward to actually use than this must be.

  • I would of probably had a door custom made for the long space…wonder if a historic code prevented the remodel of both doors to one?

  • I remember my grandmother refering to the night soil man as the “honey dipper”.

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