I pride myself on being your one-stop repository for all Historically-Significant Outhouse News, and I want you to know I don’t take your trust lightly. As I’m sure you’re aware, a 130-year-old outhouse was discovered in Ventura this week, and along with it, an “archaeological gold mine.” They found a pistol, dog skulls, a bowie knife, bottles of whiskey, and all kinds of stuff from the late 1800s.
My own… dare I call it “expertise”?… with ancient outhouses came when we bought our li’l farm up in Columbia County in late 2001. Like many farmhouses, it originally had a classic “2 over 2” room structure with a separate, minimalist carriage house for the horses about twenty yards behind it. But our carriage house also had a privy in it, and not just an ordinary outhouse: it was a two-seater.
This says several things about the 1860s, the foremost of which is “pooping was a communal activity.” On those cold winter evenings of 1871, when you were forced to walk outside in the middle of the night in two feet of snow, you brought a friend. There’s something quite endearing about that. Communal pooping during a renovation brought my UNC fraternity together when I was a senior, but that’s another story.
Anyway, as farmers made more money, they got sick of trudging outside to take a dump, and thus extended their houses all the way to the outhouse. That’s why so many old farmhouses in New England look so fucked up and bizarre – they built odd-shaped rooms en route to the jakes. Ours does that, and many of you who have been there know how weird the farmhouse gets behind the laundry room.
renovating the carriage house in 2003 – privy was on the right
In 2003, we renovated the carriage house to be our master bedroom – even though it was far too thin and barely fits a bed, it has a 25-foot ceiling and an awesome vibe. In doing so, we had to remove the two-seater outhouse, and while breaking it down, I discovered an ancient… well, I looked up various definitions: “dunny-can,” “nightsoil collector”… but I think you’ll agree that the best name for it is the Poop Trough.
This particular poop trough was on rails, and slid out through a hole in the side of the carriage house, which I found particularly ingenious. It hadn’t been in use for a century, so I did what anyone else would do: I cleaned it, sanded it, stained it with mahogany polyurethane, built a lid on top with old barn wood, and made it into our coffee table:
Inside is my collection of rare Scotch whisky, and on top, many of you have eaten your dinners, rested your feet, and charged your laptops. Take THAT, Ikea!