a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Longing for an outhouse

Sandy Mansmann, a preservationist from Nottingham Township, Pa., sizes up a double outhouse behind the closed Mt. Zion Church near her farm.

By Scott Beveridge

Sandy Mansmann's restored 1870s farmstead includes many original outbuildings, from the old chicken coop to a spring house.

But, there is one building missing: the outhouse. And, she has been on a difficult journey to find a replacement to move to her farm in Nottingham Township, even though she has an indoor toilet.

"It was probably the first thing to go when they got indoor plumbing," said Mansmann, a preservationist and member of Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation.

Oddly, outhouses have become a hot, trendy landscaping decoration – maybe because so few of them have survived and people are longing for nostalgia, Mansmann said. They also make great conversation pieces, she added.

"They can be charming little buildings," she said.

To keep them was a sign that homeowners "were not modern enough," she added.

Retired antiques dealer Lorys Crisafulli said she knows a guy who wants an outhouse so bad he is willing to pay $500 for one.

"All of a sudden, everybody wants one," Crisafulli said.

The buildings are featured annually in outhouse calendars, and replicas come in all sizes and shapes, from Christmas ornaments to birdhouses.

"They are real popular. I have no idea why," said Stan Fidorek, manager of Over the Garden Gate greenhouse on a century-old farm complete with a sagging outhouse in Richeyville.

He found it amusing that a stranger stopped at the store one day inquiring about purchasing the outhouse, which has the traditional crescent moon carved out of its door.

"He never came back," Fidorek said.

The customer would have been out of luck, though, because the owner of the farm on Route 40 – Bunny Waleski – wants to keep her outhouse.

"She doesn't want to destroy anything," he said. "She wants to restore everything, even the chicken coop."

Preservationists who have old farms believe the outbuildings – including barns and summer kitchens – help to tell the story about how the property was originally used, Mansmann said.

"Placement was very important," she said.

The outhouse needed to be erected away from the spring so as not to contaminate the water supply, and downwind from the kitchen, she said.

Not everyone remembers them so fondly.

Bill Miller said he was "glad to see them go" when public sewerage arrived in 1990 in his hometown of Beallsville.

"If you had to go in the night, you had to run through the yard or find a stream," said Miller, 72. "You'd sit there at night with the door open and see the skunks run by."

"I hated using them at night. Sitting out there alone was scary," added Crisafulli, 84. "It made me think twice before I ate or drank much after dinner."

But, Fidorek believes an outhouse is a "good standby" in case something goes wrong with the modern plumbing.

"It's good forever," he said.

(This story first appeared in the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.)

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