Two-Storey Outhouses of the United States

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Calling me ‘sir’ is like putting an elevator in an outhouse. It don't belong.

Emmitt, a character in the 1989 movie, Road House

Consider the humble outhouse*, an absolute necessity anywhere that people stay for any length of time that lacks indoor plumbing.

Typically, the outhouse is a simple structure; a small shed covering a pit and having a single door and bench seating with one or more holes. There may be a cutout of a crescent moon on the door. There may even be a sack of powdered lime and a scoop, for dusting the pit when the distinctive aroma becomes a bit too strong. If there are two or more holes, they are usually of different sizes; the smaller one intended to allow children to use the facilities without endangering their personal hygiene in too great a measure.

The cutout on the door originally came in two designs. The other one was a star. The star, representing Sol, designated an outhouse intended for men, while the crescent moon, representing Luna, indicated the womens' facilities. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the mens' outhouses were not usually as well maintained as the womens', resulting in everyone using the womens' and the star design ultimately falling out of use.

Two-storey outhouses, while not typical, did, and do, exist. Their construction was also fairly simple, and people using the lower level were actually not in danger of desperately needing to wash their hair after a visit.

The lower level was built with a false wall, offset from the outside wall by enough distance to allow waste generated on the upper level to fall behind the back of a person sitting in the lower level.

Here, then, is a suggested itinerary for the tourist wishing to see as many of these engineering marvels in the United States as possible.

Gays, Illinois

This town is home to a two-storey outhouse that is an officially designated tourist attraction. Unsuspecting visitors to Gays may be surprised to find themselves staring at the sign advertising this ‘historical two story outhouse’ as a ‘tourist activity’. Their surprise may be compounded by the discovery that there is no way to reach the upper level. The outhouse was originally attached to a building, long since razed, that had a general store on the lower level and an inn on the upper level. The owners of the general store, understandably, didn’t want lodgers at the inn wandering through the store in search of a place to relieve themselves. When the building was condemned and torn down, the outhouse was detached, moved across the street and designated a tourist attraction.

Phelps, New York

There is an historic brick house at 66 Main St. in this town, which originally belonged to a large family, which helps to explain the two-storey outhouse connected to the main house on both floors. This outhouse can proudly boast of six holes; three up and three down.

Belle Plaine, Minnesota

Belle Plaine can also boast a double-decker outhouse. This one is attached to the historic Hooper-Bowler-Hillstrom house. Once again, a large family was responsible for the construction of this building, the upper level of which is connected to the main house by a skyway.

There are regular tours of the Hooper-Bowler-Hillstrom house, which offer visitors the ability to view, but not use, the outhouse. More importantly, outhouse souvenirs, including T-shirts and commemorative teaspoons are available. The logic behind offering a teaspoon as a souvenir of an outhouse is lost to history.

Nevada City, Montana

This town lies claim to a two-storey outhouse officially designated ‘Big John’. Big John is attached to the Nevada City Hotel, the front portion of which was originally a stage station, where travelers rested during the course of extended stage-coach rides in the nineteenth century. It has been speculated that Big John may be the most photographed building in Montana.

Bridgewater, Maine

The two-storey outhouse connected to the Bridgewater Town Hall, in Aroostook County, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cedar Lake, Michigan

The hotel in Cedar Lake boasted a two-storey outhouse, with a bridge connecting the second storey of the hotel to the second storey of the outhouse. The bridge has since collapsed, but the outhouse is still standing.

The design of this outhouse deviated from the norm. Instead of the offset false wall in the lower level, a pipe ran from the base of the second level, down the outside of the building, and back into the floor of the lower level.

Encampment, Wyoming

The double-decker in this mining town was built, not because of population density, but because of weather. The problem was what to do when snow drifts reached heights in excess of six feet. A number of creative solutions were used to combat nature while answering its call. Some outhouses were built on an elevated base of logs. Others looked like silos, with doors that were high overhead when there was no snow on the ground, reached by use of a flight of stairs in summer. The two-storey outhouse in Encampment had no stairs leading to the upper level. One simply didn’t use it until the snow drifts made the upper door more accessible than the lower one.

Crested Butte, Colorado

Once again, drifting snow is responsible for the construction of a two-storey outhouse. Crested Butte typically gets 27 to 30 feet of snow per year, which was inconvenient to remove before the invention of machinery to perform that function. This outhouse is also of the false-wall design, but has the upper level seating on the opposite side from the lower level seating.

Lake Tahoe, on the California/Nevada border

The Sierra Club has a number of huts and campgrounds near Lake Tahoe. Their description of one of those huts includes the following: Two-story outhouse is 100' SE of cabin. Hut may be difficult to find, being back from the lake and blending with snow and trees.

Three Storeys?

If two is good, three is better.

The town of Bryant Pond, Maine, is home to an unobtrusive three-storey outhouse. Unless a visitor knows it’s there, this structure, resembling an enclosed stairway against the back of the town’s Masonic Hall, is impossible to locate. This marvel of engineering is next door to the Grange Hall, and puts that building’s two-storey outhouse, which is similarly nondescript, to shame.

The halls, and outhouses, are only open during Grange meetings, which are usually at 7:00 pm, one Monday per month.

In Conclusion

It’s likely that there are considerable more two-storey outhouses in the United States than those listed here. Originally built of practical necessity, many of those listed here have become tourist destinations. Readers are encouraged to engage in their own quest for additional such attractions, and to make sure that proper consideration has been made for people using the lower levels before taking their seats.

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