Old outhouses gaining new respect This Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, photo shows a 19th century-era outhouse at Casa San Ysidro in Corrales, N.M. At a time when life could be harsh in the American Southwest, outhouses served more than one important role. They provided structure, protected water resources and created important social norms, a New Mexico professor says. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras/Thinkstock)
Old outhouses gaining new respect
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At a time when life could be harsh in the American Southwest, outhouses served more than one important role. They provided structure. They protected water resources. And they created important social norms, a New Mexico professor says.
 
Many of the aging wooden structures still dot the landscape in the region and across the Great Plains. Richard Melzer is a University of New Mexico-Valencia history professor. He wants to see the iconic buildings preserved. That's before they're gone from the memory and legacy of the Old West.
 
Melzer has been researching the historic lavatories. He hopes his work will encourage outhouse conservation efforts. That is because outhouses helped modernize areas like present-day New Mexico amid drought and limited plumbing.
 
"They had a tremendous cultural impact on the region," Melzer said. He has collected hundreds of photos of old outhouses in New Mexico.
 
The outhouses assisted in establishing norms on sanitation and personal hygiene, he said.
 
In New Mexico, they served residents such as ranch hands tending to cattle and rural teachers educating the children of chili pickers. And they did so while protecting the environment and important water resources.
 
Inside, one might find a Bible, old tools, or catalogs from Montgomery Ward or Sears, Roebuck and Co. Two seats meant a higher economic status for owners. And the walls might be plastered with wallpaper to keep away insects or unwanted audiences.
 
Such items can still be found in some abandoned outhouses.
 
"They tell the story of the past," Melzer said.
 
The exact number of historic outhouses throughout the Southwest and Great Plains is unknown.
 
The New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, for example, says around 40 outhouses occupy historic ranches and homesteads in the state.
 
But Melzer says there likely are hundreds more in the Southwest. Some people are beginning to collect them. One Roswell aficionado has amassed around a dozen or so, he said.
 
Outhouses also are part of a number of properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places across the country. That's the case with the Anderson Lodge. It is an 1890 two-story multi-room log cabin in the Washakie near Meeteetse, Wyoming. It's listed on the registry along with its outhouse.
 
A late 19th century outhouse is a feature of the Casa San Ysidro: the Gutierrez-Minge House It's a home in Corrales, New Mexico, owned by the Albuquerque Museum. The home's origins go back to the 1870s.
 
Collector Ward Allan Minge bought the outhouse from another location and preserved it, Casa San Ysidro site manager Carol Lopez said.
 
"Outhouses remained common, especially in rural areas, until after World War II because of the lack of indoor plumbing and electricity," Lopez said. "Here in Corrales, they were common up until the 1970s."
 
In fact, when indoor plumbing finally came to parts of New Mexico, some residents shunned the idea of bringing what went on in the outhouse into the home where they ate and slept.
 
"People thought it was just gross," said Melzer. He is scheduled to release the details of his outhouse study Oct. 10 at Casa San Ysidro. "That's what the outhouse was for, they thought. For out there."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What purposes did outhouses serve, beyond the obvious one?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (76)
  • valeriec-gon
    10/08/2015 - 12:04 p.m.

    They were used back then

  • valeriec-gon
    10/08/2015 - 12:05 p.m.

    They were used back then and they are called skittle can

  • ryan0420-yyca
    10/08/2015 - 07:43 p.m.

    I think that those old outhouse should be used. It would be useful in the woods or somewhere else because it can carry stuff and protect it. Also it makes a good restroom in the woods because you don't need a whole new bathroom because it is going to get dirty later on. Also people should start collecting them because it can be worth a lot of money later on.

  • John0724-YYCA
    10/08/2015 - 07:47 p.m.

    It think that using these aging wooden structure is a good way to save the economy. In this article it said that the outhouse would not need plumbing and it would have less the water use. But I don't think it looks that dirty because I really don't mind using the restroom in a dirty place. I just wish that rodents or any dirty bugs don't live there.

  • annabel1226-yyca
    10/08/2015 - 09:33 p.m.

    It is a good idea to make a outdoor houses or fix them. If the house owner has children then they should use the outhouses as a playground. They could make the outhouses more larger. Then, they could place a playground there. If the house owners do not have kids they could make the outhouses into a garden. It will look nice and pretty. If I were them I would make a playground and a garden. I won't put it in the same area because it will look weird. I would put the playground in the backyard. For the garden I would put it in the front yard, so people could look at it.

  • brandony-ver
    10/09/2015 - 08:56 a.m.

    "They bring back memories of the past"
    I don't really care for stuff like that, but I really don't understand how they like the outhouses as decoration.

  • elizabethw-nar
    10/09/2015 - 10:56 a.m.

    Many people such as Alaskans use them ????




  • annas-ver
    10/09/2015 - 01:20 p.m.

    some people in different countries still use them. i went to my grandparents house in Ukraine over the summer and that was the only bathroom they had.i still cant picture anyone wanting to use them though, it is possible.

  • natalier-4-bar
    10/09/2015 - 10:18 p.m.

    The purpose outhouses (beyond the obvious one) was according to the first paragraph in the article and middle paragraphs "They provided structure. They protected water resources. And they created important social norms." In the middle paragraphs it also said that outhouses assisted in establishing norms on sanitation and personal hygiene.

    Opinion: I thought this article was going to be very weird but, it actually provided very interesting information on how the old outhouses served people and how they are still very common to find in more rural areas.

  • taylorh-4-bar
    10/11/2015 - 06:09 p.m.

    The purposes an outhouse serve are providing structure and protecting water resources. This article surprising to me because I did not think that outhouses severed a purpose other than being a bathroom.

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