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, protected water resources and 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, a University of New Mexico-Valencia history professor, 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 since they 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, 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 (7)
  • ziont-orv-orv
    10/08/2015 - 01:20 p.m.

    They pervaded structure. Helped store water resources and supplies. This also effects religions and other important things. Such as studying things of history.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    10/08/2015 - 07:48 p.m.

    I think that the outhouses have some valuable meanings and symbols to people. They contain ancient artifacts and some tools. I didn't know that the outhouses were used for many different purposes for mainly people who lived in or like the Old West. The outhouses serve as a memory for many people and probably will be for a long time.

  • Brandon1231-YYCA
    10/08/2015 - 10:02 p.m.

    I don't think that it is right to have these old houses to have respect because they are old and worn out houses. I think that having these people do this is just wrong. I hope these people that they can change their mind and they can be able to learn about that houses that old and dumb are weird and they don't need respect.

  • samanthao-ver
    10/09/2015 - 01:31 p.m.

    It is pretty cool that they are gaining respect because not a lot of people use them anymore or even like them because they are old and creepy.

  • mayaw-6-bar
    10/12/2015 - 08:51 p.m.

    Purposes that outhouses served were personal hygiene, they provided structure, protected water sources, created important social norms, and showed how wealthy one might be. This article interests me because outhouses seem as if they have played an important part in history for a long time. I chose this article because at my kindergarten, in Sweden we had an outhouse.

  • austinu-lam
    11/03/2015 - 12:46 p.m.

    I believe the outhouses do give a lot of historic artifacts and information. I was surprised of how many outhouses are still preserved because of how long ago they were built. I also do hope that state starts using outhouses more to cut back on plumbing bills.

  • jacobs12345678918-
    12/15/2015 - 09:03 a.m.

    As in the mid west, outhouses are still very common in the south east. Although we never use it of course, there is still an outhouse present on my family farm (est. 1897) in eastern Kentucky. It is a simple two room building with a wash room on one side and a one hole toilet, if you will, in the other.

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