The Last Outhouse in Oysterville

Jan 20, 2014 | 5 comments

R.H. Espy Outhouse

R.H. Espy ‘Outhouse’ 2014

As far as I know, the little two-room shed just north of the Red House is the last outhouse in Oysterville.  It seems fitting, somehow, that it is a double-occupancy affair and that it is at the erstwhile home of one of the town’s founders, R. H. Espy.  It is a cut above the run-of-the-mill outhouse – certainly better than the one I remember here at my grandfather’s place back in the thirties.

It isn’t a two-holer in the usual sense of that expression.  There were actually two compartments separated by a wall, each little room with its own entrance door.  Now days there is a full floor – no hole going down, down, ‘down into elimination’ as one time resident Edith Olson so famously wrote of her outhouse at the Bardheim Dairy property.  Nor is there a typical bench style seat upon which the user could sit and read the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

Long ago the outhouse was converted from its original use to a shed for storing garden tools or firewood or who-knows-what.  I suspect that my great uncle Cecil (the youngest R.H. Espy son) did the conversion when he moved into the house after his retirement in the 1960s.  He had been a banker in Portland and was known for his thrifty ways and for his careful stewardship of the old house and grounds.

I also think that the outhouse was the only ‘facility’ available at the R.H. House until well into the Forties.  My uncle Willard and his (then) wife Hilda bought the house in 1946. Although they lived in upstate New York, it was their plan to spend summers with their children here in Oysterville – or at least Hilda would, and Willard would join them during his vacation weeks from Readers’ Digest where he was the Circulation and Public Relations Manager.

On March 31, 1946 Willard wrote a list of their plans for updating the 1871 structure.  Item #1 was: The bathroom… will be in the little service room off the kitchen.  That bathroom is still there.  It should be noted that it was not until FDR’s rural electrification program got to Oysterville in 1938 that homeowners finally had the luxury of electric pumps and could have running water and, luxury of luxuries, inside toilets.

H.A. Espy House and Outhouse c. 1940

H.A. Espy House and Outhouse c. 1940

I suspect that most full-time residents who could afford to do so installed inside plumbing almost immediately.  But, electricity was unreliable at best in those days, and homeowners kept the “privy out back” for a good many years against the days and weeks of winter power outages.  Since no one was residing in the R.H. Espy House full-time, there seemed no urgency in updating.  Not until Hilda faced living there with four little girls who were separated in age by less than three years!

I doubt that the outhouse is the original, by any means.  I don’t know when it was built or, perhaps re-built the last time.  I suspect it was there in the1960s when Uncle Cecil returned to his boyhood home and I imagine he fixed it up for use as a shed.  Or… maybe the conversion was done by his children or grandchildren or even more recently by his now-grown great-grandchildren,  I’ll have to ask my Red House Cousins…


  1. Amy

    I love these little vestiges of Oysterville’s hey day. A double outhouse must have been a mark of distinction indeed.

    There is a little smokehouse behind the Wachsmuth cottages, (previously Eddie Freshley’s?) that most new visitors mistake for an outhouse relic, despite its small size. I always thought Tucker should cut out a little moon in the door.

  2. Cuzzin Ralph

    There still is an old one-holer outhouse at my Grandpa’s place in Garfield. It was untouched (except for a few grandkids, like me, who used it just to say that they had had the experience—Sears Roebuck catalog and all!) since Grandpa had done major remodeling about 1950 to add a bathroom, a large sitting room, and a double car garage. I was last on the old place the summer of 2011, and I’m sure I saw the old outhouse still sitting there out back behind a shed.

  3. Carolline Miller

    Not since Chick Sales have I read anything interesting about out houses. You’ve “dug up” and revived an old subject.

  4. Greg

    Too bad that there are some outbuildings in Oysterville that have been allowed to slump to the wayside and even down completely. Im always saddened if not even a bit angered to see them melting from view. These humble structures remind us of our rural beginnings

    • sydney

      Amen to all that, Greg! I am always thankful that we have at least a few photographs from earlier times!


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