Couple enjoy owning antique 'Eleanor' outhouse

| March 2009

  • Eleanor outhouse
    BRIGHTENED BY BEES: Mary Beth McClenon shows off the “Eleanor” outhouse that came with the house she and her husband, Paul, bought in rural Atchison County, Kan.

  • Eleanor outhouse

The name “Eleanor” brings fond memories to the fore for some old-timers. Although a vital part of farms and rural communities across the American landscape, she was usually relegated to the back part of properties, some yards from the back door. Even so, she was visited often.

Eleanor was the nickname of the basic sanitation that began in the early to mid-1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as America’s 32nd president in 1933, when the nation was deep into the Great Depression. Many work projects were organized to help the unemployed, including the Works Progress Administration (which was restructured and became the Works Projects Administration in 1939.)

With the epidemic of typhoid fever in the minds of the people, Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to improve the sanitation of the farmers and rural communities. These outhouses still bear her name.

The Eleanors were constructed with a 4-foot-square cement slab and a metal roof. The building itself was made of just about any type of lumber. They rose to 7 feet in the front, with a 1-foot slant downward toward the back.

The houses were well-ventilated, with four vents. Two were just under the roof and could be closed, and two more were 3 feet from the floor – one vent in the back and one on the side. All were covered with metal screens.

Still standing

“Those who built these outhouses did not leave out any details,” said Paul McClenon, of rural Atchison County, Kan. “There’s a hook to hang your coat or bathrobe on, and a place for the toilet paper.”

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