Inside an Amish…Outhouse

Another photo today, of an inspirational wall decoration from an outhouse at an Amish school (thanks again to Karen Johnson-Weiner).

If there is any place that could use a little livening up, I guess it is the outhouse.  And why not include an uplifting message?  Actually I guess this is more of a lesson in humble sharing:

amish outhouse decoration

Outhouses have been in the news lately.  USA Today just published an article on conflict between Amish and authorities over outhouse waste in Cambria County, Pennsylvania (I’ve linked to it on the Amish America Facebook page).

“The more traditional the group, the more likely some kind of friction is,” Donald Kraybill explains in the article.  Recently, other conflicts have occurred over smoke detectors, the Slow-Moving-Vehicle triangle, and photo IDs.

Amish outhouse usage

The outhouse is used by plainer Amish groups, for instance Swartzentruber Amish.  However even more technologically progressive Amish may have an outhouse, despite having indoor plumbing.

A produce farmer friend in Lancaster County, PA recently had one installed on his property.  I’d say it’s something of a deluxe model–not just a hole cut in a board, but fairly comfy-looking seating.

He has a couple of bathrooms in the home though (I stick to those).  The outhouse is more of a convenience  for his primarily female workers, so they don’t have to trek into the house.  Like most farmers, for my friend “finding a corner” in the barn is usually his first choice.

amish outhouses
Outhouses behind an Amish school in the Dover, Delaware settlement

You may even see an odd mix in some communities.  Many of the Swiss Amish in Allen County, Indiana live in fairly expensive-looking brick homes.  But a number of Amish in this community still use outhouses.

Finally, as seen above Amish schools typically have outhouses.  Schools tend to use lower levels of technology than businesses and homes.  So you’ll usually see two small matching buildings behind Amish schoolhouses.

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    1. Magdalena

      A concrete block outhouse is quite a luxury! I have lived in places where we had an outhouse, and I don’t really mind. Handled properly, they are ecologicslly sound, and sanitary. As the old farmer here said, when his offspring built a picnic/barbeque patio in the yard, “Used to be, we ate INDOORS and (crude farmtype word for using a bathroom) OUTDOORS.”

    2. Marilyn in New York

      One of my Aunt and Uncles use to have an out house and it was made of wood. I was never crazy about out houses-of course I was brought up with in door plumbing. If I had been brought up with out houses-I would probably think they were fine. I like that wall decoration they had inside the school out house. I think that is cute.

      1. OLD plumbing

        in the late 40’til late 50’s, my Irish grandparents had a house in Carmel, NY mountains and had a 2 seater out house, a water pump in kitchen sink, NO telephone/tv, an ice box, crank record player, NO electricity til early 50’s, basement was carved out of rock, where kids slept…. it was great, ice gotten from town and mail, long walk now but as kids… great.. God bless all, oh am 71 now 😀

    3. Jessica

      What are those smaller white structures in front of the outhouses?

      1. Richard Kontny

        What are they?

        They are what we call blinds, a privacy wall to prevent looking into the different gender’s bathroom. (Privacy

    4. Jessica those are wooden dividers meant for privacy.

      Magdalena a great saying capturing how the world has been turned upside down 🙂

    5. Alice Aber

      I guess you do what you have to do. For many years my grandparents homestead only had the out house,,,, but I can remember as a small child when they finally got indoor plumbing, the family through a party to celebrate, LOL.

      The sign is cute and a good reminder in humility.

      Love the pictures!
      Blessings, Alice

    6. Robin Miller

      Grandmomm's Backhouse

      My grandmother who I referred to yesterday re: the wood stove and cooking, also had an outhouse (we called it a backhouse). In the worst winter months, she kept a chamber pot in an unused bedroom. My uncle offered profusely to install a bathroom in her home; at least a toilet and sink, but being a lady born in 1883, she saw no need. She passed in 1962. I hated going down the hill to the outhouse. It was creepy, lots of bugs. I’d never go alone. Usually my father or an older sibling would accompany me. I was only 9 years old when she passed. However anytime I’m forced to use a porta-potty, all I can think about is Grandmomma’s outhouse.

    7. Richard (www.Amishstorys.com)

      Good morning everyone. I kind of thought i was on the wrong web site for a min with the outhouse post, its a tiny little box most don’t like to talk about, well until you need one maybe,lol. You don’t know how tough it is for me to post my comments on this one with a straight face, but it is part of life. I have seen some very elaborate outhouses in my time, from only the outside of course. Richard from Lebanon county’s Amish community.

    8. Well Richard here at Amish America we don’t shy away from even these delicate topics 🙂

    9. Katie Troyer

      I should dig through my old photo albums I made before the diginal camera and take another look at the cleanest, neatest backhouses I have seen and uses. These were not Amish backhouses, but their generationsl roots came from the Scottsville KY Mennonites.

    10. Suzanna Laitinen

      I remember an article about an outhouse controversy in the now de-funct Pittsburgh Press on this subject, a few years back. In the article they described that PART of the issue- besides being against regulations in that area- was that alot of the people residing in that general area relied on well water, and they were afraid that ground seepage from outhouses would eventually contaminate their water sources. It became such a controversy that the authorities actually locked an Amish family out of their home and farm. They had to stay with relatives. The Amish community met with officials- I assumed they meant the bishop, etc- and offered to construct concrete walls in all new outhouses (underground, to help prevent seepage) and use some type of chemical treatment for the waste. But the county(?) didn’t want any more new outhouses constructed, period. I have no idea what ever happened in this instance, but it was a big topic. Even though it was about outhouses, lol. It amazed me that they actually locked the family out of their farm.It may be an odd subject, but it’s obviously a very real debate.

    11. Michelle P

      I think one of the nicest outhouse I ever used was several years ago when Jack and I was on a ranch for a ride with a group. Heck, some indoor bathrooms aren’t as nice!

    12. Christina

      We still have an outhouse on our property in northern Wisconsin at my family’s cabin. My grandpa built it, but when the time comes for a new one, we won’t be able to build another one because of the proximity to the river. My aunt is thinking a nice little structure with a composting toilet would be a good direction. I think that’s an excellent idea.

      Eric, do you know of any Amish groups that opt for composting toilets either in their homes or outhouses? It seems that a composting toilet would defuse the situations between some groups and local laws. Not to mention, they are good for the environment:-)

    13. Tom

      The outhouse. Never a favorite of mine, as another poster above stated that their grandparents had one, so did mine. Outhouses can be quite a torture in the Middle of summer, or the dead of winter.

    14. Csarina

      We had outhoses at the scholl I attended in a village in Leicestershire, Boys one side girls the other, a hole cut in a plank over a galvanised bucket. It was emmptied each night…..we did have an indoor toilet where we lived but the old outhouse was still on the property in case anyone got’cut short’ whilst outside in the fields.

    15. Alice Mary


      Suzanna–interesting story! I’d like to know how things turned out, too (if you find out, please post).

      Christina, I’d have to agree with you about the composting toilet. Heck, my yard is only 1/4 acre, but I wouldn’t mind a composting “unit” in the shed, especially on those days when I’m really grubby from digging & don’t want to trek through the house. I’ve seen them in the Lehman’s catalog, so I assumed the Amish (somewhere) used them. When I still had my dog, I used a “doggy doolie” composting unit for his “deposits”. It worked OK in warmer months, but not in below freezing weather (it was set about 24″into the ground, with the lid at ground level) I’d guess a composting toilet kept in an unheated outhouse (or shed) would have the same problem.

      In the house I grew up in in Chicago (built in the 1880’s), before it had indoor plumbing, there was an enclosed outhouse on the back porch. By the time I came along, the house had indoor plumbing for decades, and the porch was enclosed. The “indoor-outhouse” was converted to a storage shed…but the board with the hole was still there, under a bunch of junk, and as a child I couldn’t figure out what it was for. Eventually, my mother explained…and I was fascinated!

      The house also had old gas lines for when gas lighting was the norm (converted to electricity in the early 20th century).

      Note to Richard: your posts nearly always leave me with a smile…actually, I don’t know how many of us COULD keep a straight face regarding this subject!

      Alice Mary

    16. Debbie Welsh

      My grandparents had a big, old, dark, creepy house that was worse than the Addams Family’s! In the kitchen they had a big old hand pump for the water so of course us grandkids just had to have a drink, which we’d get in an old jelly jar. And of course they had an outhouse which we were fascinated by, and even though it was dark, scary, buggy, and smelly, us kids just had to try it anyway!

    17. Richard (www.Amishstorys.com)

      Lancaster/Lebanon sunny and windy, and more outhouse talk.

      Just getting back home, and the weather here today In the Lebanon/Lancaster area is sunny and pretty windy. Debbie your description of that outhouse from childhood being dark, scary, buggy, and smelly pretty much sums up being in a outhouse. I think someone will be on the doctor phil show very soon, poor thing,lol. Am i really on Amish America?, or did i accidently get on the web site “Outhouse America”,lol. Your still doing very well Erik, but maybe we need to be keeping an eye on you alittle,lol. Richard from Lebanon countys Amish community.

    18. Outhouse of the future

      Well Richard, don’t worry, “Inside an Amish Outhouse” is probably not going to be a recurring feature 🙂 But see my last comment, this site is all about Amish life–the good, bad and the ugly 😉 Thanks for keeping me chuckling here

      Well, let’s just say outhouses are not my favorite subject, but enjoying the fascinating tales here…I wonder if one day in the future we’ll think the same way about flush toilets as we do about outhouses…okay I’m probably wondering too much here 🙂

    19. Outhouse photos

      Katie T if you come across any photos please let us know. You are a great photographer, I have always enjoyed your shots be they from your blog or the Pinecraft Pauper…something tells me that with your skills you could do an outhouse justice 🙂

      Christina, on your question about composting toilets, I am drawing a blank here…I guess I never really paid that much attention, but now I will have to thanks to this day of outhouse study!

    20. Marcus Yoder

      Outhouse’s are what cause constipation.

    21. Annmarie

      While I do know outhouses probably are not one of the highlights of Amish Life..I am still thankful you did a post on it. For some of us we have never seen or been in an outhouse and your picture gave us a glimpse at one..PLUS, that saying is priceless..and it reminded me(sadly) of all the times I might have been a cheerful giver and then “spoke” about it with a bit of pride..thus bragging..What a reminder to me NOT to do that.
      So, while OUTHOUSES might not be at the tops of people’s conversation when they converse about the Amish..it was still a rare oppurtunity to see another aspect of their culture..so thanks..
      I must tell you everyday, I look forward to what you have to write.

    22. Marcus, I have to take your word for it! 😉

      And Annmarie, that is just very kind of you. I love writing this blog, but hearing feedback from people like you makes it even more worthwhile. So thank you for giving me even more reason to keep putting up posts 🙂

      And you know what? I’m glad you brought attention back to the message on the sign. That is probably the most important part of this post.

    23. Marcus Yoder

      I was probably 12 before we had an inside toilet. If the weather was bad, you would wait as long as you could.
      Marcus Yoder

    24. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      What about chamber pots or bed pans if really necessary? I know the first one is antiquated, even for the Amish, but still, if it works, why not. I mean if there is concern about plainness produce ones without decoration. In English houses a chamber pot was useful and provided decoration to some extent.

    25. Marcus Yoder

      We had a pot, but that was only for night time or if you were sick. Glad those days are over.
      Marcus Yoder

    26. Alice Mary

      While chamber pots/bedpans might be “simple” (decorative or not), I’d hate to be the one tasked with emptying them. (And didn’t/doesn’t that usually fall to the “womenfolk”? In my experience, women are usually stuck with the “****” jobs! I’m sure you can fill in the blank!)

      Alice Mary

    27. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Chamber Pots, faux Home Children, reality TV and it’s Fishy business

      Traditionally woman probably did clean up the pots and pans in the past.

      I am suddenly reminded of a British series, though I forget what it was called, where a group of modern school children of varying ages were forces to live a World War Two life as Home Children, and one of their chores was to clean the pots, more often than not the kids would spill and be made to mop up the floor wherever the mess was made.

      There was once a small trend in Canada to produce reality shows like that featuring people living and working like people in various historic periods, the best of the Canadian shows had to have been “Pioneer Quest” and the worst of the Quest shows had to be “Quest for Cod”, which despite being a show illustrating the rough glory days of the 1920s and 30s east coast fisheries, ended up being a screaming fest between a woman in her 30s and a girl in her teens about just about everything from work load to social issues (the girl was supposed to be poor, if I recall correctly, and the woman a little more better off) and none of them appealed to a 16-something girl of the new millennia. Not I don’t recall any chamber pots in that series.

      I like reality shows were historic life is attempted to be brought back to life, and as a history buff I watch quite keenly.

    28. Terry Berger

      You truly haven't lived...

      You truly haven’t experienced living until you’ve used an outhouse at 2:00 am in the middle of January!! Do any use chamber pots during the colder months? All of the Lancaster folk I knew had indoor plumbing.


    29. Lynn B


      We had an outhouse until I was 7 or 8…when daddy built a bathroom in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Our neighbors had them as well. Grandparents had theres until he had a bad stroke, and the family added a room on downstairs to include a bathroom.
      As to the small “buildings” in front, those arent really buildings. The are ells. An L- shaped structure meant to keep wind and prying eyes out, as well as blowing snow, etc. Most farms just had a door, but the ells would be found at churches, community buildings, etc.