The Old Three-Seater

Photo by Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

On the road again, Augusta, Ga. While giving a talk on Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, my book about the past and how life has surely changed, outhouses came up and a fellow asked if I knew where any stood. “I can take you to a couple dozen,” I told him. Maybe more, because some of the old church campgrounds still have a good many. One campground has about a dozen lined up as pretty as you please. And just two weeks ago, I came across the three-seater you see here. While its exterior suffered exposure, the parts that count, all three of them, seemed in good working order.

So, this trio of open spaces cut from longleaf pine begs a question. Did families back in the day really use all three at once? Why not. Multitudes of us line up in public bathrooms at football games and festivals. Thank goodness for stall dividers. Back then, however, I suspect things were more than a tad different.

Families back then, for all their strict ways, might not have been as modest as we are. Modesty took a back seat, if you will, to practical matters. Wee ones had to venture outside when the chamber pot wasn’t an option, and life back then wasn’t as safe as it is today (outside of thugs who roam the land). Mom and dad had to accompany the little ones outdoors. I continue to hear that toilet training took place in two-seaters, and that makes sense. Other reasons come into play too. Even in those hard times people liked to impress others. A three-hole outhouse sent a signal. Luxury. Those accustomed to luxurious living had not just two-seaters, but three-seaters. Three-seaters proved practical too to a large family. Many three-seaters had holes of varying sizes to accommodate people of various ages. Can’t have Baby Susan falling through the generous hole cut for grandma can we. Child safety mattered then as now. 

Photo by Tom Poland

Regardless of how many holes an outhouse had, I always love finding these relics of the past. They remind us how life has changed. People back then were far more self-sufficient. The one you see here sits in what amounts to a preserved slice of life. In addition to the outhouse, what began as an old Indian outpost stands proudly. This fine structure went on to become a trading post, and later the home for a family that traces its roots to this fine old site, complete with a spring, cemetery, outbuildings, blacksmith shop, and what’s left of a smokehouse. Here, in one secret location, stands proof of how families lived long before electricity came along.

Axe-hewn timbers, wide boards of longleaf pine, and handcrafted brick add to the feeling that you are a time traveler. Windows built with wood pegs, not nails, tell you just how old this place is. When you walk the grounds here, you are going way back in time to the days of grandparents with many “greats” attached to their names.

Places such as this one exist here and there in museums, but how many hide in the hinterlands? Very few. I’m blessed to visit such a place. Yes, the old three-seater caught my eye. It’s classy, essential, and well-made. Sure, the elements conspire to return it to nature but it’s holding up so far as it heads toward 300 years. It’s been standing long before the advent of power tools, plastic, drywall, and nails. A true survivor. A reminder of how things have changed, and for sure it’s a sight more handsome than a bright blue-and-white plastic portable johnny.
Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. The University of South Carolina Press released his book, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, in November 2015 and his and Robert Clark’s Reflections Of South Carolina, Vol. II in 2014. The History Press of Charleston published Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia in 2014. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia, “Georgialina.”

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