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Privy to the seats of the past

Commercial real estate broker Janie Peel shows off one of her collection of outhouses April 25 in her back yard in Appling, Ga.
Commercial real estate broker Janie Peel shows off one of her collection of outhouses April 25 in her back yard in Appling, Ga.Jim Blaylock / The Augusta Chronicle
/ Source: The Associated Press

They once were a rural American staple, a necessity for daily life. Today, outhouses are mostly gone — but not if you wander into Janie Peel's backyard. "This is my newest one," she said, gesturing toward a vintage double-seater that was moved in its entirety to her farm.

"It took three men to lift it," she said. "But if we hadn't, it would have been torn down."

Outhouses have always fascinated Peel, an east Georgia commercial real estate broker who now collects them.

"I can't stand to see old buildings torn down," she said. "But the one thing I can usually rescue without losing friends is the outhouses."

Before plumbing became standard in country homes, outhouses were state-of-the-art facilities.

"Some of them might be 100 years old," Peel said. "But there's no way to know for sure."

Her favorite is an ancient two-holer with a tin roof and crude cedar posts for corners. The rusted metal on one side is peppered with shotgun pellets — just where the occupants would have been sitting.

Peel isn't sure whether the circular pattern of tiny holes is the result of vandalism, assault or perhaps someone's innovative idea to improve ventilation.

"It has a lot of character," she said. "You have to wonder about the conversations that might have taken place in there."

Another is fashioned from hand-hewn pine.

The inside of one of the outhouses owned by Janie Peel, is shown on April 25, 2006, in her backyard in Appling, Ga. The outhouse features a real toilet seat and a mirror on the wall. Peel has three behind her home, with room for a dozen more. (AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Jim Blaylock) ** NO SALES, MAGS OUT**Jim Blaylock / THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE

"Notice how the holes are different? Some of them have square holes; this one has hexagonal ones."

Regardless of design, they all reflect the simplicity of yesteryear.

When they were in use, the privies sat atop deep holes that served as makeshift septic tanks. Peel's examples are just for display.

"I saw them a lot when I was growing up in Texas," she said. "As a Campfire Girl, I can even remember using them a few times."

Today, she has three behind her home, with room for a dozen more.

"I've identified two others, but I'm still trying to get permission to get them," she said.

"I've even got one in Texas promised to me, but I'm not sure how I'll get it here."