When the “new” South Bridgton Congregational Church was built in 1870, it was built with no interior bathroom. This was by no means an oversight. Indoor plumbing in rural areas was slow to catch on. It was an expensive luxury. And running water only came from streams, or by sending the small fry to fetch a pail from the well.
But, progress has no pause button. A few years passed, and the church was ready for an addition. The beautiful Holbrook organ, affectionately known as Old Bertha, was to be moved from the balcony to the back end of the church behind the pulpit. To make that possible, the men of church and community set about building a two story bump-out on the back of the church. “Aha!” thought the women of the church. “Now is our chance to drag this church into the modern age!”
The “upstairs” area that houses Old Bertha is beautifully built and handsomely decorated, a suitable spot for a beloved musical instrument, the focal point of a church service. Downstairs in the bump-out was a different story altogether. The downstairs bump-out contained the first ever indoor outhouse in the church’s history. We know from church records that the indoor outhouse was for use only by the women and children of the church. Quite a luxury! The men were still to use the outdoor outhouse, where it is said that some of them gathered after the church services for a nip of spirits.
When the Grimm family moved to South Bridgton in 1970, we were soon introduced to the indoor outhouse. We were no strangers to outhouses being of good farm stock, but an INDOOR outhouse? Now, that was a new one for us.
In the early days of the bump-out, the area beneath the “settin’ spot” was left wide open. From the top of the foundation to the ground, a goodly drop of at least eight feet, nothing but air. As a result, anything left behind in the one-holer fell directly to the ground below. Fortunately, before the Grimms arrived, the area below had been tastefully enclosed to allow some sense of decorum for the ladies. This enclosure did not, however, keep the winter wind at bay.
During my early teen years, I was given the job of Sunday School teacher for the littlest of the church congregation. Now, in those ancient days, girls and ladies wore dresses for church. I well remember having to lift the little girls in their dresses up onto that gaping hole. The winter wind would bring a gasp of surprise from the little tykes when it hit their nether regions. Oddly, they never wanted to linger, so the task didn’t take long.
Some time in the 1980s, some enterprising church members installed a couple of chemical toilets in an old closet on the other side of the vestry, and use of the old outhouse was discontinued. But, still it sat there, a rustic relic of the days gone by.
In 2004, plans were made, funds were raised, and over a few years time, a new well and septic were added, and the old outhouse torn out. In its place is a modern bathroom with a fancy flushing toilet and a sink to wash ones’ hands. As wonderful an achievement as that was, and a great boon to the church, somehow it lacks the character of that old wooden indoor outhouse. But that good old rough-hewn one-holer, still lives on in memory, a reminder of those sepia-tinted years when waste flew free and the winter wind blew cold.