A pit toilet is just another name for the ‘good ole outhouse’. I’m sure it does not get the highest rating in toilet reviews, but back in the day is was pretty much your standard toilet. When there was no electricity or septic tanks yet invented, this was the most practical and sanitary way to dispose of human waste. If properly built and maintained, the pit toilet was successful at keeping down the spread of disease by reducing the amount of human feces in the surrounding areas from open defecation.
The construction of the outhouse would begin with the men digging a three to four foot hole in the ground. A seat was then built over the hole itself and then walls and a roof were added. A tightly fitted lid was built over the toilet or a board was used to cover the seat to keep flies and other insects away. The seat provided comfort and stability while the shelter itself provided privacy to the user and protection from the weather. The structure was typically made from lumber or plywood, however there have been some discovered from the colonial days that were made with bricks and a wooden door. It is believed that the well known crescent moon seen on outhouse doors actually began in the colonial period. Many scholars have suggested that this was an early “men/woman” designation for people who could not read. The moon and sun were popular symbols for sexes at that time period. One known fact about the cut out symbols in the outhouses, is that they provided ventilation and light into the structure.
Outhouses were built far enough away from the house to avoid the unpleasant aroma, but were close enough so that the walk at night would not be a pain. When the pit would be filled to about 1.6 feet from the top, it would either be emptied or the structure moved and the pit filled in with dirt. The most common practice would be to move the outhouse or build a new one, after a fresh pit had been dug out and the old one filled in. I don’t think anyone would have to question why this was the most common practice. It would have been a health risk to empty the pit using only buckets during those times. Thankfully, the pit toilet,or better known as the “outhouse”, is now just cute country décor in our country. But it is still known as a standard toilet in many parts of the world where there is no electricity or plumbing.