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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

REVISITING OUTHOUSES
The WPA came to Laneville

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
A few weeks ago, we reported of the resurgence of outhouses as historical landmarks in East Texas.

Shortly after the column appeared, we learned of what may be the only existing East Texas outhouse ever built by the old Work Projects Administration, a Depression-era federal program which put the jobless to work building public projects.

In 1935, the WPA came to Laneville, a crossroads community in southern Rusk County, and began building rock fences, bridges and other needed projects.

J.M. (Murph) Bryan was the county's Precinct 4 commissioner at the time, and convinced the WPA's local foreman to build an outhouse for his family on a small farm east of Laneville. Bryan paid fifteen dollars for the one-holer.

Today, Bryan's daughter, Mary Lou Bryan, still lives on the family farm -- and has kept Murph's outhouse in tip-top condition.

"We've had some heavy winds that blew it over a couple of times, but we always put it back in good condition," she said. "We also had to cut down a big ol' oak tree because it looked like it might fall on the outhouse," she added.

Painted barn red, Murph's privy stands seven feet tall in the front and slopes to a height of six feet in the back, topped by a tin roof. While most early outhouses had dirt or wooden floors, the WPA project went one better with a concrete foundation. The business end of the convenience is also made of concrete, but it does have a wooden lid.

"Fifteen dollars was a lot of money during the Depression," recalls Mary Lou, now in her eighties. "It was hard times for everyone, and I donšt know how Daddy managed to feed us," she said.

If the WPA had not hired folks during the Depression, a lot of East Texans could have starved to death. Created by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the WPA provided some 600,000 people with subsistence for themselves and their families.

They built hundreds of projects you can still see while traveling up and down East Texas' roads.

Some of the most noticeable projects are the old Tomato Bowl stadium in Jacksonville, portions of Love's Lookout Park in north Cherokee County, a water drainage system still used at Newton, roadside parks all over East Texas, and some of Laneville's school buildings.

From time to time, we hear about progressive public officials who want to replace the old Depression structures with something newer and more modern. But, thankfully, some historical groups are always willing to put up a fuss.

When Mary Lou retired from the Rusk County tax assessor-collector's office after 36 years, she decided she didn't want to go anywhere except Laneville. With the help of a handyman, she keeps the old Bryan place looking as neat as a pin.

And sitting in back is her daddy's WPA outhouse.


All Things Historical September, 2003 Column
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association.
Bob Bowman's East Texas >


See also Outhouses
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