Believe It Or Not, Rural Wyoming 2-Story Outhouse Makes Sense

One of the more bizarre and interesting attractions at the Grand Encampment Museum in southern Wyoming is a historic 2-story outhouse, and believe it or not, it actually makes sense.

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Amber Steinmetz

June 30, 20244 min read

The two-story outhouse at the Grand Encampment Museum may seem odd, but actually makes sense. The second story isn't for volume use, its to use when the snow's so deep the bottom level is blocked. Also, the holes have luxurious beaver pelt covers.
The two-story outhouse at the Grand Encampment Museum may seem odd, but actually makes sense. The second story isn't for volume use, its to use when the snow's so deep the bottom level is blocked. Also, the holes have luxurious beaver pelt covers. (Courtesy Photo)

If someone tells you a tale about a two-story outhouse, you might think they are full of crap. Then you see a photo of the one at the Grand Encampment Museum in Carbon County, Wyoming, and you know they are.

Crazy as it may sound, two-story outhouses were really a thing in rural Wyoming, and actually make sense when you realize it’s not intended for people to be parked on the top and bottom holes at the same time.

“It's a national attraction,” museum Director Tim Nicklas told Cowboy State Daily of its famous prairie potty. “I mean, people from all over the country come here because they've heard we have a two-story outhouse and they're curious. We even sell T-shirts that say, ‘Deep Snow Plumbing.’”

Nicklas himself was surprised to learn of the outhouse’s popularity when he became the director of the museum in 2018.

“I couldn't believe it, but sure enough,” he said. “And of course, everybody in the community talks about our two-story outhouse. It just floors me.”

The building is a replica of the original structure, which was located in Dillon, a copper mining town next to the Ferris-Haggerty Mine. The replica was built with money from the Bicentennial Committee and donated by Orel Tikkaner in 1976.

“At that time the federal government was giving out a lot of money to museums because it was such a huge celebration,” Nicklas said of the Bicentennial. “The replica was completed by using photographs and from people's recollections of the actual outhouse.”

But Why?

A rich copper strike in the Sierra Madres in 1897 precipitated the new city of Grand Encampment and several satellite settlements, including Dillon.

Nicklas said the outhouse was built around 1900. And while many visitors think it was constructed to keep up with the demand of users in the once-bustling town, the actual reason was more practical, as the bottom level was often buried by snow in the winter.

“Up in the mountains you don't measure snow in inches,” Nicklas said. “You measure snow in feet. So, the top floor of the outhouse is built directly over the bottom floor, and on the bottom floor the benches that you sit on are opened up and pitched forward in the wintertime so it exposes the pit for everything to go into.”

While opening the bench on the bottom level bench was meant to minimize mess, Nicklas suspects it would have been as disgusting as one might imagine come spring.

“It’s physics and things don't fall just where they’re intended all the time,” he said. “But I have no idea how they would have cleaned it.”

The two-story outhouse has stalls for men and women, along with everyone's favorite — the Sears Catalogue.
The two-story outhouse has stalls for men and women, along with everyone's favorite — the Sears Catalogue. (Courtesy Photo)

A Luxury Loo

The Wyoming example of a two-story outhouse is one of just a handful around the nation, with others located in Dover, Arkansas; Gays, Illinois; Belle Plaine, Minnesota; Phelps, New York; Silver City, Idaho; Cedar Lake, Michigan; Janesville, Wisconsin; and Crested Butte, Colorado.

“The outhouse in Crested Butte, Colorado, is different from ours,” Nicklas said. “It has a top floor that was set back and has its own shaft dropping into a pit so it avoided the bottom floor.”

One of the unique features of Encampment’s double-decker bathroom is that it had eight holes for people to sit on.

“We have beaver pelts to sit on for your comfort in the winter when it's cold,” Nicklas said of the replica. “And of course, the Sears catalog.”

The front of the structure is fenced off as Nicklas suspects the lure of using the well-known outhouse would be too strong for some otherwise.

“I know if I didn’t have a fence keeping people from going in there, I'd have a mess to clean,” he said. “There's no doubt there'd be people doing that. They just couldn’t resist.”

The outhouse is not the only building at the museum that was designed for a great amount of snow. There’s also the ranger station, which has a door above a door so rangers could still get in and out of the building come winter.

The two-story outhouse can be seen behind a hotel (second building on the left) in an aerial shot of Dillon from the early 1900s.
The two-story outhouse can be seen behind a hotel (second building on the left) in an aerial shot of Dillon from the early 1900s. (Courtesy Photo)
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