Smells of Local History

MCHS Photo: 1998.082.0001

The Monroe County courthouse has nice restrooms on the north end of the first floor. This was not true for the earlier courthouse buildings. The first log cabin (1818-1826), the second wooden building (1826-1856), and the third, with its brick wings extending that (1856-1906), lacked these facilities in the fourth, and present, courthouse. Instead, they had a privy, or outhouse. The privy smelled, particularly when it was being cleaned out.

There were other persistent smells and threats to public health around the courthouse, primarily caused by horse manure and urine collecting around the hitch racks on all four sides of the building. The Federation of Women’s Clubs, in 1897, headed up a drive to eliminate the hitch racks, but this wasn’t finally done until well after the advent of automobiles ( See “The Courthouse Hitch Rack and Public Health in the 1890s” from the Monroe County Historian, Aug/Sept, 2012, pp. 5-7)

By 1900 the privy smells must have received sufficient complaints that the judge of the county circuit court ordered the grand jury to investigate and make recommendations. Here is their report:

State of Indiana, Monroe County

To the Monroe Circuit Court

March Term, 1900

We the Grand Jury in obedience to the Court’s instructions concerning the “dry plant” or privey [sic] in the court yard, beg leave to report thereon as follows:

We have made our examination and find that said “dry plant” when the same is burned (?) out causes the atmosphere in the neighborhood of the same to become foul, nauseating and injurious to health. We find that the floor of said privey is permitted to become unclean and filthy. The latter can be easily remedied by the janitor.

We find that the conditions above described constitute a continuing nuisance. We have caused the County Commissioners to be brought before us as witnesses and after consultation with them we feel assured that they will be diligent in their efforts to abate said nuisance within a reasonable time and we feel that until they have further time to abate the same they should not be held criminally liable for maintaining said nuisance, and we therefore do not return an indictment against them.

Respectfully submitted, Jacob Carmichael. Foreman.

Whatever the outcome of this report, the wheels of progress were already underway, leading to the replacement of the old courthouse and smelly privy, with its replacement, complete with modern restrooms.

Blog post by Lee Ehman