Hidden treasure flushed out at historic Hanley Farm
CENTRAL POINT — Ron Hillers was slashing brush and trees on the historic Hanley Farm last week when he saw what looked like an ancient wooden structure through the thick foliage.
"We started cutting some more and I said, 'Ah, it's an office,' " he said.
Sure enough, it was an outhouse, an old farm structure whose existence the Southern Oregon Historical Society has been unaware of ever since the 37-acre farm was deeded over to the organization in 1982. Hillers was among several SOHS volunteers thinning an overgrown plum grove near Jackson Creek when the discovery was made.
"It's a funny thing to get excited about but we're very interested in it," said Allison Weiss, executive director of SOHS. "Anytime you uncover a 'new building' property that has pretty good documentation, that's very exciting.
"For the time being, we're going to keep it as it is," she added, noting that outhouses have traditionally been a treasure trove for archaeologists. "We're just going to make sure it is not disturbed. That's almost the best thing you can do for any historic site."
Located at 1053 Hanley Road, the farm is one of the oldest in Southern Oregon. Michael and Martha Hanley originally bought 636 acres there from Central Point homesteaders in 1854 for $3,000 cash. The Hanleys built the two-story white house in 1875.
Their direct descendants — sisters Mary, Martha and Claire — were the last family members to live on the farm, which shrunk over the years. Mary Hanley gave the farm to SOHS in 1982 to preserve its historic character and early-day agricultural practices. The outhouse was not listed as part of the property then, indicating it was already long forgotten.
Any discovery on a historic site, including privies, is measured and catalogued as an artifact, according to SOHS officials.
Since the farmhouse received indoor plumbing in the 1950s, including a septic system with indoor toilets, the outhouse reflects an earlier time. One volunteer estimated the outhouse is at least 70 years old.
There is no way of telling whether the outhouse was moved to its present location from another site on the farm or if it was used by the family or workers. However, it is several hundred feet west of the house, making a midnight dash on a cold winter night a bit of a challenge.
The little building is sided with pecky cedar boards. There also is an extra board added to the back, apparently to cover a drafty hole where the cold wind of November would have brought a shiver to an already chilled occupant. Green moss covers what remains of the roof, about half of which has rotted away.
Judging from a partial circular hole that remains, it had one seat, albeit most of the seat is gone. The hole below also appears to be filled with dirt.
"My grandmother used one of those when she was 100 years old," said Hellers, 69, a retired farrier, referring to his grandparents' farm in Tonganoxie, Kan. "She took me to the outhouse many times.
"When my wife and I were dating, we went to my grandmother's and when my wife went to the outhouse she nearly tore the door off the outhouse because she thought she saw a snake in there," he added. "My wife was a city girl."
His grandmother's outhouse was a two-holer, he offered.
Despite the missing roof, the Hanley farm outhouse is fairly sturdy. A kind soul added some wire mesh back in the day to keep the bugs out.
"The front door looks like it was different wood, a little bit newer wood," said Hillers, who lives near Ashland.
"I'd guess it's about 70 years old," said Jerry Doran, 73, an SOHS volunteer for a dozen years.
"About 70 to 80," added the retired United Grocers employee. "The early 1900s was when they went to round nails. That barn over there was moved in the early 1900s and there are no square nails on the outside of that. They moved it piece by piece. So it would have had to have been after that."
Doran was referring to a barn built shortly after the Hanleys established the farm.
"Up on Wagner Creek where my great grandparents homesteaded in the 1800s, they had an outhouse," he said.
People of a certain age were reared around outhouses, added fellow SOHS volunteer Mary Ellen Thompson, 72.
"I have enjoyed the pleasures of an outhouse on more than one occasion," she said.
The volunteers plan to continue thinning the plum trees that grow thick in the rich soil along Jackson Creek. The plums will be added to the crops already grown on the picturesque farm, including vegetables, wheat, hops and a variety of fruit. There also is a flock of chickens producing fresh eggs.
"The plums are overgrown and laying all over each other," Hillers said. "We'll finish cleaning this up, and we'll keep looking for other old things.
"But what this really needs, though, is a half moon on the door," he said before returning to work.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.