A Manse mystery that I’ll bet Cora Patterson could solve

Manse bathroom

This is our (obviously) unrenovated bathroom, curiously located right inside the front door of the Manse; this is what you see of it when you step inside that front door. I have to think this was not the original layout of the house. Can anyone help?

Regular and/or recent readers will surely recall who Cora Patterson is. As the wife of The Rev. W.W. Patterson, minister at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough from 1941 to 1945, the late Mrs. Patterson was the châtelaine of the Manse, just as my mum was a few decades after her, from 1964 to 1975. Thanks to an early-1940s photo of W.W. and Cora and their children at the Manse sent me by a reader, and followup information from other readers and posts here and here, we all learned, first, Cora’s first name (i.e. that she wasn’t just “Mrs. W.W. Patterson”), and later, that she was also an artist.

But it’s in her capacity of mistress of the Manse that I would ask Cora a question this evening, if only I could. And that question would be: was the Manse’s bathroom always the Manse’s bathroom?

Let me explain.

As I’ve written before, the Manse has only one bathroom – which is a not-uncommon situation in an older home, though in these pampered modern times we tend to get used to, and take for granted, the idea of a house having at least a powder room in addition to the main bathroom. Eventually, as part of the renovations, Raymond and I would like that too – one bathroom upstairs and one downstairs.

But this post is not about the quantity of bathrooms; it’s about bathroom history in this old (1888) house of ours.

You see, the location and size of the existing bathroom – which was also the bathroom when I was a kid growing up at the Manse – are odd. It is a huge room, about twice as big as it needs to be even after tub, sink, toilet, cabinets, hooks, shelves, etc. are taken into account. But odder still is its placement: right inside the kitchen door (which is the de facto front door, and I imagine always has been). And odder still is that it has a window looking straight onto the front porch – which means that the window must always have a blind drawn, in the interest of modesty, thus shutting out a potential source of lots of sunlight for the house.

All of which leads me to believe that this room was originally intended for something other than a bathroom. Especially since there would have been no running water when the Manse was built; there must have been an outhouse on the property back then. (And I would be interested to know where exactly it was.)

Sunny pantry February 2014

Could this little room, which has long served as the pantry, have been the Manse’s original (pre-indoor-plumbing) bathroom? I wonder…

Now, when it was that the Manse acquired running water – and, I guess, the need for what we would think of as a full and proper bathroom – I do not know, though given that there was more than one outhouse still in use in the village of Queensborough in the years my family lived here, I would not be at all surprised if it was after the time of the Pattersons’ tenure. And that is why I would just love to be able to talk to Cora and ask her about it. What was that inside-the-front-door room used for in her time? A kitchen, maybe?

And is it possible that what is now our small pantry, immediately behind the bathroom, was the old-fashioned bathroom with a tub that needed to be filled by hand (and, of course, no toilet)? That would kind of make sense, actually.

In the absence of Cora, is there any chance that any readers who grew up in Queensborough might remember the Manse’s layout of way back then? Funny, I never thought twice about The Great Bathroom Mystery when I was a kid here (but then, what kid does spend any time thinking about house layouts?), but now that I’m back in the place it’s kind of driving me crazy.

Especially if there’s a possibility that our renovations might restore something of the original layout; that could be interesting.

If only we could figure out what that layout was…

12 thoughts on “A Manse mystery that I’ll bet Cora Patterson could solve

  1. Hi Katherine,
    Having become familiar with more than one century home I can’t recall any of them actually ever having a pre-plumbing bathroom. For example, Ernie and I would spend our summers with our Aunt Leona and Uncle Leo on The Ridge in their big old farm house, one of the nicest ones built there, and even into the 1960s there was only an outhouse and no bathroom as such. Bath-time for us meant the old galvanized tub would be hauled out into the summer kitchen, water from the hand pump heated on the cook stove and one at a time in went the kids. I have no recollection of how my aunt or uncle bathed, as they obviously would not fit! I know our farm house, the next one to my brother’s, had no bathroom, and the general store/house in Ormsby also had none. At Ernie’s farm one of the bedrooms was converted to a bathroom when running water was available. In Ormsby and at our farm house, an end of one of the main downstairs rooms was sectioned off to create a bathroom. I suppose it is entirely possible that some homes did have a room with a tub that needed to be filled and then drained somehow. Our portable tubs were just emptied off the back porch. Best of luck with finding the answers to your house mysteries. It is always an adventure and a lot of fun to discover secrets from the past.
    I think I have a picture of such a bathing ritual from when Ernie and I were babies. I’ll send it along in an email. Not the galvanized tub of our subsequent childhood but you’ll get the idea. Of course I have no idea if it is Ernie or Gary in that tub!

    • Wow, Gary, thank you for this – it’s fascinating, partly because it raises as many questions as it answers! For instance: you talk about the tub being brought out into the summer kitchen, which makes perfect sense in the warm summer months (when you and Ernie were visiting your Aunt Leona and Uncle Leo, and I just love those names), but what did people do in the winter? Also, your point about emptying the tub is an excellent one: it’s not really possible to do with a permanent tub unless one has plumbing. So tubs must always have been just hauled out to somewhere or other in the house. What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall for bath night at the Manse back in those days, to see how it was done!

  2. You beat me to it with your comment Gary! I would bet a whole lot that there was no bath room or “bathing room” when The Manse was built. I was in Univ. before my family had a bathroom in our 1850s timber-frame farmhouse. P.S. Katherine, just to make you feel better, we’ve had freezing rain in South Carolina overnight. I can feel a tiny bit on our balcony railing and they have shut the whole state down!

    • Yes, it seems from the comments on this post that indoor bathrooms were definitely not the done thing in our part of rural Ontario until the middle of the century. Which is exactly what I remember from up at my family’s farm in Haliburton too – among my very earliest memories are using the outhouse there, before the bathroom was put in (in a house that was very much not built for a bathroom) in the early 1960s. Sorry to hear about the unseasonable weather in your normally warm winter abode. I hope the southerners can deal with it!

  3. Adding to the 2 previous readers, our homestead farmhouse just west of Queensborough did not get inside bathroom ’til the late 50’s – early 60’s…
    It was put / squeezed into what had been the pantry, just off the kitchen, and inside the east entry door… [We also had a west entry door to the kitchen, directly across the kitchen from each other]… It was the one & only bathroom until the current owners installed one upstairs using one of the bedrooms… Prior to that, other than a washstand with bowl, pitcher and towel as part of bedroom furniture, an outhouse attached to the woodshed and a washtub pulled into the kitchen on bath day…. that was it!

    • Rauthanne, thank you for you “bath day” memories – I am sure it must have been like that at the Manse in the Pattersons’ time too. I guess I should count myself lucky that there was a “real” bathroom at the Manse when my family moved here in 1964 – though it doesn’t sound like it was so bad in the pre-bathroom days. Oh, well, except for having to visit the outhouse in the middle of winter…

  4. My experience of older homes that had a bathroom added later matches what has been written above; usually you converted a bedroom or used part of an existing room.

    As someone who has lived in several manses, one additional reason for having the bathroom downstairs was that in the event of meetings (and, even more, of marriages) taking place in the manse, it was better to have the one bathroom in close proximity to the meeting place than having someone attending the meeting have to go upstairs and through a significant portion of the house in order to “use the facilities.”

    • Wow, John, that (why the bathroom would be on the ground floor in the Manse) makes absolutely perfect sense, but I never would have thought of it if you hadn’t mentioned it. It’s good to have an old hand (if it’s okay to call you that) at Manses to shed light on these critical matters!

  5. Having been down this path with parts of our house, advice that I can pass on is that this takes time. It sometimes takes time to just sit and look for oddities – trim that doesn’t match or that doesn’t end and you come to realize that it does indeed end; however it was covered up when a more modern approach was being taken. Flooring can also be a good indication of historic movement.
    On a side note, I am going to call my father this evening to inquire if he was inside the house prior to that room being created. My guess is that the kitchen as you have it now was one large room that spanned the front of that side of the house. A guess of what the mindset was at the time, is the thought that “who needs a kitchen that large?”, and thus the bathroom was created! Not to mention that plumbing is so much more easier to install when you locate it near existing plumbing.
    I will be in touch if Dad has an answer!

    • Thank you so much, Christina! Having thrown out to readers the question of the original layout of that part of the Manse’s ground floor, I now find I can’t stop thinking and puzzling over it. I am very much hoping that your dad might have some insight into what once was. But meantime, thank you for your own (from historic-house experience) insight and advice, which I am certain is very good. Take time and study the place – it makes perfect sense. I’m also intrigued by your suggestion that the whole area might have been one big room, and am going to look into that (which I expect means seeing what’s inside the possibly-added-later walls). Fun!

      • Spoke with my father last evening and he does remember being in the house early on – the room that is now your bathroom exists in his memory although not as a bathroom, rather as a study! He doesn’t remember much more than that, but perhaps the study originally was there giving parishioners convenient access to the minister without major interruption to the household. Once indoor plumbing arrived, then the study needed to find a new home. Just a guess!
        Dad did suggest that his aunt Barbara (Don) Martin who is the last remaining Sager child (Robert and Elsie’s) would be the best person to talk to. Perhaps also Jack McMurray.
        Hope this is of help!

      • That is very interesting and very helpful, Christina – thank you! I will indeed check with Barbara Martin (who may very well be reading this, and has been helpful to us on many Manse/Queensborough fronts) and Jack McMurray, but I have to tell you that to my mind something feels right about the idea of that room as a study. Raymond is not so sure – but then, he didn’t grow up in this house, did he? I think my instincts might be a bit more attuned to it. Again, thank you – to both you and your dad!

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