Long-abandoned Glenwood outhouse yields trove of tossed bottles
July 31, 2012
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A digging project to excavate a caved-in sewer line uncovered a trove of glass bottles buried in the vault of a back alley outhouse of an old downtown Glenwood Springs cottage.
Michael Hurst dug out more than 100 old bottles on Friday that were left behind in the outhouse by his grandmother, Dorma Hemphill.
“My grandmother was a teetotaler, so there were no whiskey bottles,” said Hurst, who is recently retired from a career with the Postal Service.
What he did find were a lot of medicine bottles, some hand-blown that would have used a cork stopper, others square and embellished with raised lettering, measurements and even the profile of a dog.
The organic contents of the outhouse vault, which hasn’t been used in 70 years, had decomposed.
Hurst also found larger round bottles that would have contained rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
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His grandmother, a widow with two young daughters to raise in the 1920s, cobbled together a living in part by giving deep-tissue massages at the Vapor Caves. She had to buy her own supplies, and would have tossed the empties into the outhouse, as was the custom.
Standing out from the jumble of clear glass bottles with its solid white color, the long-lost water dispenser for his grandmother’s birdcage also surfaced. Hurst brought the old-fashioned round bird cage out of the shed and showed how the milk-glass cup tucks into the cage wires, and remembered how his grandmother always kept canaries.
Another curious find was a lady’s cosmetics compact, presumably made of copper, that had oxidized into a bright green. Hurst gave it to his tenant to see if she could clean it up.
“My grandmother could have never afforded a thing like that,” he said. He believes the compact may have been dropped in the outhouse by a prostitute living in a nearby brothel, as the old outhouse wasn’t in a fenced part of the yard.
The little wood frame cottage in the 700 block of Palmer was built in 1896, Hurst said. His grandmother bought the place in 1918, using $500 in insurance money paid out after her young husband died in a freak accident on the job at the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon.
Hemphill raised Hurst’s mother, Nadene, and her sister in the house, and when his mother married, she and her husband started building a house on a lot next door.
In the 1940s, when the new house was started, the family also installed indoor plumbing in Hemphill’s home. The old outhouse was left in the yard until the 1970s, when it was replaced with a metal shed. Hemphill lived in the house until she passed away in 1975, at the age of 93.
Hurst and his three brothers grew up next door to their grandmother, and Hurst still lives in the family home. He rents out his grandmother’s house, and the tenant there had started experiencing sewer back-ups a few months ago.
Reaming out the sewer line worked for a few weeks, and then for just a few days, and then the drain line failed altogether. It was time to dig, as many of his neighbors have over the past decade, replacing collapsed clay lines feeding into the city’s sewer main running down the alley.
A laborer hired to dig broke into the underground concrete vault Thursday, and soon started hitting the trove of bottles with his shovel. On Friday, Hurst went out and spent hours in the hole on the alley digging out whatever the old outhouse had to offer up.
He dug some more over the weekend and believes he has finished the excavation.
Now he has the bottles laid out on the ground against a backyard shed, waiting to be cleaned up. Hurst said he may donate them to the Frontier Historical Museum.