In the 1930s, social events for children were almost unheard of. However, I once attended a tea party hosted by my two best friends, held in the long, narrow, enclosed porch of their grandmother’s house. The porch, built on the east side of the house, was pleasant and quaint, with a wicker table and chairs, an old water pump, and a variety of green plants.
For the tea party, my friends and their grandmother moved in a small table with three chairs. The table was covered with a lace curtain, and then set with small plates, saucers, and cups. A larger plate held peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into small triangles, and a pretty pink dish was filled with hulled black walnuts. Another bowl held slices of bananas, and a teapot contained fresh lemonade.
The sight of the table and refreshments, as well as visiting with my two best friends, was a special treat, especially on that lovely porch. The entire atmosphere made it an unforgettable occasion.
Through the years, porches have served many purposes: a shaded haven where women could pod peas or snap green beans, a gathering area for loved ones to keep up on family and community happenings, a serene place to watch children play in the yard or to take in the beauty of the trees and flowers, and a quiet spot for courting couples.
Because of their usefulness, porches have been popular across multiple cultures since some of the earliest times in civilization. In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, the peristyle was a porch that was formed by columns that often surrounded a garden. In Italy, piazzas took the place of porches. Even in Africa, most shotgun houses had porches. From the early 1880s to the mid-1920s, building porches on houses became “a way of life” in the United States.
Advantages & Styles
Back in the day, homes were often small, so porches were a common place for folks to entertain family and friends. Porches also allowed people to forge a connection with nature, because they’d often sit on the porch and observe sunsets, rainbows, and the sky, while at the same time breathing in the fresh scents of grass and hay, flowers, and approaching rain storms.
In addition, vintage heating devices, such as kerosene stoves, often emitted fumes that affected the indoor air quality in older homes, so porches provided a place to escape to an environment that was fresh and welcoming. And in summer, when houses became hot and stuffy, people would go out on the porch to cool off.
Porches also protected front doors, hardware, trim, lighting, and foyers from rain, snow, sun, and wind.
And we can’t forget how important porches were when it came to courting and relationships. Many couples got to know each other while sitting on porch swings. In fact, it’s quite likely that many of those couples got engaged, and possibly even planned their wedding, while sitting on a porch.
Not all porches were the same, though. There were several different styles, and many of them can still be seen today.
Most farmhouses featured a simple covered porch, meaning a roof of some sort covered the porch. Screened porches, in which window screens enclosed the porch, were another option for homeowners. Wrap-around porches, usually constructed on Victorian-style homes, circle the front and sides of the house, and sometimes wrap around the back as well. Rain porches have a roof that extends beyond the porch deck, and columns built from the ground up, which protects the porch from rain and other weather elements. Portico porches have a roof supported by columns over a walkway. Loggia porches, most often seen on large public buildings, and sometimes on luxurious residential properties, are covered porches that run the length of a building, with columns or arches on the open sides. Sun porches, typically enclosed with glass, offer protection from the elements, while allowing full exposure to sunlight. A stoop, a small landing at the top of stairs that’s usually covered by a roof, is also a type of porch, but one that’s more common in urban areas.
Through the years, the use and importance of porches diminished as the times and ways of life changed in the United States.
As women began working outside the home, there wasn’t as much time to spend on the porch. When televisions became popular in the 1950s, people began spending evenings in their living rooms, rather than out on their porches. In addition, as the average size of houses grew, it became more expensive to build a home with a porch.
The advent of better roads and automobiles may have also led to the demise of spending time on the porch, as exhaust fumes, noise, and heavy traffic made it less pleasing to sit out on a porch close to the road. And let’s not forget that with the telephone, neighbors and friends could talk to each other from their own homes, without having to get together physically.
Decades later, the porch again gained some popularity, and then faded again. It’s a trend that’ll probably continue to come and go, depending on the times.
Appeal & Importance
Whether popular or not, porches no doubt enhance a home. Not only do they add appeal with decorative posts, spindles, and balusters, but they’ll always be a great place to socialize, catch up on the latest news, relax, and enjoy nature’s beauty. Add some comfortable furniture and lighting, and the porch just may become your new favorite place to spend time.
Dorothy Rieke and her husband live on the farm her grandfather purchased in 1883, in southeastern Nebraska. Dorothy was a schoolteacher for more than 40 years before retiring. She enjoys writing, and her work has appeared in various publications.