Remember when the front porch was a gathering spot for friends and neighbors during warm summer days? It was a place to relax, sip a cold beverage, watch the kids play, and share details of the day. The front porch offered community bonding and a place to reconnect with the things most important in life.
The uniquely American front porch became an important status symbol beginning in the 1840’s when the leisure class grew, due to the advances of technology and industrialization. By the 1900’s the front porch became a universal architectural feature of the American home.
The desire to be outside but still sheltered by the home, led people to use their porches as a place to be seen. The front porch acted as an outdoor living room where a family could retire after a long day. Besides bringing a sense of community and neighborliness, the front porch helped to prevent crime and gave sitters a little cool reprieve from a hot summer day. The ultimate lounging accessory was a swing, suspended by chains at one end of the porch.
Technology all but erased the front porch by the 1950’s. While the back porch was more private, it also included things the family wanted to avoid—the vegetable gardens, trash heaps, and outhouses. The installation of municipal sanitary sewers led to the decline of outhouses which allowed homeowners to move their front porch living space to a more secluded backyard or side yard retreat.
As radio and television became more popular, a family’s evening entertainment moved indoors, leaving them to abandon their outdoor sanctuaries.
Automobiles contributed to front porch decline in two ways. As cars became more popular so did their exhaust fumes and noise, making leisurely porch sitting annoying. Cars also allowed families to seek entertainment outside of the neighborhood leaving vacant front porches.
With the introduction of air conditioning there was no need to stay cool on your front porch and activities, once again, moved indoors.
Americans became more individualistic and less community oriented leading to the elimination of the front porch. As lives became busier and more hectic, finding time to just sit, relax and enjoy the world going by became a dream of the past.
Today, the front porch, an American architectural phenomenon, is making a comeback as people are searching for ways to connect to friends, family, neighbors and community. How many of the world problems could be solved if we all did a little more porch sitting?
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