Take a walk or a ride in any old Southern neighborhood with homes bordering on being a century old, if not older, and you might notice this distinctive American feature—the front porch. The history of the American home and the front porch itself can be a reflection of American life.
The front porch has become an American cultural icon, with families gathering at the end of the day to sit and rock while watching the kids play or watch the sunset after a hazy, hot Sunday afternoon. But what is it, exactly, that has made this home feature so significant? What is Porch Culture?
Both a Place and a State of Mind
The significance of the porch in the South is both a place and a state of mind.
Placed at and around the front door of a home, it's usually a covered space that serves as a transitional area protecting the front area and entry of a home from the sun and elements. It's typically wide open or screened in and can be as long as the house is wide or just roomy enough for a rocking chair.
During the mid-1800s, the well-known landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing began writing about his vision of the American home, which would allow it to stand apart from British architecture, and the porch was the key. The patio is a transitional space between the family's private world, the street's public realm, and the outside world.
Porch Culture as a state of mind embraces the concept of community, interacting with your neighbors, general friendliness, and a chance to slow down and relax in today's fast-paced, modern world. It also symbolizes the connection to nature and the land surrounding it.
Throughout history, Americans have felt a deep connection to the land and nature as we have existed as an agricultural nation for most of our country's history. Yet, as much as we idealized nature, we also conquered much of it, building towns and cities, clearing forests, and otherwise clearing land. The front porch provided, and still provides, that bridge between the two opposing American ideals.
A Southern Tradition
Many in the South say their kitchen is the heart of their home, and the porch is its soul. Porching, or porch-sitting, has been a Southern tradition for decades. It's the most relaxing part of the day for many Southerners, whether morning, afternoon, or evening. Porch-sitting is a verb, an active means to say hello to the neighbors, have lively debates and conversations, and soak up the sun or cool breeze. It's a chance to read the newspaper or a book, watch nature and sip coffee or tea.
Porch-sitting is all about reconnecting, whether it is with friends, family, each other, or your surroundings.
With the rise of technology, connecting can be more complex than ever. Pair that with long hours at work and the hustle and bustle of daily life; we often forget to take care of ourselves and each other.
When it comes to porch culture, Southerners often embrace it fully. If you're looking for peace on a busy day or a second to relax, you might also be ready to embrace your porch culture.