The Beauty and Tradition of "The Front Porch"
Cool and Friendly Porches Offer the Best Seats in the House
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Porches remained popular through the latter 20th century as evidenced by photo, taken in 1968.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
For many Southerners, their “front rooms” are places for end-of-the-day discussion, those stolen first kisses and the memories of days gone by. In Tallahassee, the tradition continues in many neighborhoods. Nobody, it seems, wants to get out of the swing and go indoors. The bits of conversation one hears on a front porch are undoubtedly repeated across the South; everything from religion to politics to grandchildren is fair game for a front-porch conversation.
On a recent weekend, beautiful weather offered the perfect opportunity to enjoy a few serene moments on the porch. For many, this brought back a variety of nostalgic thoughts — vignettes of summer in the South.
“Relaxing on the porch is really a Southern thing,” says Pete Piper, owner of Olsten Services. “My grandmother in Pennsylvania had a large front porch, but no one sat on it. On the other hand, my other grandmother’s porch in Virginia was where the family congregated before dinner each night. It was nice and cool. Everyone would relax and cool off from the day before going in to eat.
“That porch was the center of activity for the neighborhood,” Piper says fondly. “It was screened in, with a rocking chair, a glider and an old sofa. I remember the best feeling was to snuggle up with a book on that old sofa.”
That front porch held a special place in the hearts of both young and old, says Piper.
“The porch was the home base for us as kids,’’ he says. “You might decide to go swimming or play tennis, but you would always meet back on the porch.
“All of the kids in the neighborhood would congregate on the front porch and drink iced tea,” he says. He laughs and adds, “And you didn’t dare do anything wrong while on the porch, because our parents or neighbors could hear or see you. However, you could plot and plan things on the porch!”
For the adults, he says, the porch was also a social place.
“Our porch was the place for the family and friends to congregate and talk. You could have friends over, but you didn’t have to fluff the pillows or clean the room before anyone sat down. It was just comfortable.”
The traditional Southern front porch first gained great popularity in America during the mid-19th century. Andrew Jackson Downing, a noted architect of the time, seized upon the idea of the British verandah and transplanted it to the United States. Many old farmhouses were “updated” to include porches, and almost every new home was built with a porch.
The Southern porch serves a number of purposes — emotional, functional and social. As Kevin McGorty, the director of the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, says, “Porches are both aesthetic and practical. They provide a cool breeze to help in the hot, humid weather of Southern summers.
“Hunting-plantation owners and tenants alike used the porch to cool off in the summer.”
McGorty notes three beautiful examples of porch architecture in Tallahassee: the Brokaw-McDougall House on North Meridian, the E.L. White House on North Monroe Street and the Knott House on East Park Avenue, where General McCook read the Emancipation Proclamation to the citizens in the Tallahassee area. Although most porch events are not quite as earth-shattering, today’s porches are still vital parts of Tallahasseeans’ lives.
“Porches are an extension of the living area — it’s like moving from inside to outside. Porches expand the house,” McGorty says. “They’re also very social. They let people see what their neighbors are doing!”