Porch envy

I have porch envy. It’s not on a par with my garage envy, and doesn’t come close to my boathouse envy, but it is real.

Mark_Twain,_New_Hampshire,_1905

Mark Twain sits on a porch in New Hampshire in 1905

For someone with porch envy, Southeast Florida is an OK place to live, because front porches are few and far between down there. In short, there is not much to be envious about.

Drop me practically anywhere else in the country, however, and my head spins at all the gloriously welcoming front porches to be seen. Color me green.

My porch envy is usually strong enough that I can hardly drive through the older sections of a town without turning my head this way and that as I ogle the offerings. I have actually been honked at for driving too slowly. And if I don’t get a good enough look the first time I’ll swing around the block again.

I’ve been known to park the car and take a walk if I see a whole block of old houses with their porches, not one of them the same, all proudly lined up along the sidewalk.

I’m not talking about a bit of a stoop, or a platform outside a door that’s barely big enough to hold a welcome mat.

My family lived in this nicely porched house on Main Street in Harvey, IL, from the 1940's into the 1950's.

My family lived in this nicely porched house on Main Street in Harvey, IL, from the 1940’s into the 1950’s. (Photo by Roger Haines)

I’m talking about a grand space, the width of the house, better if wrapped around a corner, covered with a roof and big enough to hold a few rockers, maybe a couch and even a swing.

It’s a sturdy, roomy transition from inside to outside, and just close enough to the sidewalk that you can chat with passersby and they can feel it’s OK to maybe slow down and visit, or maybe even sit down for a spell.

And the best ones are at a slightly higher elevation than the street, where the view from a rocking chair is better and the cars and other vehicles look less menacing.

In short, the kind of porch that stupidly went out of fashion for a while in the US.   Can you believe it?

Yes, beginning in the 1840’s, the good old fashioned American porch reigned supreme for 100 years. They were a respite from the heat of the inside of the house, a safe social bridge or shared space between outside and inside for family, friends and acquaintances and a link to nature. Architects of the day loved them. They were the TV room or family room of the time. A link between the private inside and the public outside, they played a huge role in community building, offering neighbors a good opportunity to see and be seen and get to know one another.

But after World War II the porch went out of fashion. We simply stopped building them.

In the mid-1950's my family moved to this post-war home near Kankakee, IL. Note the postage-stamp from stoop, There was a patio at the back of the house.

In the mid-1950’s my family moved to this post-war home near Kankakee, IL. Note the postage-stamp front stoop, There was a patio at the back of the house.

The wide, welcoming platform that was our link between the outside world and the inside world had no place in architecture anymore. Automobiles and suburbanization took hold. People rarely walked anymore. There weren’t even sidewalks in some areas. Air conditioning and television pulled folks inside and kept them there. Those who wanted outdoor spaces settled for ‘patios,’ nearly always at the back of the house.

Many of our postwar houses even allowed us to drive into the garage and go into the house without even using the front door. By and large we stopped getting to know our neighbors. Yes, we waved maybe, chatted over the fence perhaps and in some instances took it further, but that handy outdoor space, the porch, where we could invite someone you might not know all that well to come sit without actually inviting them inside, was gone.  That was an important social lubricant. Having a porch meant you could invite someone to come sit without feeling you’ve been too forward, as bringing them inside might appear, and the other person, in the same fashion, could feel more comfortable in that outdoor space than they might feel inside the house.

Along about the 1980’s, fortunately, things began to change. We began to realize just how important those front porches were to our society and they started sprouting up here and there. The idea of building walkable cities sprang up too. The New Urbanism movement in architecture favored porches and some new, planned communities, Seaside, Florida, for one, actually required them.

in 2012 I rented this house at Coventry Lake in Connecticut. That was a great porch. It was within speaking distance of the one-lane road in front of it and one could look over the tops of the houses across the street and see the lake view. I lived there when I was reconstructing my Mississippi River trip and it was a great place to work.

in 2012 I rented this house at Coventry Lake in Connecticut. That was a great porch. It was within speaking distance of the one-lane road in front of it and one could look over the tops of the houses across the street and see the lake view. I lived there when I was reconstructing my Mississippi River trip and it was a great place to work.

I am happy to see porches making a comeback. Census data show that nearly two-thirds of new homes built in 2011 had porches, an upward trend that’s been going on since the early ‘90’s.

Meanwhile, I will continue roaming through towns large and small, eying the porches they offer.

When I see a really good one, this thought is always at the forefront:  “I’d like to sit there one afternoon.”

Below are some of the nicer ones I’ve encountered.

Denison, IA Hamilton, OH Hamilton, OH Belpre, OH Oakland, MD Denison, IAIMG_0474c IMG_0478c IMG_0572c IMG_4123c IMG_4384c IMG_4431c IMG_0477c

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About Ron Haines

Find me at https://ronhaines.wordpress.com/
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6 Responses to Porch envy

  1. Peggy Peterson says:

    Re: Porch Envy Grandpa and Grandma Norton’s (and later, yours) at 14825 Main St. was a wonderful one, wasn’t it? I remember green wicker rockers out there, and maybe roll-down reed (?) sun screens. Not sure about those, but the rockers, for sure. And that big old tree out front that looked great for climbing. I doubt that I climbed it, though, being a dainty girl and all!
    Scott and Sarah have a wonderful front porch near Pittsburgh, that you’d love as they do. It’s their summer outdoor living space where they have a little seclusion but can keep an eye on neighborhood doings. I’ll try to find and send a picture.
    Oh, couldn’t see your porch pictures…

    Like

  2. Peggy Peterson says:

    Oh, now I see them!

    Like

  3. becky (and carlos) garcia says:

    great description of porch envy Ron, a condition I suffer from as well. wonderful photos too of some great examples.

    Like

  4. Roger Haines says:

    Fun piece, Ron. Thanks for sharing your research and photos.
    I was too young to remember the Main Street front porch, so I’ve grown up “porchless.” And thus share your serious case of porch envy. Sigh.
    Couldn’t agree more! And yes, here in north Florida, the houses in post-1990 developments/ neighborhoods feature front porches more often than not.
    Ours (built in late-1980s) has a nice back “porch” (screened), but we’d trade it in a heartbeat for a front wrap-around porch!

    Like

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