Tim Barber House & Home | Blog | A History of Porches | Tim’s Tribute to Porches When I was very young, our large back porch was center of the kid galaxy: a stage for our theatricals, the...

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A History of Porches

Tim’s Tribute to Porches

When I was very young, our large back porch was center of the kid galaxy: a stage for our theatricals, the fun house in our carnivals and the gallery for our volleyball matches. Later, in our hilltop Victorian, our screened-in, wrap-around front porch hosted dinner parties, euchre games and sleep-overs. I loved watching dark summer storms roll in, braving the thunderclaps and lightning bolts from my safe haven.

Most of us have cherished porch memories. Porches have become synonymous with American culture, whether we live in an urban townhouse, a country home, or a suburban bungalow. But how did the porch become such a significant cultural, social and structural space for Americans?

A History of Porches  (Photo credits: Courtesy of Karyn Millet Photography)

The Origin of the Porch

 The word porch comes from the Greek word “Portico”, the columned entry to a temple. Later, the term porch was used for a cathedral vestibule or shaded outdoor public space. The American version of the house porch may have its roots in the shotgun houses of West Africa. Some of the first porches were built by African immigrants and quickly became popular in the South. Soon, many of the warmer areas of the Americas added the porch to their local building styles. 

The Industrial Revolution and the Popularization of the Porch

During the Industrial Revolution of the 1840s and 50s, many Americans found both the time and money to enjoy leisure activities. Simultaneously, Americans were experiencing a renewed love for Nature, due in large part to writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. With a new commitment to fresh air and a reinvigorated interest in Nature, Americans embraced the idea of civilized outdoor living.

The porch became a bridge—the space to celebrate arrivals and departures, a transition from public and private spaces, an outdoor escape and a versatile shelter against the elements. It also became a unique communal space for fostering neighborliness (with boundaries).

While its popularity may have waned since the 1950s, oftentimes, the porch is the place where we kick back after a hard day of work and gather with good friends and a pitcher of iced tea. 

 Porch & Sweet Tea Recipe Card

We at TBH&H believe porches are a practical, wonderful part of our house plans. Just envision yourself on Potter’s wraparound front porch - or on Bennett’s wide verandas - or Holly’s intimate rear terrace.

Ever wondered why porches, especially in the South, have blue ceilings?

Porches often have blue or blue-green ceilings. Many Southerners believe a color called Haint Blue keeps spirits or “Haints” at bay.

Others believe a blue porch ceiling extends the blue of the sky to trick wasps and insects to build their nests elsewhere. 

For additional information about the origin of the porch, don’t miss these great articles: