Vintage views:  The Coveted Front Porch

Published: 06-10-2023 10:00 AM

As the sun rose over the city of Concord, a young Victorian couple enjoyed morning tea with a light breakfast. They would rise early each morning during the summer months every day of the week, prepare their meal and quickly retreat to their east facing grand front porch. It was together each morning that they welcomed a new day with plenty of sunshine for the bright future they would spend together.

The front porch has become an important part of our past here in Concord as well as across our great nation. The earliest homes in Concord that were occupied by colonists provided just the basic necessities for the inhabitants. Our ancestors were very appreciative of their dwellings where they found protection from the harsh New Hampshire winters, the warmth of the fire in the hearth, and a feeling of unity as they enjoyed each and every hard-earned meal. The early Concord inhabitants were long on practicality but certainly short on elegance when it came to their dwellings. This changed as Concord settled and people prospered, an affordable addition to their homes could provide comfort, protection, serenity and certainly entertainment. The front porch had arrived.

The word porch comes from the Greek word portico. It is defined as a roof with classic columns. Our porches here in Concord were simply viewed as covered entrances to a building, with many immigrants bringing their own thoughts of porch designs with them from across the ocean. Designers of porches during the Victorian era found great pleasure with their designs, each architect upscaling the next architect by providing more and more intricate enhancements. The Victorian era was the perfect time for this upscaled approach to porches because the settlers had now been long settled on the streets of Concord, jobs were available and some wealth secured. The material was readily available and tools were far developed to assist the skilled craftsmen with construction. This era arrived when horse and carriages were still traveling about the streets of our town and neighbors would walk the sidewalks obliging people spending time on their front porches. Our ancestors viewed the front porch as a place to dine, read, socialize, sleep on hot summer evenings and certainly entertain themselves. When families gathered each Sunday night for dinner, the children would be relegated to the porches for play and did not remain underfoot in the dining room. People were very interested in spending time between their homes and the sidewalk.

As the years progressed many designs were developed and welcomed by our ancestors. There are porches that are simply works of art and very ornate, making a statement for the affluent of their time perhaps. Other porches were simply practical and functional, screened in to defy spring insects while allowing the evening air to pass. There was even a porch affectionately named a Dog Trot Porch. This porch is uniquely American and is named in honor of the family dog that would trot back and forth on the front porch. The design was basically a breezeway that separated two portions of the house. The homeowners would leave the doors open on each end of the porch to promote ventilation during the summer. The Dog Trot Porch was a wonderful area to cook, provide care for your children or do homework. These porch areas provided man’s best friend with the opportunity to travel unleashed in a large circular motion in one door through the house and out the other door back onto the front porch. I’m sure many a floor was marked by the family dog out for his trot each and every day.

As the 19th century arrived it provided even grander homes in the form of Queen Anne, Eastlake and Italianate designs where the front porch remained very popular. Many local front porches could be found to contain rocking chairs, gliders, hammocks and wicker furniture. Lattice work, bric-a-brac and railings were being added in addition to the original columns of the day. There was much contrast from house to house, each taking on a unique beauty we see to this very day within our quaint city of Concord.

When the 20th century arrived, there was a marked decline in front porches being added to new home construction. The common bungalow style was one of the last homes constructed in mass that provided a very nice front porch running the entire length of the house. Some of the last porches constructed in the 20th century had unique porches facing the back yards commonly used for sleeping. The decline in grand porches did continue as the 20th century unfolded. The automobile had arrived and porches simply were not being built, some even removed to provide parking for the new family automobile. Henry Ford produced many cars and the inhabitants of Concord wanted their share. The weekends were for picnics and Sunday drives to the mountains, people wanted to get away from the city and enjoy the fresh air now so readily available in the White Mountains. The automobile pollution, especially on a front porch facing the street was not desirable. Our ancestors retreated to the inside of their homes when they were not traveling, as the 1960’s arrived the new forms of entertainment were in great demand. The television kept every person in the household mesmerized and inside, new gadgets were paramount to the old ways.

Sometimes the past returns to us when we least expect it. During our generation we find the return of the front porch, back yard patios and poolside retreats. We feel the calling of our ancestors and embrace our innermost feelings for relaxation and simple entertainment. The old has become new once again, with sunrise porches facing east we find couples greeting each morning together, relishing the many opportunities in a future we hope will be bright. I personally prefer the west facing porches where I can sit in my rocking chair with my wife each evening when the sun does set, as my ancestors did so many years ago.


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