Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

From our swings or rocking chairs, or from the steps of our front porches, we have witnessed joys and misery, and we have watched the world change before our very eyes. Originating as a place to catch a cool breeze and to escape the stifling indoor summer heat, it has served to give us both a glimpse of the world just outside and reassurance of the security just inside.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

The front porch as we know it is unique to our country. Porches were part of ancient Greek and Roman architecture in the form of loggias that served to provide shade just outside the main structures, but weren’t prevalent elsewhere in Europe.  Hence, the first North American immigrants didn’t use the porch as an architectural feature.

Porches made their appearance sometime later on Greek revival homes, mostly for show, but often included an upstairs “sitting porch.” And, the first “shotgun” houses built by the slaves, largely from West Africa, almost universally included porches. Although European and African influenced, the porch is truly an American trend.

The iconic front porch was once a necessity and is now often a luxury, but is still a Southern staple. Porches, while found all over the country, are more widespread in the South because of the climatic effect of providing shade and coolness in the extreme heat, and today’s versions often feature ceiling fans for added comfort.

Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

They are a calming spot to sip coffee in the morning, or iced tea or “martinis” in the afternoon, with neighbors or alone. They are a place to sit and watch folks walking their dogs or kids playing soccer. They are a place to read the newspaper or a good book. They are a place to sit and contemplate or a place simply to sit.

Music is played regularly on the porches of the South, especially in New Orleans, where likely many great Jazz songs were composed on the porches of the legendary shotgun houses.

Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

Likewise, Southern porches have played a vital role in Literature, from Scarlett O’Hara’s fickle flirtations on the grand veranda of Tara, to the lessons learned by Scout from her wise father Atticus while sitting on their humble front porch in Maycomb, Alabama.

War and injustice may have swarmed all around them, but there was a reassuring sense of well-being to be had on those outdoor extensions of home.

Air conditioning, automobiles, electronics and backyard decks and patios are at the heart of the porch trend experiencing a decline in many areas. But with a recent focus on new urbanism and the reinstatement of traditional neighborhoods and sidewalks, front porches are being resurrected.

Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

While people enjoy the privacy of barbequing and entertaining on their back patio, there’s still something uniquely reassuring about sitting quietly on one’s porch swing but still being somewhat attached to the outside world.

That longing to connect may be at the root of our continued fascination with and gravitation to the front porch. Whether sitting on a folding chair on a carport, or on a pillow covered swing on a raised porch, we want to experience our neighbor’s unconscious singing as he mows the lawn, hear the joy of children playing or see someone walking a dog. It makes us feel safe and allows us to quietly participate with the rest of humanity.

Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
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12 thoughts on “From the Porch by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

  1. Lisa Davis

    Wonderful, Deborah. Your piece has evoked memories of so many porches in my life and the significance of each. I will have to ponder this for a while.

  2. Maggie Watkins

    Okay, here’s a story. When I was a very young and adventurous child of probably 5 years old, I spent most of my time outside exploring and collecting. One summer day I became fascinated with the tadpoles in our garden pond, so I began to collect them in a large glass jar. I worked diligently to fill the jar with innumerable swimming tadpoles. I could not wait for my Mama to see them. I lugged them over to our side porch to show them off to her. As I got to the top step the wet jar slipped out of my small hands onto the cement floor and the porch became a squiggly mess. I ran into the house crying to my Mama. She spent the rest of her day working to catch the tadpoles again and returning them to the garden pond. I don’t remember, but I hope I helped her. Later we sat in the porch swing and talked about the life-cycle of tadpoles, as well as many other fascinating subjects.

    1. Great story Maggie! Thanks all you McComb friends for taking the time to read some of PorchScene, and for adding to the fun. All of your comments make me want to make a trip down there, and you’re right Mac, Louisiana Avenue does have wonderful porches!

      1. Maggie Watkins

        Thanks, Deborah! This is fun! You guys at PorchScene have created a great way to share memories. Thanks to you for your creativity. I would like to make a trip back one day, but memories will suffice for now.

  3. Bob hooker

    When I was a kid I went to sleep every night
    On the porch screened in no a/c in Baird
    Ms 5 miles from the big city of Moorhead

  4. John Wicklund

    The comments of Watkins at Dixie Springs and Gordon in McComb ring a familiar bell. I was raised in McComb. Our porch was the width of the house and had ancient wicker furniture and a swing. No better place to sit and chat with passerbys and end the day.

    1. Mac Gordon

      John, when was your family in McComb? Have you been back lately? Mac

    2. Maggie Watkins

      That sounds just like my house in Summit where my front porch faced highway 51. I have very fond memories of playing, swinging and chatting on that porch. We actually had four porches, each one brings up many sweet and funny memories.
      Good to hear from you.

  5. Maggie Watkins

    Your article and photos brought back some of my favorite memories from growing up on Lake Dixie Springs and in Summit, Mississippi. Times now on our porches at home in Monroe, Georgia are some of my most treasured.
    Deborah, thanks for your beautiful work in telling our stories of the South.

  6. Phyllis H. King

    I sold my house on Jackson Avenue with the big front porch and I really miss it, particularly on cool evenings or mornings!! I love the photos and this article by Deborah!!

  7. Mac Gordon

    Some of the best front porches in America are on Louisiana Avenue in McComb and throughout the Camellia City of America. Nice touch, Deborah.

  8. David Martin

    As a young boy in Gadsden, Alabama, during the 1940’s we were privileged to sit, play, eat, talk, live, fight (4 boys, what do you expect) and just grew up on “The Front Porch”. Sweetest memories and life’s lessons that I will cherish to my last days. You said it; as I knew the porch. Keep up the good work, your student Dave Martin Nashville

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