The Ubiquitous American Porch
13 artifacts in this set
By 1900, the time of this photograph, many house plans included a front porch. Large wraparound porches, or more modest ones like this one, often became a prime location to photograph family and friends. People would proudly dress in their best clothes and show off their material possessions--which might include the bicycle shown here and even the house itself!
Porches enclosed by shrubbery not only provided shade and close contact with nature, but they also offered privacy. All of these functions might have come into play in this 1903 photograph, when naturalist John Burroughs (right) hosted President Theodore Roosevelt and his wife, Edith, at Slabsides--Burroughs' rural retreat in upstate New York.
Mackinac Island, located between Michigan's lower and upper peninsulas, began attracting wealthy tourists when it became a national park in 1875. The Grand Hotel opened in 1887--a joint venture between two railroad companies and a steamship company. The expansive front porch--deemed the "longest in the world"--became a place to relax and stroll, to see and be seen.
Old Faithful Inn, which opened 1904 in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, looked radically different from eastern resorts like Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel. A rustic, Western-style log structure, it still promised guests all the luxuries of an eastern resort. The porch facilitated the same activities as those as eastern resorts--relaxing, socializing, and people-watching.
Rocking chairs--considered unacceptable inside a fancy home’s formal rooms during the late 19th century--were embraced as the chairs of choice for the porch. This rustic twig-and-branch rocking chair may not have been very comfortable, but it certainly would have made a statement on the porch or gazebo of Cornelius Vanderbilt's grand mansion on Staten Island, New York.
The proprietors of country stores like this one likely intended their front porch to be a way of drawing customers to their merchandise. But, they inevitably became informal gathering places for members of the local community. This circa 1915 photograph also shows the interesting appearance of both automobile and horse-drawn carriage--two vehicles that vied for popularity at the time.
In 1913, naturalist John Burroughs purchased this cabin near his birthplace in Roxbury, New York, and named it Woodchuck Lodge. He used it as a summer retreat, enjoying the natural surroundings as subjects for his creative works. He turned the front porch into a living and work space, as shown in this 1919 photograph. He even slept here!
Henry Ford purchased vast amounts of land around present-day Richmond Hill, Georgia, beginning in the 1920s. But some privately owned parcels remained, including this country store/Conoco gas station that served local residents. A closer look at this traditional shotgun-style structure reveals a prominent front porch, for escaping the stifling summer air inside and attracting informal gatherings by local community members.
The boys here are sitting on the front porch of the Tau Beta Community House in Hamtramck, Michigan. Built in 1928, this settlement house was created to "Americanize" Polish immigrants working at the Dodge Main automobile plant. It offered a day nursery, clinic, library, and gymnasium, and it served as a model for other settlement houses at the time.
Helen and Leon Gardner's Daughters, Barbara and Esther, at Their Home on Harding Avenue, Detroit, Michigan, 1925
The children in this 1925 photograph are on the spacious front porch of a bungalow located on Harding Avenue in Detroit. The bungalow was the antithesis of the Victorian home, which by this time was considered overly fussy and formal. The front porch was a standard feature of bungalows--considered important for enhancing family togetherness, comfort, informality, and neighborliness.
In 1927, cousins Edwin Shoemaker and Edward Knabush became partners in a furniture-making business in Monroe, Michigan. Their breakthrough product was this reclining porch chair. When they held a contest to name these chairs, "La-Z-Boy" won. Shoemaker and Knabush went on to produce all manner of upholstered recliners for the new, informal room of the house--the living room!
As inexpensive snapshots became popular with lighter, easier-to-use cameras, the possibilities became endless for snapping quick, informal pictures of family members and friends. Shots taken on front porches became more popular than ever, especially for photographing people before a special occasion, as in this circa 1930 snapshot.
Lore Mac Cabins Proprietors' Daughter on Back Porch of Their Residence, Brooklyn, Michigan, circa 1945
In this circa 1945 snapshot, taken on the porch of the proprietors' home at Lore Mac Cabins, Brooklyn, Michigan, the proprietors' daughter clearly did not intend or want to have her picture taken. Automobiles, which brought customers to tourist cabins like these, were in fact one of the factors that led to the demise of porches during the mid-20th century.