In Praise of the Porch

The Brick Store in Bath illustrates the power of the porch for business.

The Brick Store in Bath illustrates the power of the porch for business.

That first whiff of summer air lures most of us outside. We roll down car windows, pry up our house windows, and wipe off the lawn chairs. Invitations to BBQs appear in our inboxes and neighbors linger longer at the dump, now that it’s warm enough to do more than wave hello. We start looking for ways to spend our time outside, or in the most liminal of spaces: the porch. 

In New Hampshire, porches – or what we now call porches – grew in popularity with the availability of leisure time. It also helped that pattern books by A.J. Downing and others espoused the idea that porches epitomized domesticity and identified entranceways for strangers.  Austere Georgian, Federal, and sometimes Greek Revival houses grew Italianate or Victorian porches by the turn of the twentieth century. Just in case people struggled to locate the front door on a porch-less five bay house, the porch now made it easier.

If we all had porches like this, there’d be no need for a house. Rand House, Canaan Village. Courtesy Canaan Historical Society.

If we all had porches like this, there’d be no need for a house. Rand House, Canaan Village. Courtesy Canaan Historical Society.

In almost any neighborhood, we can name favorite porches: the one with split granite columns; the Connecticut River Valley porch, tucked into a gable end; that one with exuberant spindlework; the two-story Greek Revival portico; the Colonial Revival triple decker in Manchester.

The former Amos Shepard Bed and Breakfast in Alstead Center boasts an enormous porch.

The former Amos Shepard Bed and Breakfast in Alstead Center boasts an enormous porch.

These porch neighborhoods appear instantly welcoming. Maybe because of the porch, we spend more time outside the house. That compels us to garden more, or to plant shade trees, or to watch children play. In a society that seems increasingly inward-looking or anti-social, porches encourage us to interact with neighbors and pedestrians. When not filled with firewood or bikes or the perennially free sofa, porches are designed for card games and impromptu entertainment. They are perfect for people watching, beer drinking, thunderstorm listening, rocking, and – when not screened-in – bug biting.

And of course, porches are not just good for us social creatures. Some were designed to be salubrious additions to our state’s grand hotels and sanatoriums. The New Hampshire State Sanatorium at Glencliff (in Benton) opened in 1909 to aid in healing tuberculosis patients. Its complex of Neoclassical buildings boasted enormous porches – or piazzas or verandas – that opened right onto the wards’ beds. The White Mountain air was also thought to be a panacea for hay fever and urban ailments, which explains why our former grand hotels included grand porches.

This summer, consider the power of the porch. Maybe clean it off and paint it, but definitely spend time on it.   

Need more than just cleaning and painting? Check our old house resources here, and Directory of Preservation Products and Services.