It’s not clear how the front porch entered the landscape of the American South. Some historians point to the porches of West African homes, and to the possibility that the porch may have been imported by African slaves. Others point to the porticos and the piazzas of ancient Greece and Rome, and to the idea that as classical ideals became popular in architecture, the portico and piazza were merely adapted in a uniquely American way. However the porch made its way into the integral architecture of the South, it’s obvious why it quickly became a cultural mainstay: the climate.
The hot and muggy conditions of the South, especially during the summer months, almost always made the outdoors more comfortable than a home’s interior. Porches provided shade and places from which one might hope to catch a cool breeze. During the other nine months of the year, when the climate is more temperate, porches offered places for the middle and upper classes to spend their leisure time either swaying on a swing, reading, or sewing.
Porches may have been used to socialize with neighbors, but only on a limited scale. In the pre-war Antebellum years, few cities existed in the South. Small farms and plantations dominated the landscape, so connecting with the larger community was not always possible.
Connecting with nature though, was feasible for Southerners of the day—and fashionable. By the mid 1800s, writers and artists promoted the awe and majesty of nature as a reaction to technological advances. It’s safe to say that for wealthy, aristocratic Southern families, a stately front porch was yet another status symbol, meant to impress anyone who might catch a view of it. Some families also may have hoped to give the impression that they appreciated and valued the natural surroundings, as well. Regardless of the desire for good impressions, these families—like Southern families of all means—likely succumbed to the summer’s unbearable heat and humidity, escaping to their front porches in the hope of seizing any light breeze that might come along.