Say what you want about Victorian houses, but you must admit they have great front porches. The uniquely American concept of a front porch developed and evolved over time and peaked in popularity during the Victorian era and the Arts and Crafts movement. A front porch in those times was much more than just a covered entryway or stoop, barely big enough to shelter you from the rain while you are opening the door with arms full of groceries. No, a turn-of-the-century porch was intended to be an outdoor room, a welcoming extension of your home towards the public sphere of the street, neighborhood, and the rest of society. A well-designed front porch is a cozy, comfortable space in which to relax, enjoy good weather, and greet passing neighbors. In Victorian times, before air-conditioning, it was also a place of escape from overheated, confining interiors during the hottest days of summer. "The heyday of the front porch lasted from the early 1880s to the middle 1920s. Families added front porches to their homes or built new houses with elaborate porches. The porch became the comfortable spot for a summer evening where the whole family could relax after dinner. Neighbors taking an evening stroll could engage in conversation or be invited up," writes Sharon Ferraro in an article titled "The History of the Uniquely American Front Porch."
There are some perfect examples of grand and impressive Victorian front porches in our neighborhood -- one particularly stunning house on Alabama Street boasts a large, two-story wrap around porch (and a turret tower! It's like the dream house of my childhood!). My mother grew up in a pre-war suburb of Chicago in a house with a front porch that wrapped around three sides. She can remember many occasions when almost the entire neighborhood gathered on that porch. Our front porch is relatively small for a Victorian house, but large enough to comfortably fit our family and a few guests.
But really, a porch party with your neighbors doesn't depend on the size of your front porch. City Gallery recently held another annual city-wide porch party initiative, so we invited some neighbors and friends over for an outdoor gathering on July 12th. We didn't all fit on the front porch, but it wasn't a problem. There were 17 kids present, and in between ice pops and drinks of water, they were running around the whole time. They had lots of fun just chasing lightning bugs, playing soccer, and trying to climb trees. It was a refreshing dose of neighborliness and community. Giving and receiving hospitality, getting to know our neighbors, connecting people to each other, and building community helps to remind us of our commonality and interdependence as human beings. This reminder of what we share and how we are connected is incredibly powerful in a world increasingly split by divisiveness, fear and isolation.
Tiffany Benedict Berkson, a Herron-Morton resident and blogger at Historic Indianapolis, wrote about the historic tradition of Indianapolis porch parties after last year's city-wide initiative in July. Like her, I am thankful for City Gallery reviving a lovely and inspiring tradition of the past (and making it hip again!). I love this sentiment from the end of her article: "Imagine if you took the opportunity, every so often, of casually convening with your neighbors. What if that was the 'norm' again? What would your neighborhood, family and life feel like? It speaks to my heart: leaving your corner of the world better than you found it."