These days, the average family’s typical evening is spent doing one of a thousand different things, ranging from scattering across town in different directions to dispersing through the home to each person’s own unique space — walled far away and isolated from other members of their family.
In an age before air conditioning, satellite television, smartphones and endless amusement, there was one single place that served as the heartbeat of the family and home in Appalachia: The front porch.
Interestingly, when the European colonists first arrived in the New World, the concept of a front porch was largely unknown to them. This item’s history can be traced to Africa, leading many historians to conclude that the common home design of the front porch was first introduced to America by African slaves.
Offering views of a virgin wilderness, cool breezes, and a relaxing place for families to come together after a day of grueling labors, the front porch quickly became a hallmark of Appalachian homes and served as the daily evening meeting place from spring until late-fall.
In an age when homes were void of air conditioning, the front porch often proved to be a common sense escape from the sweltering summer’s heat coupled with hot cook stoves that had been busy heating the day’s evening meal.
With near universal usage each evening, the front porch gradually became the social meeting place for neighbors as well — individuals taking evening strolls would often come upon neighbors who were sitting on their front porch and soon visits would be made and conversations would begin which would often last for hours.
Though some front porches were more elaborate than others, often this bastion of family life in the mountains was little more than simple log posts supporting a tin roof which was leaned against the side of a home, but the memories made under these crude structures were timeless.
It was here that old and young would gather together daily, share ideas, learn from the other and developing bonds that would last for generations.
With entertainment at a premium and fueled by a love for melody, Appalachia’s front porches became the epicenter for music: Old world singing and gospel hymns would echo from the twilight as families would harmonize in the early years of America’s front porches and it was on these same structures that many of the genres we know and love today were first born; including bluegrass, country and southern gospel.
In an age when funeral homes were unheard of and wakes were held at homes, the crowd of mourners would often spill out onto the front porch and into the yard.
To put it simply, the front porch of Appalachia was the place where life happened.
Perhaps no words better encapsulate what the Appalachian front porch meant to the people of yesteryear quite as well as Trace Lawrence 1994 hit, “If the World Had a Front Porch”
It was where my mama sat on that
Old swing with her crochet
It was where Grand Daddy taught me
How to curse and how to pray
It was where we made our own ice cream
Those sultry summer nights
Where the bulldog had her puppies
And us brothers had our fights
There were many nights I’d sit right there
And look out at the stars
To the sound of a distant whippoorwill
Or the hum of a passin’ car
It was where I first got up the nerve
To steal me my first kiss
And it was where I learned to play guitar
And pray I had the gift…
Purple hulls and pintos
I’ve shelled more than my share
As lightnin’ bugs and crickets
Danced in the evenin’ air
And like a beacon that old yellow bulb
It always led me home
Somehow Mama always knew
Just when to leave it on
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