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Photo courtesy Dawn Olsen

Good news for those of us who love old traditions. A beloved early Indianapolis ritual has returned–drum roll please:     the porch party.

A quick and brief backgrounder on the front porch, in case you were wondering:

From about the mid- 1800’s, porches became a more prevalent architectural element on homes. In the few decades following, the popularity and use of porches continued to grow. Socially, porches became a prime gathering place, and became seen as almost an extension of the home’s interior. As you might guess, those were the days before the invention–and noise, smell and accidents– of the automobile.

While the introduction of the car to day-to-day life allowed for greater freedom of mobility, it also diminished the opportunity for human interaction–especially between neighbors.

By the 1930’s, it was clear that cars were here to stay, and porches began to fall out of favor. By the time the 1950’s rolled around, you’d be hard-pressed to find many popular architectural designs that included anything remotely resembling a porch! The era of putting the car, and it’s attached garage, front and center, had arrived.

Gone were the days where every “society” section of a paper would be filled with the elaborate or simple porch parties of the city’s citizens. No longer would a typical Sunday article read:

“Indianapolis people are living on their porches more than ever this summer, and they are finding out how pleasant such living can be made. This fact is made evident by the manner in which porches have been furnished this year. Many of them, in fact the majority, have as nice furniture as the house rooms. Pretty rugs are seen in at least half of the verandas and the green willow furniture that prevails is of the same grade that is to be found in many living rooms.” (Indianapolis Star, July 5, 1903)

This year–yesterday, to be specific–a city-wide porch party initiative was launched. Our friends over at City Gallery have re-introduced porch parties to the modern era– first through their July show–and also by example, of hosting visitors. City Gallery invited everyone with a porch to host their own porch party, and to spend time with neighbors: people you live your life mere yards–or sometimes, inches–from, in your day to day life.

Porch party of my neighbor, Jeanne, who I hadn’t run into in at least 6 months. We live all of 15 or so yards apart from each other. (Photo: TBB)

Indianapolis, like many other cities, is suffering from the human disconnection felt, at least, since the decline of the porch. Starting with one day, people all over the city hosted neighbors, friends, and passers-by at porch parties.

The idea of porch parties, incidentally, was the subject of an Indianapolis Star contest in their first year of operation, where people submitted ideas for themed porch parties.

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Always keen to play hostesses, my friend, Jennifer and I opted to be “different,” and hold a morning porch party–freeing us up to attend other Herron-Morton Place porch parties in the afternoon.

Jennifer’s children helped make decorations, and contributed a bubble making machine to the morning’s ambience. She made coffee and tea. I picked up three dozen doughnuts at Long’s Bakery. We each invited a few friends and neighbors, but agreed we’d invite any passers-by to join also. I went so far as posting a couple of the photos (seen here) on HI’s instagram, inviting those who follow us there to stop by. Sadly, no one took us up on it.

Highlights of the day included: watching the little girl next door excitedly “catch” bubbles; chatting with rarely seen or previously unknown neighbors; and seeing how far the chocolate icing of one doughnut can go across a little face.

Bubbles really ARE entertaining. (photo: TBB)

Turns out our morning porch party idea was not so “different” after all.

From another 1903 article: “For invitational parties, the morning porch party is favored. The guests are in better spirits early in the day, before old Sol has had time to get in his work, and the freshness of the morning tends to woo happiness, so that the morning party visitors generally have a good time. It is of course, much more pleasant out doors. Seldom is there any attempt at decoration. Sometimes though, the hostess will hand wall pockets filled with flowers on  her porch and arrange palms and vases of flowers on the railing…”

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No guest book, but a small reminder of a fun morning in the neighborhood… (Decorated by Josie)

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.

If you have another idea to help revive an old tradition that could help heal the isolation so many people suffer, please share your thoughts below.

And let us know, did you attend a porch party or host one?

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P.S. Loved how one 1903 article described the mayor’s porch:

“One of the most comfortable porches in town adorns the front of Mayor Bookwalter’s home, way out on Illinois Street. The porch is a recent addition to the house, and a mighty fine idea it was. It is a massive stone porch, broad and deep, it extends across the front and around the south side, and there is enough room for two or three families, and the furniture consists of a number of pieces of the handsome forest green rattan.

(3210 North Illinois Street)

6 responses to “Misc. Monday: Porch Parties”

  1. Kaitlin says:

    LOVE THIS! What a great idea and sounds like so much fun.

    Side note: You might be interested in a book about North American porches – it’s by my grad school professor, Thomas Visser. http://www.upne.com/1611682205.html He gave a presentation on it at our preservation conference and it was great.

  2. Lynne Helm says:

    What fun …with terrific pictures. Thanks for researching and posting this festive glimpse into yesteryear.

  3. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    Thanks, Kaitlin! I’ll check it out!

  4. basil berchekas jr says:

    At one time my sister and her first husband had an old home in Irvington on Lowell, just “off” Audubon Circle (where irvington UMC is located) with an ample front porch. We used to talk to neighbors right from the porch, across the street, side by side, et al. Very “homey”!

  5. Donna Winsted says:

    We were a little bit ahead of you guys here in Avon! We had a porch party the evening of the 4th of July. We watched about 6 different fireworks displays without getting off the porch and we had SPARKLERS!!!! 😀
    There were 4 of us neighbors on two porches. We live in separate cottages, but they’re connected into units of 6 to 8 cottages. We had SO much fun! 😀

  6. Janice M Stotler says:

    This is such a great idea. One of the old ways that is great to bring back!! I lived in Indpls for 46 years & I love this idea. We miss out on so much by not knowing our neighbors.

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