Addressing Invitations
Setting a Table
Brewing and Serving Tea
Writing Letters
Relaxing Outdoors

How to Conduct Activities on the Porch

In addition to enjoying a picnic out of doors, Victorians appreciated the cool respite provided by a porch during the summer. The Queen Anne house style was popular in both England and in America during the 1870s and 1880s, and its open, spacious porch became a favored spot where lovers courted, families gathered, and friends were entertained. The Victorians had a variety of names for these porches. Some referred to them by the Italian "portico" or "piazza", while others preferred the English term, "gallery." During the late 19th century, the word "verandah," which the British borrowed from India, became fashionable. By the end of the 19th century, most well-to-do homes in the United States featured classic Victorian porches adorned with gingerbread trim, brackets, ornate spindels and spandrels, intricate sawn-wood balusters, fluted columns, or turned and painted posts. Some families also added cupolas or gazebos to their property. (An example of an elaborate porch is pictured above, from the Armour-Stiner Octagon House. This exquisite example of Victorian architecture was built in 1860 in Irvington, New York, and features an endless wraparound porch and numerous entrances from the house to the porch.)

Because the porch was an area easily seen by strangers as well as neighbors, rules of proper etiquette applied as much to the use of the porch as to all other aspects of Victorian living. While a Victorian housewife may have spent some time in the afternoon sitting on the porch, doing needlecraft or mending, "real chores" such as peeling potatoes or shucking corn had to be done in the privacy of the kitchen or possibly on a smaller "kitchen porch" at the rear of the house. Cooking was never done outdoors. Neither did a family dine on their front porch in plain view. However, serving afternoon tea or lemonade on the porch was perfectly acceptable. It was also fine for respectable families to enjoy the porch after supper. The porch became a place to enjoy their dessert--typically home-made ice cream--and chat with friends and neighbors. During the summer evenings, youngsters might have brought their musical instrument out onto the porch, to play for the family's entertainment, while the older folks enjoyed a game of checkers or dominoes.