The front porch of homes was commonly used for socializing. Such things as shelling peas or shucking corn, took place on the front porch when friends and relatives came over to help. During the hottest time of the summer, some front porches that were screened, contained beds to sleep in. These were called "sleeping porches." The residents of the home would escape the heat of the upstairs bedrooms by sleeping on the porch in the summer.
Families spent time on porches in the evenings watching other people going for strolls, or waiting to see if someone would drop by. Everyone knew who their neighbor was. If someone moved in, neighbors knew who they were, who their kin were, and where they were from. New neighbors expected the old neighbors to drop by and would have felt very unwelcome if they didn't.
You could tell who was visiting who and who was courting who, by walking past the front porches of the houses. Some people think that the arrival of the automobile moved socialization from the front porch to the front seat of a car, and caused the demise of front porch life, and the front porch itself. With the arrival of the 20th century, many new houses were built completely without front porches. It is a pity, because the front porch allowed everyone to see what was going on in the neighborhoods. Young and old alike were entertained, and everyone was included in activities.
Go here http://www.slideroll.com/publish.php?s=3z6m81h0&browse=1&ref=0 and click on to see a little slideshow of paintings of front porches.
This site shows the rise and fall of the front porch in history:
As people begin really living at home more, the front porch is gaining popularity again. Some of the newly constructed homes are an imitation of the style of home that had front porches, and the effect is very beautiful. With the addition of front porches, it seems like the homes and neighborhoods are coming to life.
Be sure to click on these titles:
Origins of the American Front Porch
Recurrence in Modern Times