Remembering those sultry summer nights on the sleeping porch.
By CATHEY HARTMANN
A childhood friend and I got into a conversation about sleeping porches earlier this summer.
She has lived in Colorado most of her adult life, and cannot find anyone who shares her memories of the sleeping porch. Growing up in pre-air-conditioned Texas, we both vividly remember nights utilizing these restful refuges.
Sleeping indoors on a typical summer night was almost impossible, so you sought out a space where summer breezes could cool you off.
In the house I grew up in, the screened in porch was at the back of the house and my parents slept there, so my sister and I had to improvise.
We took an old mattress outside in front of the house and slept there throughout the summer.
Of course, mosquitoes and blister bugs had a field day, and there was always the fear of scorpions and snakes joining us in our restful slumber, but the magnificent view of the milky way and the vast array of stars we got to witness made up for it.
A family friend was the foreman of a large ranch in the area, and when his granddaughter visited every summer, they would invite me over to spend the night.
We slept on a screened in porch on the second story of a historic ranch house that had been built in 1883.
I was told that the porch we were on was not screened originally, but one night a cowboy fell off breaking several bones so the screen was added. I was grateful for that home improvement!
Google tells us that the idea of the sleeping porch dates back to around 1900 and became common throughout the United States, especially in the south and west.
They could be on the ground level or on a higher level and on any side of the house. In the 1920s, demand for houses with sleeping porches soared with the onset of the “sanitary revolution.”
Germs were not fully understood, but scientists were on the right track when they knew the rise of diseases like cholera and tuberculosis were connected with overcrowded conditions.
Fresh air became a common cure-all prescription prompting people to seek outdoor sleeping space. This becomes even more interesting with our current pandemic.
The mandate of social distancing and encouraging people to get outdoors comes from that very policy.
Once people understood more about bacteria and viruses, and with the invention of antibiotics and vaccines and when better health practices such as hand washing and food handling became the norm, sleeping porches began to lose favor.
Then with the rise of air-conditioning, homes were designed to keep artificially cooled air inside. Homeowners no longer listed sleeping porches as a priority.
Children were urged to “shut the door before you let the cool air out” instead of leaving the doors open for fresh breezes.
Those of us who remember spending those hot, sultry nights outside or behind a screened in porch, can only share those memories with those who have never sweltered during a hot Texas night.
I’m as grateful as anyone to go to bed inside a cool house every night. However, I have to admit, most nights I crack the window beside the bed just a little hoping to hear those sweet sounds of summer once again.
Cathey Hartmann is a local historian who lives in Bluff Dale, Texas.