Front porches

Tillie Daniel, left, and Cherry Ann Ward enjoy one of the great southern pastimes—porch sitting. The Daniels’ front porch on Hobbs Street is just one example in the city’s three historical districts where residents take pride in keeping their porches in keeping with the architectural styles of their homes.

The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking white thoughts you rain down.

Shine on, O moon,

Shake out more and more silver changes.

“Back Yard” by Carl Sandburg

Southerners are known for being natural-born porch-sitters, whether by the light of the moon or on a hot summer’s day with a tall glass of lemonade.

Southern porches probably evolved as a way to shade the inside of the house when there was no central air-conditioning. But they became the setting for a southern way of life that prizes spontaneous hospitality, of which formal inside rooms are not always conducive.

Many fine examples of front porches outfitted for informal gatherings can be found in Athens’ three historical districts: the Robert Beaty, the Houston and the Athens College.

Residents of the districts take special pride in their porches, knowing they are the first thing people see. Also, they take special care to preserve the architectural integrity of the porches when making repairs or renovations so the district does not lose its designation.

Ann and Frank Deemer have long been associated with the Beaty Historical District. Southern Living Magazine chose the Deemer front porch at 310 East St. about 20 years ago to be part of a photo feature on southern front porches.

Deemer said when she and her husband restored the front porch of their one-story Victorian they tried to keep it as close as possible to its original state.

“It’s important to follow the guidelines that are provided,” said Deemer. “This house dates from the turn of the century. We had to replace some floorboards and we found an old whisky bottle. Whoever worked on it originally just polished off the bottle and threw it down.”

Deemer said it’s good to sit on the porch in the early morning and late afternoon as the days get warmer, but the best seasons for porch sitting are in the moderate temperatures of spring and fall. She said members of the Knitting Ministry of First United Methodist Church especially enjoy doing their work on her porch.

“I like my Jackson vine. It’s so graceful along the eaves,” she said. “But my husband likes to take it down. Birds nest in it and leave their droppings on the swing so it’s a real maintenance problem. Lots of birds come and sit on the porch with me.”

The “bird problem” might be the reason many a regal cat holds court on the front porch, such as the Bucky and Bobbie Patton porch at 401 S. Beaty St.

“I like to sit out there and drink coffee and chat with family and friends,” said Bobbie Patton. “The cats really like it too. It does get hot out there, but the Jackson vine and ceiling fan help keep it cool.”

Patton said Jackson vine is not only good for shade, but also privacy. “I can sit there and watch the world go by, but they can’t see me,” she said. The porch used to be more Victorian in style, in keeping with the style of the house, she said.

“Bucky’s grandfather (R.B. Patton Sr.) didn’t think it was big enough so he put the brick porch up in the 1940’s. It’s very serviceable, but not as pretty.”

Jill Bartlett is getting all the use out of her two-story back porch she can while her husband, Dr. Jerry Bartlett, is president of Athens State University. The Beaty-Mason House in which they live at 211 S. Beaty is the official residence of the school’s president.

Bartlett said the double-decker porch has been the scene of numerous official school functions, but it has also harbored some special personal moments.

“Heidi, our daughter, and her friends always like to sleep on the porch,” she said. “They say that in Athens you can actually see the stars, unlike the big cities where many come from.”

Many a bride has tossed her bouquet from the upper balcony of the Beaty-Mason back porch, but Bartlett says “we’re kind of out of the wedding business.”

Bartlett remembers a time before she retired from her job as English teacher at Athens High School when the back porch was really jumping. “I had the whole junior class on the porch and in the back yard,” she said. “Periodically, I yelled for the boys to go home. It started out as just the English class, but then word got around. We had students all over. They were even playing badminton in the street.”

Houston District

Billie and Bob Murphree purchased their 1938 bungalow at 204 N. Madison in 2001. “It’s the original porch,” said Billie Murphree. “We love to talk and visit with our neighbors on it and have our morning coffee. We like to swing at night when it is cool. It’s just a porchy-porch. For some reason we didn’t use our other porch like we do this one. This porch is just more neighborly.”

Her husband, Bob, says his favorite time to sit on the porch is during a gentle rain. He loves the sound and the cool feeling.

Jerry and Tillie Daniel purchased their 1916 “four square” house at Hobbs and Madison five years ago. Jerry had always admired the stately home since he was a boy and delivering newspapers to its then-owner, Winston Garth.

The porch is original to the structure, as well as the colorful, intricate patterned tile.

“The tile is beautiful,” said Tillie Daniel. “It’s all original and in very good shape, except for some cracking in the corner which was the result of the porch foundation settling.”

She said they were delighted to find a matching pattern tile underneath carpeting in the sunroom. The porch is arranged with conversation areas and decorated by numerous colorful pots of greenery.

“We don’t use the porch as much as we would like, but it is great as an overflow area when we entertain large crowds,” said Daniel.

Athens College District

The porch of Dr. Angie Nazaretian’s Victorian cottage on the edge of Athens State University is often the gathering place for students and alumni.

“They’ll see me sitting out there and pull up to the side,” she said. “Then I’ll go in and get them a cool drink.”

Nazaretian said she came to the school in 1958, intending to stay a year and finally retired in 1991. She bought the cottage in 1972. She changes front porch decorations with seasons and holidays and is known to don an Uncle Sam suit or Easter bunny suit, much to the delight of First Baptist Church day care students across the street.

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