Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Front Porch City

The home I grew up in with our front porch. (Photo taken by Carol E Campbell)

I recently discovered a website called The Front Porch Republic. The idea is to encourage local culture and community, believing too much attention is given to far off national political structures and divisions. I have no interest in getting into any political discussions. But the website shares something in common with my series on Youngstown. It is all about loving the places where we live or have lived. And I really like the name. The Youngstown I grew up in was a front porch city.

Maybe I’m thinking about it because this was the time of the year we pulled out the front porch furniture. At my house we hung awnings to keep the porch shady in the afternoon. We didn’t grow up with central air conditioning. Cooling was either window fans or air conditioners in windows that mainly cooled the room they were in. The front porch was the place we went to cool off, catching whatever breeze there was, with a cool drink at our side. We’d sit out and talk late into the evening. Sometimes, especially if you had a screened in porch, you slept out there on the hottest nights.

The other thing we did on the porch was visit with neighbors. Porches were our social network. If we weren’t on our porch, we were walking a dog or going for ice cream, and often stopping to talk with other neighbors. We’d catch up on vacations, expected babies, sick relatives, and engagements. We’d talk about projects we were working on around our homes, or something we needed to repair on the car. And yes, there was the passing of neighborhood gossip. Guys would talk about strike rumors, the Indians and the Pirates and the team we all loved to hate–the Yankees.

I knew every neighbor on our street, and as I grew up I began to learn all the ways people could be different, and that different was just different. Old people and younger families. Catholic and Protestant. People fussy about their yards and others more laid back. I knew the families of friends on other streets and all the people on my paper route, many who waited on their porches for their paper in the summer.

In our own front porch republic, we had parents, and then there were the other adults in the neighborhood. You were expected to respect them and their property the same ways you respected your own family. And other parents could yell at us when we got out of line.

Most of the time people were pretty self-sufficient. We all kept up our own places but we were around to lend a hand when an extra one was needed. We cut our grass, and in the winter shoveled our walks. But in the front porch republic, we learned when someone was sick or had a family member in the hospital and pitched in to help with some yard work, or a meal.

The pandemic has been a time of rediscovering neighbors. When you couldn’t do very much else, you went for walks. And you met people on your street you hadn’t met before. We discovered again the joys of small talk and care for one another, wishing each other’s health. We found out life may be better off social media and not listening to 24/7 news streams, and how much we longed for real human connection, even at a social distance.

I hope that is something we can keep. I’m troubled by the rising gun violence in many of our cities. The risk of random gunfire puts the front porch republic at risk. The restoring of the fabric of neighborhood, where the adults on the front porch keep watch not only on their own kids but others could be part of turning the tide. The neighborhoods we live in are still more important to the health of our cities than any virtual community we may find online. That’s something we grew up with in Youngstown. We knew about front porch republics before they ever became a website. We had them in every neighborhood.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

32 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Front Porch City

  1. Mine growing up faced north so it was cool until the sun started to set. Where we raised the boys it faced East, so it was cool most of the day and even better we could sit out on the swing and watch downtown get blasted with summer storms.
    Enjoyed it so much, had one put on the house in Liberty.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for transporting me back to that special time and place that I am homesick for– the one I wanted to leave so badly after college! Your pieces are so great at capturing Youngstown and her people.


  3. My grandparents had a great porch on Rush Blvd. on the south side. During the last years folks in our Shaker Hts. Neighborhood began to put chairs in their front yards and sit outside. It was a way to create community during a lockdown. Our own version of a front porch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love reading about my hometown, Youngsrown!! I am retired and live far away now. Remember so many good things about those far off days!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very well said. I tell the younger generation all the time how wonderful it was to live in neighborhoods where everyone had a front porch because that’s where you hung out and you knew your neighbors. today everybody has a back deck or patio and you cut yourself off from your neighbor by putting up trees and fencing and privacy and you know what you don’t know who the hell your neighbors are either that’s the truth all these new developments. Noticed they’re called developments not neighborhoods anymore either what’s that tell you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks, Bob, for another wonderful memory jogger. Our front porch looked and functioned a lot like yours. I spent many hours in my teen years sitting on the swings and kinda interviewing my father and getting to know him. I heard the stories of his life. He was a good storyteller and willing to chat. He spoke about his family, his work history, his time in WWII, his beliefs and opinions, etc. The older I (and he) got, the more I realized how lucky I was to have that time with him. A shout out to Carol for the nice photo, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pasadena Avenue here! Delivered the Vindicator too! Bennett and Woodrow Wilson…,Class of 1968!Nine of us until my dad got my aunt married off! I wouldn’t have changed a thing!!!! St Stan’s church, Homestead Park, and Pemberton! Now, you can’t let your kids walk a block away without extreme caution!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember if someone die in your neighborhood a special person would walk door to door to get a donation for the family. That special person was my Mother and some other Mothers from the neighborhood. It was alot of porches and they made sure that they got all of them.


  9. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2021 | Bob on Books

  10. I miss the front porch days. I grew up on Shirley Road on the Southside. We had a big front porch, sitting on there in the evenings and Sundays after church. I live in Florida now. No front porch. Screened patio in the back. I’ve lived in this particular house for 2 years. Finally met the neighbors 2 months ago when we planned a “block party”.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Yup, all my Ytown area aunts had porches. My one(of4) aunt in Girard had a 3 story similar to the photo with a ceiling hung swing, we kids worked it hard, never broke though. It was next to a school facing east 4 or 5 blocks east of the main street.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for the memories Bob. Our front porch at 81 Saranac Ave on the North side was a haven for everybody from our street to the surrounnding streets. Sooo many times we would sit on our Glider and some would be on the swing which hung from the ceiling. One neighbor my mother was close to would come to our home 2x a week and Mom would go to hers 2x a week. Each time they would sit and drink ONE bottle of Duquense Beer each. Other times my friends would sit on the porch and play jacks or some other game. Yet other times numerous neighbors would stop and talk with Mom or Dad. Absolutely wonderful times

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Bob,

    You hit the nail on the head with this article. I remember well,doing the exact same things with my grandparents on Pointview in the 50’s/early 60’s. They would holler to the neighbors across the street on their porch and this is how the conversation took place. People out for walks would stop for a few minutes and make small talk. The porch was the place to be on those warm summer evenings until 10 or 11 o’clock. This porch republic made made such an indelible mark on me that when we built our house, it was designed for a ‘modern’ large stoop. I said nope—we want a full size porch. I loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I grew up in a front porch neighborhood and have been blessed to have been living in one in Struthers for over 55 years. The chairs and tables are on the porch and the visiting between neighbors has begun on those warm days we had last week. What a simple pleasure!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks for the memory prompt. I enjoy your articles.

    My all-time favorite front porch is my grandmother’s. She would plant morning glories in the spring and run strings from the ground to the ceiling beams to give the plants a way to climb. By July, the vines gave lovely shade from the heat but still allowed a view to the street through the leaves and flowers.

    And of course there was a glider on that porch. It was Grandma’s favorite spot but we kids loved that glider, too. So many stories told. So many games played (mostly ones we made up). So many babies rocked to sleep. So many secrets shared.

    Grandma’s home is gone now but it once stood on Ayers Street, Youngstown’s Eastside neighborhood. It was a magical place.

    Liked by 1 person

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