If You See a Front Porch With a Separate Door, This Is What It Means

In Charleston, South Carolina, front porch "hospitality doors" helped neighbors know when it was OK to stop by.

For those of us living in the suburbs or small towns, the sentiment of “knowing your neighbor” means a lot. Living in a tight-knit neighborhood often creates close family friends, the ones you join for outdoor games and invite to backyard barbecues.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, doors were rarely shut or locked during the day. Even if they were, neighbor kids were welcome to ring the doorbell and see who was home.

Times have changed, though. In a lot of neighborhoods, front doors stay locked. But in the South, you’ll likely still see some open front doors, especially if they lead to the porch.

What Are Hospitality Doors?

You’ve probably come across the phrase “Southern hospitality,” which describes the welcoming nature of people in Southern states. But unless you’re from the South or experienced Southern hospitality yourself, you might not understand the influence it has on Southern communities.

In Charleston, South Carolina, historic homes were built with an airy front porch that included a door separate from the one to the house. That porch door is called a hospitality door, according to Glimpses of Charleston and It’s A Southern Thing.

Many Charleston homes in the 18th century were built with the narrow end facing the street, according to the South Carolina Encyclopedia. The design of these homes, called “Charleston singles,” allowed the prevailing wind to blow through and cool the interior and the porch. (This was, of course, long before air conditioning.) The main entrances faced the side of the lot, while the porch door permitted access to the street.

What Are Hospitality Doors For?

Hospitality doors offered helpful social cues for neighbors and friends. If that door was propped open, it meant that the family inside was ready for visitors. If the door was shut, you guessed it — Do not disturb.

Though this old home feature has gone out of style, hospitality doors are still preserved in many houses in the South. Maybe one day they’ll even make a comeback.

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Hannah Twietmeyer
Hannah is a writer and content creator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a passion for all things food, health, community and lifestyle. She is a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a previous dining and drink contributor for Madison Magazine.