A sheltered exterior residential living area, the rain porch consists of a roof structure with freestanding supports, in an anterior arrangement to a pier-supported, balustraded deck. This vernacular form typically occurs on houses from ca. 1820 to ca. 1860 in the South Carolina counties located north of the Santee River and east of the Wateree and Catawba Rivers. Isolated examples have also been identified in Berkeley, Chester, Fairfield, Lexington, Newberry, and York Counties, as well as in central and eastern North Carolina counties along the South Carolina border. Westward migration during the antebellum period transplanted this vernacular building tradition to Florida’s north-central region, where it became an important element within the classic “Cracker-style” architecture of the area, and to lower-south areas of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, where the form is referred to as a “Carolina porch.”
Typically, the form occurs in association with provincial interpretations of the Greek-revival style—that is, attached to classic Carolina plantation houses (extended I-houses) or raised cottages with either hall-and-parlor or central hall plans. Examples can be found, however, on Federal-style farmhouses built before 1800, as well as on modest late nineteenth-century and turn-of-the-twentieth-century folk Victorian residences. In all occurrences the elongated roof supports produce an optical illusion of additional height and grandeur.
While some architectural historians theorize West Indian origins, others speculate an indigenous origin within an area settled by a variety of ethnicities—English, Scots, Scots-Irish, Welsh, French, and African Americans—each with different building traditions. Because it does not appear on the region’s earliest houses, the rain porch more than likely emerged in South Carolina from assimilated building traditions, and as a means to preserve a much-used outdoor living space from decay by exposure in a subtropical to temperate climate. It remains an architectural phenomenon worthy of continued research and investigation.
Notable examples of the form within South Carolina include the ca. 1840 Red Doe (Evander Gregg House) in Florence County; Tanglewood (ca. 1831) and Bloomsbury (ca. 1850) in Camden; the Zachariah Cantey House (ca. 1795) near Boykin in Kershaw County; Magnolia (1853) in Bennettsville; Myrtle Moor (ca. 1830) in Sumter County; and New Market (ca. 1820), the Salters Plantation House (ca. 1830), the John Calvin Wilson House (ca. 1847), and the Samuel Itly Wilson House (ca. 1850) in Williamsburg County.
Noble, Allen G. Wood, Brick, and Stone: The North American Settlement Landscape. Vol. 1, Houses. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.
Sweet, Ethel Wylly. Camden Homes and Heritage. Camden, S.C.: Kershaw County Historical Society, 1978.
Upton, Dell, and John Michael Vlach. Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.