You probably haven’t given much thought to the cultural significance of front porches, but at one time, porches represented the American ideal of family.
Back before air conditioning, television, and the automobile, the front porch, at the core, was an outdoor living room where the family would gather. After dinner, the breezy outdoors provided a fresh alternative to the stagnate indoor air; therefore, the entire family would mosey on outside. Parents sat, relaxed, rocked, read, and watched children play in the front yard. Stories got told. Songs and wisdom were shared while gathered on the front porch.
Sadly, as technology advanced, time spent on the front porch declined, as did the structure itself. Now, back porches reign supreme where neighbors nestle out of sight, hidden from one another, glued to personal devices. People no longer know their neighbors, and our collective communities have suffered for it. That’s why Campbell McCool, Plein Air’s original resident, is out to make the front porch relevant again!
Campbell McCool’s family has lived in Lafayette County for over 100 years. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1985, McCool moved to Atlanta to start his career in communications, where he would meet his wife, a native of his hometown. In 2001, they decided to leave the big city behind, move back to Mississippi, and raise their three sons.
The McCools settled into a simpler life in Taylor, Mississippi, south of Oxford on Highway 6, best known for the catfish dinner at Taylor Grocery. That’s where a 64-acre abandoned cotton field caught McCool’s attention, and a dream and a vision for a back-to-the-basics neighborhood was born.
McCool also grew up in New Orleans and appreciated the life that a tight-knit community with interactive neighbors, busy front porches, bustling corner bars, and kids safely playing in the street provides for a family.
Thus, that was the vision he had for the empty field in Taylor: to transform it into a thriving town full of friendly faces and front porches. So in 2006, McCool and partners launched the Plein Air neighborhood, approved for 200 single-family homes plus a 7-acre commercial district that will outpace the renowned Oxford square.
Plein Air is a French art term referring to a 19th-century style of painting representing a sense of open-air made famous in French impressionism. Many fine artists called Taylor home. Artists came to the small town, off the beaten path looking for inspiration and solitude. You certainly don’t have to be an artist to live at Plein Air, but you do have to agree to a front porch. All houses at Plein Air must have a front porch to give genuine southern hospitality, neighborliness, and relaxation a chance to make a comeback.
Plein Air truly takes the front porch thing seriously, hosting an annual conference called The Conference on the Front Porch, which celebrates all that the front porch represents: community, interaction, a slower pace of life, and a throwback to a time when neighbors visited in the front yard and porch instead of online. But the party isn’t contained to once a year. Plein Air has hosted dozens of concerts, conferences, workshops, book readings, farmer’s markets, and impromptu gatherings over the years. In 2021, 43 couples said, “I Do,” in Taylor, Mississippi’s Plein Air community.
While the McCool’s had the vision, they went through their share of construction woes, a rocky real estate market in 2008, and a handful of twists and turns. Believing in the concept kept the vision afloat, and to date, there are 82 homes with 12-15 new ones each year. There are now restaurants, event venues, a chapel, a general store, and a salon and yoga studio breaking ground soon. In Taylor, the future looks bright where hearts and front porches will be full!
When asked if the McCool’s will be around Lafayette County for another 100 years, Campbell responded, “You never know, we’ve been around for a while. Hopefully, we will.” One thing is for sure, the front porches built by the McCools will stand the test of time.
All photos courtesy of Campbell McCool