- Shotgun house
The shotgun house is a narrow rectangular domestic residence, usually no more than 12 feet (3.5 m) wide, with doors at each end. It was the most popular style of
housein the Southern United Statesfrom the end of the Civil War (1861–65), through to the 1920s. Alternate names include shotgun shack, shotgun hut, and shotgun cottage. A railroad apartmentis somewhat similar, but has a side hallway from which rooms are entered (by analogy to compartments in passenger rail cars).
The style was developed in New Orleans, but the houses can be found as far away as
Chicago, Illinois; Key West, Florida; and California. Shotgun houses can still be found in many small southern towns.cite web| url=http://www.victoriansecrets.net/shotgun.html|accessdate=2006-05-16|title=Southeast Shotguns] Though initially as popular with the middle class as with the poor, the shotgun house became a symbol of poverty in the mid-20th century. Opinion is now mixed: some houses are bulldozed due to urban renewal, while others are beneficiaries of historic preservationand gentrification.
Shotgun houses consist of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways. The term "shotgun house," which was in use by 1903 but became more common after about 1940, is often said to come from the saying that one could fire a
shotgunthrough the front door and the pellets would fly cleanly through the house and out the back door (since all the doors are on the same side of the house). Another reputed source of the name is that many were built out of crates, i.e. old shotgun-shell crates, and those made for other purposes. However, the name's origin may actually reflect an African architectural heritage, perhaps being a corruption of a term such as "to-gun", which means "place of assembly" in the Southern Dohomey Fon area. [cite journal| name=Vlach, John|journal=Pioneer America|title=The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy|year=1976|volume=8|pages=47–56]
Several variations of shotgun houses allow for additional features and space, and many have been updated to the needs of future generations of owners. The oldest shotgun houses were built without indoor plumbing, and this was often added later (sometimes crudely). "Double-barrel" shotgun houses consist of two houses sharing a central wall, allowing more houses to be fitted into an area. "Camelback" shotgun houses include a second floor at the rear of the house. In some cases, the entire
floor planis changed during remodeling to create hallways.Cite book|title=The Shotgun house: urban housing opportunities|publisher= Preservation Alliance of Louisville and Jefferson Co.|year= 1980]
Shotgun houses were most popular before widespread ownership of the
automobileallowed people to live farther from businesses and other destinations. Building lots were kept small out of necessity, 30 feet (9 m) wide at most. An influx of people to cities, both from rural areas in America and from foreign countries, all looking to fill emerging manufacturing jobs, created the high demand for housing in cities. Shotgun houses were thus built to fulfill the same need as rowhouses in Northeastern cities. Several were usually built at a time by a single builder, contributing to their relatively similar appearance.
A well-known theory for its popularity over other available styles of housing was that in New Orleans and some other cities,
property taxwas based on lot width. A shotgun house would thus minimize property taxes. [Yi-Fu Tuan. "Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience" Minneapolis: University of MinnesotaPress, 1977] The most compelling reason was probably its cheap construction cost and superior natural air cooling qualities in a time long before air conditioning. The many later variations suggested adaptation to different conditions than when the shape was first used, and showed that its flexibility probably contributed to its popularity.Vlach, J: "Shotgun houses", pages 51–57. "Natural History" 86, 1977).]
Folklorist and professor John Michael Vlach has suggested that the origin of the building style and the name itself may trace back to Haiti and Africa in the 1700s and earlier. The name may have originated from the Africa's Southern
Dohomey Fonarea term, to-gun, which means, "place of assembly." The description, probably used in New Orleans by Afro Haitian slaves, may have been misunderstood and reinterpreted as "Shotgun." Another, frequently repeated theory suggests that the term "shotgun" is a reference to the idea that if you open all the doors to the house, the pellets fired from a shotgun would fly cleanly from one end to the other (though the origin of this description is unknown). Also a common understanding of the name is that they were built of discarded crates, i.e. shotgun-shell and other crates.
The theory behind the earlier African origin is tied to the
history of New Orleans. In 1803 there were 1,355 free blacks in the city. By 1810 blacks outnumbered whites 10,500 to 4,500. This caused a housing boom. As many of both the builders and inhabitants were Africans by way of Haiti, historians believe it is only natural they modeled the new homes after ones they left behind in their homeland. Many surviving Haitian dwellings of the period, including about 15 percent of the housing stock of Port-au-Prince, resemble the single shotgun houses of New Orleans. The shotgun house was popularized in New Orleans. The style was definitely built there by 1832, though there is evidence that houses sold in the 1830s were built 15 to 20 years earlier. The houses were built throughout hot urban areas in the South, since the style's length allowed for excellent airflow, while its narrow frontage increased the number of lots that could be fitted along a street. It was used so frequently that some southern cities estimate that even today their housing stock is 10% shotgun houses or more.Burns, Richard Allen. "The Shotgun Houses of Trumann, Arkansas", Arkansas Review, (April 2002), Vol. 33, Issue 1]
The earliest known use of "shotgun house" as a name for these dwellings is in a classified advertisement in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, August 30, 1903: "Two 3-room houses near the railroad yards at Simpson st. crossing, rent $12 a month to good tenants who pay in advance; price $1,200 on terms or $100 cash, balance $15 a month; a combination of investment and savings bank: these are not shacks, but good shot-gun houses in good repair." While this advertisement seems to present shotgun houses as a desirable working-class housing alternative, by 1929 a Tennessee court noted that shotgun houses could not be rented to any other than a very poor class of tenants. ["Moore v. Minnis", 11 Tenn.App. 88 (Tenn. App. 1929).] After the
Great Depression, few shotgun houses were built, and existing ones went into decline. By the late 20th century, shotgun houses in some areas were being restored as housing and for other uses.
Shotgun houses were often initially built as rental properties, located near manufacturing centers or railroad hubs, to provide housing choices for workers. Owners of factories frequently built the houses to rent specifically to employees, usually for a few dollars a month. By the late 20th century, however, shotguns were often owner-occupied. For example, 85% of the houses (many of them shotgun) in New Orleans'
Lower Ninth Wardwere owner-occupied.Starr, S. Frederick. "The New Orleans Shotgun: Down but Not Out". New York Times. Sep 22, 2005. pg. F.7]
The rooms of a shotgun house are lined up one behind the other, typically a living room is first, then one or two bedrooms, and finally a kitchen in back. Early shotgun houses were not built with bathrooms, but in later years a bathroom with a small hall was built before the last room of the house, or a side addition was built off the kitchen. Some shotguns may have as few as two rooms. [cite book|last=Marling|first=Karal Ann|title=Graceland|year=1996|url=http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/margra/shotgun.html|publisher=Harvard University Press]
Chimneys tended to be built in the interior, allowing the front and middle rooms to share a chimney with a fireplace opening in each room. The kitchen usually has its own chimney.
Other than the basic floor layout, shotgun houses have many standard features in common. The house is almost always close to the street, sometimes with a very short front yard, and no
porch. In some cases, the house has no front yard and is actually flush with the sidewalk. The original steps were wood, but were often replaced with permanent concrete steps.
A sign of its New Orleans heritage, the house is usually raised two to three feet off the ground. There is a single door and window in the front of the house, and often a side door leading into the back room, which is slightly wider than the rest of the house. The front door and window often were originally covered by decorative shutters. Side walls may or may not have windows; rooms not adjoining the front nor back door will generally have at least one window even when the houses are built very close together.
Typically, shotgun houses have a wood frame structure and wood siding, although some examples exist in brick and even stone. Many shotguns, especially older or less expensive ones, have flat roofs that end at the front wall of the house. In houses built after 1880, the roof usually overhangs the front wall, and there is usually a
gableabove the overhang. The overhang is usually supported by decorative wooden brackets, and sometimes contains cast ironventilators. [ [http://bywater.org/Arch/shotgun.htm Shotgun Houses on Architectural Patrimony] . Accessed April 4, 2006.]
The rooms are well-sized, and have relatively high ceilings for cooling purposes, as when warm air can rise higher, the lower part of a room tends to be cooler. Rooms usually have some decoration such as moldings, ceiling medallions, and elaborate woodwork. In cities like New Orleans, local industries supplied elaborate but mass-produced brackets and other ornaments for shotgun houses that were accessible even to homeowners of modest means.
A conventional one-story freestanding shotgun house is often called a single shotgun. Many common variations exist in high quantity, and are often actually more common than the single shotgun in cities.
*Double Shotgun, also called double-barrel shotgun, essentially two shotgun houses connected to each other and sharing a central wall. They are a form of
Semi-detachedhousing. The double shotgun requires less land per household than the traditional shotgun and was used extensively in poorer areas because it could be built with fewer materials and use less land per occupant. It was first seen in New Orleans in 1854.
*Camelback house, also called Humpback, a variation of the Shotgun that has a partial second floor over the rear of the house. Camelback houses were built in the later period of shotgun houses. The floor plan and construction is very similar to the traditional shotgun house, except there are stairs in the back room leading up the second floor. The second floor, or "hump", contains one to four rooms. Because it was only a partial second story, most cities only taxed it as a single-story house - in fact this was a key reason for their construction.Holl, Steven. "Rural and Urban House Types in North America", Princeton Architectural Press (1990) p.34–39]
*Double Width Shotgun, is where an extra large and wide shotgun house would be built on two lots instead of one. These were typically built one to a block in locations where a single person would first buy the entire
city blockduring development, then build themselves a double sized home and then subdivide the rest of the block with single lot homes.
* "North shore" houses, shotgun houses with wide
verandas on three sides. They were so named because most were built on the north shore of New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrainas summer homes for wealthy whites.
* The term may also refer to a different structure, common in
ruralareas and small towns, which takes the form of a small, long, free-standing house, generally made of wood, with no hallways. Unlike the larger terraced version, this is generally a single-storied dwelling, but it was still associated with povertyand popular partially because of its ability to make hot weather more comfortable. It was most prevalent along waterways and bayous in rural Louisiana. [cite journal|author=Kniffen, Fred B.|journal=Annals of the Association of American Geographers|volume=26|issue=4|pages=179–193|title=Louisiana House Types|doi=10.2307/2569532|year=1936] A combination, the Double Camelback shotgun, also exists. A minor variation is a side door allowing access to the kitchen, or a porch along the side extending almost the length of the house.
Decline and Legacy
The construction of shotgun houses slowed and eventually stopped during the early 20th century. The affordability of two technological innovations, the car and consumer
air conditioningunits, made the key advantages of the shotgun house obsolete to home buyers. After World War II, shotgun houses had very little appeal to those building or buying new houses, as car-oriented modern suburbs were built en masse. Few shotgun houses have been built in America since the war, although the concept of a simple, single-level floor plan lived on in ranch-style houses.
The surviving urban shotgun houses suffered problems related to those typically facing the
inner cityneighborhoods in which they were located. The flight of affluent residents to the suburbs, absentee owners, and a shortage of mortgage lenders for inner city residents led to the deterioration of shotgun houses in the mid and late 20th century. Confusing ownership, passed down within a family over several generations, also contributed to many houses sitting vacant for years.
Though shotguns are sometimes perceived as being housing prevalent in poor
African Americanneighborhoods, many were originally built heavily in segregated white neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods became predominantly black during the 1950s and 1960s, but many others did not and remain predominantly white.
Regardless of who was living in them, from World War II until the 1980s, shotguns came to be widely viewed as substandard housing and a symbol of poverty, and they were demolished by many
urban renewalprojects. This thinking is no longer so prevalent, with cities such as Houston and Charlotte establishing "Shotgun Historic Districts". Shotgun houses have even been praised as quality and cost-effective cultural assets that promote a distinctive urban life. Other cities, such as Macon, Georgia, experimented with renovating shotgun houses for low-income residents, but found that it is cheaper and more effective to tear them down and build new housing. [Duncan, S. Heather. "Rehab or replace? The case for and against shotgun houses". The Macon Telegraph. 6 March 2006. pg. 1] There are many large neighborhoods in older American cities of the south which still contain a high concentration of shotgun houses today. Examples include Bywater in New Orleans; Portland, Butchertown, and Germantown in Louisville; and Cabbagetown in Atlanta. Their role in the history of the south has become recognized; for example, Rice Universityrecently sponsored an exhibition called "Shotguns 2001", which featured artistic paintings of the houses and lectures, in a neighborhood of restored shotguns.
In some shotgun-dominated neighborhoods, property value has become quite high, leading to
gentrification. Sometimes, a new owner will buy both homes of a double-barreled shotgun structure, and combine them to form a relatively large single house. Shotguns are also often combined to renovate them into office or storage space. [cite news|first=Marty|last=Roney|publisher=Montgomery Advertiser|title=Old shotgun homes given new purpose|date=July 2, 2005|page=1]
The shotgun house plays a role in the folklore and culture of the south. Superstition holds that
ghosts and spirits are attracted to shotgun houses because they may pass straight through them, and that some houses were built with doors intentionally misaligned to deter these spirits. They also often serve as a convenient symbol of life in the south. Elvis Presleywas born in a shotgun house, [Karal Ann Marling, "Elvis Presley's Graceland, or the Aesthetic of Rock 'n' Roll Heaven", American Art, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 72–105] the Neville Brothersgrew up in one, [Arroyo, Raymond. "The Devotion of Aaron Neville". Crisis Magazine, September 2001.] and Robert Johnson is said to have died in one. [ [http://www.cr.nps.gov/delta/blues/sites/delta_sites.htm Trail of the Hellhound: Delta Sites] , Retrieved April 4, 2006] Shortly before his death in May 1997, Jeff Buckleyrented a shotgun house in Memphis and was so enamoured with it he contacted the owner about the possibility of buying it. "Dream Brother", David Browne's biography on Jeff and Tim Buckley, opens with a description of this shotgun house and Jeff's fondness of it. [Browne, David. "Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley ". HarperEntertainment. January, 2001. pg 1]
One of the more widely known references to a shotgun house was in the 1980
Talking Headssong, "Once In A Lifetime". The first line of the song is, "And you may find yourself living in a "shotgun shack".
Culture of the Southern United States
List of house types
* [http://bywater.org/Arch/shotgun.htm Shotgun Houses on Architectural Patrimony] (includes many example photos)
* [http://www.shotgunhouseproject.com Shotgun House Project for New Orleans] Discusion of appropriateness of new shotguns for rebuilding NOLA
* [http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/tv/house-project/overview/0,,20152647,00.html A New Orleans shotgun converted into a two-story three-bedroom house] (the Spring 2008 "
This Old House" project)
* [http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Shotgun_House.html Description on Great Buildings Online]
* [http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi820.htm Shotgun Homes and porches]
* [http://www.shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050512/NEWS01/505120315/-1/BEYONDREPAIR Future of Shreveport's shotgun houses subject of public hearing]
* [http://www.projectrowhouses.org/ "Project Row Houses" is an example of art and social activism, based on 22 shotgun houses rescued and renovated in Houston's Third Ward.]
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