by Jennifer Sierra
Commonly found in urban areas, a shotgun home is a narrow, often one-level structure, usually no more than 12 feet in width. This style of home was most popular from about 1861 until the 1920’s. There are a few of these buildings that have a second floor at the rear of the structure. This kind of building is commonly associated with less affluent communities. Not only are they common in the Northern Kentucky urban areas, one may recognize seeing shotgun homes in the news footage from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
There are different theories on how this style came about. Some say it originated in Africa or Haiti and others say it originated in New Orleans. The oldest shotgun homes were built in New Orleans in the early 1800’s. The style was efficient because it allowed air to circulate through it and many of them could fit along city streets. Shotgun houses were often built by factory or railroad companies to rent to their employees for as little as a few dollars a month. After the Great Depression, the popularity of shotgun houses started to decline but have recently seen a resurgence of popularity among savvy real estate investors who have turned these little gems into beautiful urban retreats for young professionals as well as empty-nesters.
These buildings often have 2 or three rooms lined up, one behind the other with no hallway just one door leading into another room. The doors are usually lined up as well so if all of the doors were open you could see all the way through the house. The first room, right inside the front door, is a living room. The next room would be a bedroom. The room following that would be another bedroom, if you were lucky enough to have the extra room. The final room would be the kitchen. Often there would be a fireplace between 2 of the rooms to make use of a shared chimney. They are usually constructed of wood but many have brick facades. The front steps were almost always made of wood but many people replaced them with concrete over the years because of its durability. Lots of shotgun homes have decorative trim on the facades as well is inside the home. Many have wood moldings and ceiling medallions that echoed the architectural style of the more elaborate Victorian structures of the time. Due to the narrowness of the building, there is usually only one window and a front door at the front of the house. Bathrooms became an addition once indoor plumbing became affordable. These were small rooms usually added to the rear of the house off of the kitchen.
The invention of the automobile, which resulted in people moving to suburbs, was the ultimate demise of these structures. Many neighborhoods across the country have invested in making these little buildings a very hip place to live. Across the country, shotgun neighborhoods are becoming more popular and many are solar powered and located in communities promoting urban homesteading where backyard beehives, chickens and gardens are common. There are two great neighborhoods in Louisville that are recreating their towns by doing these very things, Germantown and Butchertown.