Monday, March 4, 2013

I've Known Shotgun Houses

Most of the first thirteen years of my life was spent in a shotgun house. A shotgun house has one room leading into the next without a hall way. Opening the doors at each end of the house allows for breezes to circulate throughout the house in hot climates. The style can be traced from Africa to Haitian influences on house designs and is recognized as an African American contribution to American architectural styles.

I don't remember my first shotgun home. Here I am as a baby with the first shotgun in the background. This was in Copiah County, MS, in 1956.

My parents left Copiah County when I was about 2-3 years of age to live in Jackson, MS. Working with pulp wood was hard labor and the pay was too low, my father decided to move to Jackson where he could find factory work.

The first shotgun I remember was similar to the ones below. We lived in a single unit of a row. I think there were about six in a row and ours was in the middle of the row. My memories of this home include a Christmas tree and a baby doll, going to the store to get an orange soda to mix with castor oil to heal a bad cold, learning the alphabet, leaving home to cross railroad tracks to go to school, and eating spaghetti.

My father began to have financial problems and could not pay the rent. We left the single unit to move in with my dad's sister, Aunt Alice, in her single unit shotgun. I think we all slept in the front room, my parents and then three children ranging from six to 2 years.

I don't know if Aunt Alice got tired of having five additional people in her space but we moved again to live with my paternal grandmother and uncle in her side of a double barrel unit. I can remember us all sleeping in the one bedroom. Grandma had a bed in the front room and Uncle Junior slept in the kitchen. When the family on the other side moved out, we, meaning my mother and us children moved to the other side. My father gradually moved out to be with the other family he had created. Grandma's shotgun was similar to the one below, except there was one long porch connecting both sides instead of two porches.

The shotguns below are apart of the historic Farish Street District. The city of Jackson hopes to create an entertainment district similar to New Orleans' Bourbon Street or Memphis' Beale Street, filled with restaurants, night clubs and various other entertainment venues. These shotguns will be refurbished, rented to visitors who will happily pay fees too high for the working poor for which the units were originally made to house.

We moved for more space and home ownership from the last shotgun house when I was a few months shy of my fourteenth birthday. The houses of my youth were destroyed by fire or bulldozed for new housing.

History of the Shotgun House

Images of Shotguns

13 comments:

  1. You were an adorable baby! I learned a new term today--shotgun house. This post is so wonderfully descriptive--from the discussion of how the design allows breezes to the great pictures of single unit and double barrel units. I'm not sure if there are shotgun houses in the north--but there definitely are a lot of small ranch houses. I'm going to have to look at some of those small houses more carefully to see if they are shotgun houses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was called a shotgun house because if the doors were both open you could supposedly shot a bullet through the house and not hit a wall. Historians believe the name comes from African word to-gun, which means place of assembly, or from the West Africa word shogon, which means God’s house.

      Delete
  2. I really enjoyed this post. You know how I like to write about all my homes. I know the feeling of finding your old homes gone.

    I do know my grandmother and her parents lived in a shotgun house in Lowndes county way back in the 1880s.The first shotgun house I visited was in the Delta in Mississippi. My husband organized pulpwood workers in Simpson County for a hot minute until we realized that he was making less than the men he was organizing and he found a different job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was surprised to learn the house was the most popular style after the Civil War through the 1920s. The MS Delta area has turned some of their shotgun houses into a marketing success, renting them to visitors to the area. Pulpwood is still a lucrative MS industry, for some.

      Delete
  3. Thank you for this post. I never knew that is what this style house was called and yes you were a very cute baby. I can't imagine how cramped it felt sleeping 3 young children and a set of parents in one small room.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Toward the end of my living in a shotgun, I did feel cramped. It was five children all sharing the same room. In the early memories, I think I felt unsettle from the moving.

      Delete
  4. This was a story was fantastic.!!! I had heard the name "shot gun" house, but never saw one. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are welcome. If you get a chance to visit the New Orleans area you will see all types, from the modest shown in my pictures to the more elaborate and various styles.

      Delete
  5. You were a beautiful baby.I lived in a duplex in Jackson. We could see the capitol from our front porch. We were told those shotgun houses were built for out of town workers.They worked on downtown Jackson.My fathers family lived in Copiah county.I now live out of state, and have not been successful in getting records from Copiah county.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is still a number of shotgun housing in downtown Jackson, both occupied and unoccupied. The Capitol is visible from the locations of some of the housing. My first memory of a shotgun was off of Woodrow Wilson Avenue.

      Delete
    2. Who were your people from Copiah County?

      LRudd at aol dot com

      Delete
  6. This is the second time this week I heard "shotgun house" used. Thanks for educating me on it's meaning and origin.

    ReplyDelete