DWELLINGS NAMED FOR A FIREARM? ~ You can fire a shotgun through these residences and not hit anything. That’s because they run as straight as a shotgun. These two observations may account for the naming of “shotgun houses.”
These structures used to quite common in Southern states during the late 1800s & early 1900s. This proved particularly true in African American neighborhoods. Shotgun houses still can be seen in East Jacksonville. Although they used to be scattered throughout LaVilla, though, only three remain in this once populous neighborhood.
Usually made of wood, shotgun houses stand one-story high, with roofs that slope to the sides and a gable that faces to the front. They feature front porches, but people often enter through a door at the side. The structures measure one room wide & three or more deep. The rooms stretch one after another along one side, while a hall ran runs down the other side. With this layout, they partly resemble passenger trains with sleeping compartments.
Shotgun houses provided quarters for low income families, such as those headed by porters, drivers, and factory workers. The cottages could be found in many Jacksonville neighborhoods, including Fairfield, Springfield, Brooklyn, Hansontown, Durkeeville, and Oakland (Eastside). Fortunately, the last three in La Villa are being preserved, thanks to the hard work orchestrated by Jacksonville resident, Linda Mitchell Harper, and her organization, SOUL (Save Our Unique Landmarks).
As for the term “shotgun houses,” there’s at least one other explanation for its origins: “Shotgun” may have derived from the African term “to-gun,” which means “place of assembly.” As more & more of these dwelling were built for white people about 100 years ago, this original meaning may have become totally obscured.
PHOTOS ~ A brick street and a 1/2 dozen shotgun houses: Sights you don’t often see in today’s Jacksonville. The photo at the top comes from 1941. It shows a lady about to cross Davis Street, located in either La Villa or West Springfield. The other two pictures show Davis Street from the same year.
-written by Glenn Emery