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What and Why is a Shotgun Home?

April 5, 2014

I had the privilege to be asked by a former traveler on one of my tours to assist with a tour for a large group of French people who had come to Louisiana to learn about a unique branch of their own history.

 

And as I learned the story of the Kent House, Central Louisiana's oldest standing building and former plantation home, it reinforced much of what I had come to know from living in New Orleans.  The city is certainly known for its massive Garden District mansions, as well as the many majestic homes that line St. Charles Avenue.

 

The shotgun was built on the style of homes previously built in Haiti.  Heavy with African influence, shotgun homes were built on the cheap, and furthermore had several architectural peculiarities to keep them that way.  Tax laws were a key driving force in the shape and style of the shotgun, New Orleans' most iconic home.

 

Because taxes were based upon lot frontage, the shotgun was built long and narrow.  To further increase value or bring in funds for a home builder, they were usually built as two homes, sharing a single wall down the middle of the house.  These two chambers gave way to the name, "shotgun" - as others speculate that it was due to the fact that you could fire a gun straight through the house without hitting a wall.

 

The reason for the architecture on the inside was as follows:  taxes were based upon the number of rooms in a house.  Thus, there are no closets in the original shotgun floorplan.  Hallways too were counted, so they didn't exist.  The normal flow of a standard shotgun tended to be a parlor in the first room, a dining room in the second (with giant doors, curtains, or no obstruction at all between the two front rooms), followed by a master bedroom (with the one closet being a "water closet" - a bathroom) and kitchen - though those last two rooms aren't necessarily in that order.

 

This also gave way to a thriving furniture trade, as beautiful armoirs and dressers were made to compensate for the lack of closets.

 

Because of the tremendous summer heat, these long, open homes were raised up on blocks/bricks and had a ceiling to help insulate from direct sunlight.  Air could funnel straight through the house to help with cooling, as well as cooling from beneath and above.

 

Further variations such as the "Camel back" were built, based on the lot frontage principle.  These homes had a second floor added over the back portion of the house, circumventing the lot frontage law.  And every so often you can still find the most beautiful of them all - two storey, shotgun doubles.  

 

My last residence in New Orleans was precisely that - the second storey being highly prized, for there is little privacy in a single storey shotgun structure!

 

 

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