Did You Know…?

Shotgun Houses

The contribution of African architectural design can be seen throughout the United States in the form of shotgun houses. These one story houses have traditionally been one room wide, three to four rooms deep, and have a gable-ended entrance that faces the street. These long and narrow homes are believed to have arrived to the United States by way of Haitian immigrants who came to Louisiana following the Haitian revolution. It has been documented that many of the Africans brought to Haiti were from southwestern Nigeria, an area densely populated by the Yoruba (Vlach 1977:53). Those Haitians who migrated to Louisiana after leaving Cuba were likely descendants of the Yoruba and brought with them a way of building that was a blend of West African and West Indian styles. This same style of house is associated with homes past and present in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

Small Shotgun house at 352 Beale Street is Memphis's W.C. Handy house.

It is believed that initially free people of African descent in New Orleans began to build their homes in the shotgun form much in the same way as the Haitian immigrants. Shotgun homes would later be used throughout all of the United States as a way to provide temporary and affordable housing for laborers and their families. Today those shotgun houses that remain can be found in rural and urban areas and many face sale and demolition as a result of urban renewal.

And what about the name? Legend has it that shotgun houses are so called because a single shot could be fired straight through the house without causing any damage. However, sources suggest that the word shotgun may have been mistaken for “to-gun,” a Yoruba word meaning “place of assembly.”

Currently in many places throughout the United States the subject of shotgun houses is gathering attention. Communities like Shreveport, Louisiana are debating about what to do with these structures (AP 2005). Should they be remodeled or should the older ones be demolished? Home and Garden Television (HGTV) has also taken interest in these structures. Their program Old Homes Restored explores a project in which shotgun houses are renovated into single family homes. Learn more about shotgun houses as examples of African American architecture (Joyner 2003).

NPS Ethnography Program