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Shotgun Houses: An American Architectural Tradition With a Unique History

October 26 2018
by Leisl Bailey
Shotgun-house-rehabbed-by-HGTV-Fixer-Upper

Fixer Upper shotgun house | Rachel Whyte/HGTV

The Fixer Upper shotgun house stole the heart of many Americans. But what about it is so alluring? And what is the history of these funnily named homes?

You’re about to find out!

The Fixer Upper Shotgun House in Waco

The Fixer Upper shotgun house is one of the most popular renovations the show has ever featured. The house in Waco, Texas, was originally constructed in 1920. Chip and Joanna Gaines then gave it the makeover of the century for a 2016 episode of their hit HGTV show.

After the episode originally aired, its original owners decided to put it on the market after with an asking price of over $950,000. In the meantime, the home remains popular on Airbnb—and it’s no wonder why.

The home has a gorgeous Dutch front door, 25-inch vaulted ceilings, a Bevolo gas light on the porch, and a brick pad for outdoor seating in front of the branded sugar kettle fire-pit.

The Gaines also used old Chicago bricks for the skirt of the house and the front and back steps. The final touches were a turquoise Smeg refrigerator and farmhouse sink.

The entire property oozes historical charm—which makes sense, as it is right in the middle of Waco’s historic district. But the history also comes from the type of house it is: a shotgun house.

What is a shotgun house?

A shotgun house is a home with a long, narrow living space. Its titular feature is that each room leads to the next—there are no hallways in a shotgun house. So, in theory, you could stand on the front porch and shoot a bullet straight through the home without hitting anything, hence the name.

Yellow shotgun house with green shutters in New Orleans, Louisiana

Shotgun house in the French Quarter of New Orleans

In the early 19th century through the early 20th centuries, they were extremely popular for working class people in the southern United States.

Defining Features of a Shotgun House

There are variations of this architectural style, but generally, all the homes follow this pattern:

Shotgun homes are raised, single-story rectangular structures with a narrow frontage. The frontage is typically less than 12 feet wide.

As mentioned, shotgun houses also have no hallway: Tall-ceilinged rooms open onto one another from front to back.

This is because when these home were first built, there was no air conditioning. The construction style thus allowed for maximum ventilation in a hot, humid climate of America’s southern Gulf Coast.

History of Shotgun Houses

Shotgun houses first appeared in America in the 18th and 19th centuries, when islanders from Haiti and the West Indies started settling in New Orleans. They brought this African-inspired architectural style with them.

Soon after, the style spread northward from there. So, while you still find the most shotgun homes in the South, you can now also find comparable homes in major northern cities like New York and Chicago. However, those who live in the North usually call shotgun homes “railroad apartments.” Because of their long, narrow layout, it’s comparable to the size and shape of a railroad car.

Most original occupants of shotgun houses were working class African-American sharecroppers. Because their wages were low, if existent at all, they needed inexpensive accommodation, so they designed homes to be affordable and efficient. Builders usually clustered the homes in predominantly black neighborhoods like New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.

Unfortunately, because shotgun houses have come in and out of style over the years, the preservation of the style is always at stake. All over the South, from New Orleans to Lexington, Kentucky, city councils have targeted these homes, calling them “eyesores” and “shotgun shacks.” Hurricane Katrina also completely destroyed many of these historic homes in 2005 due to their location in the lower-lying areas of New Orleans.

Black and white photo of a c. 1910 shotgun house in Muskogee County, Georgia.

Circa 1933 photography of a 1910 shotgun house in Muskogee County, Georgia. | Library of Congress

However, thanks to the prevalence of house flipping in cities with shotgun houses and projects like the Fixer Upper shotgun house, attitudes about the preservation and renovation of these staples of America’s architectural heritage are changing.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Shotgun House

The pros and cons of buying a shotgun house are very tied up in each other.

The first pro would be the mentioned built-in ventilation. Shotgun homes are rarely fully updated and many don’t have air conditioning (the con). However, the airstream created between the front door, back door, and windows is typically excellent (the pro!).

The second pro would be the challenge of revamping a dated housing style for modern living. But, depending on the time and effort you want to invest in your home, you could also see this as a con.

As seen on Fixer Upper, shotgun houses are blank canvases that you can easily turn into the home of your dreams. You just have to have a vision and a little bit of patience.

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Whether you want to purchase a shotgun house to grow old in or to flip, the team at Clever is here to help you find it. All for just one flat fee. Call us today at 1-833-2-CLEVER or fill out our online form to get started.