Sunday, March 14, 2010

Disappearing Architecture: Shotgun Shacks, Main Street, Vicksburg

According to Wikipedia,

The shotgun house is a narrow rectangular domestic residence, usually no more than 12 feet (3.5 m) wide, with doors at each end. It was the most popular style of house in the Southern United States from the end of the American Civil War (1861–65), through to the 1920s. Alternate names include shotgun shack, shotgun hut, and shotgun cottage.

The examples in this essay are from Main Street, downtown Vicksburg.

Often, shotgun shacks were built by a developer in a cluster to house factory or farm workers. This group of five on Main Street is one example. Sometimes shotgun shacks were built on a double row facing a short, dead-end road known as a court. Several years ago, I spoke to an elderly gent who remembered when the courts were teeming with families. In the morning, a truck would come around and pick up the men to take them to farms. The women often did domestic jobs in town. In the evening, the trucks would return with the men and the families would get together again.

When I first moved to Vicksburg in the 1980s, there were still dozens of shotgun shacks in the older parts of town. As the years passed, many succumbed to fire or demolition. The house at 1402, the second photograph, was destroyed by arson on February 23, 2010, only a few weeks after I took the photograph.

In many ways, these little houses are not well suited to modern residential patterns. They are small, and most people want more space now. Because they have a lot of surface area in proportion to their volume, they are high maintenance. And with thin walls and post foundation, they are hard to heat in the winter and expensive to cool with air conditioners. Often they were rental units in low-income areas, and maintenance was neglected. In some places, two units have been joined with a hallway, but they still end up being high-maintenance homes.

In the early 20th century, there must have been hundreds of thousands of shotgun houses throughout the South. But we are losing these characteristic forms quickly. Near the Martin Luther King memorial in Atlanta, two or three have been restored and are on display. I was amused to see how many tourists were curious to see them. Then I realized that in the last few years, so many have disappeared, possibly many suburbanites have never seen one up close.

In the future, I'll post more photographs of shotgun houses from other neighborhoods. This group was photographed in January, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Andy, thanks so much for photographically preserving these little houses. Those who see them every day may not appreciate them as much as others, to whom they have become the tangible past. .... Martha Leese's daughter, Anna.