Two well preserved historic Shotgun Houses located in the Roanoke Park Historic District -- the National Register of Historic Places registered this district as a well-preserved example of early 20th century dwellings preserved in their most natural architectural styles. Of particular interest are two historic shotgun houses. This style home originates from West Africa and Haiti and is a cultural example of early African American architecture.
Shotgun Houses: (Narrative & Backstory) by ECI 727: Edmund
Although the Google Maps feature of this site doesn't do justice to the two homes referenced above --in fact, it only shows one of the two homes-- I will give a brief description of these two particular Raleigh houses first; followed then by the exciting historic backstory of the cultural African American architecture of this housing design.
The Roanoke Park Historic District: (Contains two historic Shotgun Houses)
Nestled just on the
outskirts of Raleigh, NC. lies a quaint neighborhood known as the Roanoke Park
Historic District. What sets this
distinct neighborhood apart from others is its many early twentieth century
residential homes built between 1913 and 1926.
According to the National
Register of Historic Places, this registered district is a well-preserved
example of early 20th century dwellings preserved in their most
natural architectural styles, which were unique and popular at the time and
still enjoyed today.
Of particular interest are
two well preserved historic “Shotgun Houses” located at:
1512 Sunrise Avenue, Raleigh, NC “Shotgun House” Built in the year 1925.
Owners: CD 1927: J. H. Felton, machinist; CD 1932: Junius Carter; 1937 CD:
Marion Springle, helper, Norfolk and Southern Railroad; 1942 CD: LeRoy Bunn;
1947 CD: William Mitchell, carpenter; 1952 CD: Charles Chappel.
1514 Sunrise Avenue, Raleigh, NC “Shotgun House” Built in the year 1915
Owners: CD 1927: L. F. Edwards, painter; 1932CD: Hal B. Macon, claims
adjuster, State Highway Commission; 1937, 1942 CD: Grifton Macon;1947
CD: William M. Pulley, painter; 1952 CD Robert Poole.
These two Shotgun Houses can be
described as houses one story tall, one room wide, and several rooms long
--with a porch. Folklore has it that you
can shoot a shotgun through the front door and it will exit through the back door
unimpeded. Source 1
House” is a residential house design introduced to America by both slaves
and freeman from West Africa and Haiti.
Shotgun houses usually have two or more rooms directly connected and
laid out in a straight line without hallways. Folklore has it that you can
shoot a shotgun through the front door and it will exit the back door unobstructed.
In many circles, it is believed
that another African contribution of the shotgun house was the introduction of the
first “front porch” in America;
previous to it, in the colonies and elsewhere in America, only balconies
existed. Source 3
The cultural contribution of
the Shotgun house from Africa to America in the early 19th century is
an ingenious assimilation of African immigrants (slaves) to their new
environment. In addition to the front
porch, this style of dwelling is particularly suited to the hot climates of the
south. A cool breeze can flow directly
from the front of the house through the back (where the kitchen was typically
placed). In the winter, the house-centered chimney provided equal heat to all
openly adjoining rooms. Source 4
Despite the folklorist name-
association of “shotgun” and today’s modern firearm, the house’s name “shotgun”
is purported to have originally come from the African Yoruba word “shogun”
which means “God’s House.” Another theory
is that the name originates from a Dahomey (former African kingdom) word
“to-gun” which means “place of assembly.”
Given the narrowness of the
structure, shotgun houses do not occupy much land-space (which for the original
African architects was historically in short supply). Although the design and functionality of
shotgun houses were culturally African in origin, all races quickly adopted
this style of home due to the beautiful simplicity of the shotgun houses’
design, inexpensive building material requirements, and small land
Property taxes were another
consideration for shotgun house residents.
Since many cities based their tax rate on the width of a residence, the
mere 12 feet width span of a typical shotgun house resulted in low taxes.
One of the
earliest shotgun houses on record (Notarial Archives of New Orleans) was sold
in 1833. Following the Civil War the
shotgun house became a “symbol of freedom for newly freed African Americans and
became a means of defining themselves and a lifestyle unique to their culture.”
Sheryl Tucker, “Roots: reinnovating the African-American Shotgun house, Houston,”
Place 10 (1995) p. 64-71.
Beginning in the early
1900’s shotgun houses were strategically zoned close to urban industrial
complexes. Proximity to industrial workplaces was paramount in the minds of
planners. Shotgun houses were seen as
the homes of common workman --sometimes referred to as blue-collar
workers. In many instances, this was the
only affordable type of freestanding home available to African Americans and immigrants.
Often industrial complexes built shotgun houses for their workers. An example of this is during WWII's Manhattan Project Project at the Los Alamos nuclear site. Housing for the military comprised of an assortment of housing designs --including shotgun houses. Source 5Companies found the shotgun design to be economical
and practical. It was quickly assembled, it required neither blueprints
nor skilled carpenters, it used locally available and inexpensive materials,
and it was portable and durable. The houses could be either loaded intact on
railroad flatcars or quickly disassembled into six or eight pieces (roof,
walls, floor, and room partitions) and relocated to or rebuilt on a new
Despite the sometimes-undesirable aspect of
shotgun houses being in such extreme proximity to other neighboring houses,
they afford occupants the privacy of a self-contained and detached dwelling,
while at the same time allowing occupants to enjoy a sense of community.
Shotgun houses are not
extinct by any means. They can still be
found in many urban settings throughout the south. In fact, New Orleans has over 25,000
well-preserved shotgun houses.
Unfortunately, due to the age of these dwellings, in conjunction with their
low cost leave many with the perception that a shotgun house is synonymous with
Fortunately, many generation-X and millennials are choosing to renovate
these historic homes in beautiful artisan ways.
Fun fact. In 1935 Elvis Presley was born in a shotgun
house built by his father and grandfather in Tupelo, Mississippi. The house cost $180, which
originated from a bank loan. When Vernon Presley (Elvis’s father) defaulted on
the loan in 1937, the bank repossessed the house; Elvis was two years old at the
time. Source 7