This row of double shotguns in the Uptown district displays the carved brackets and drop siding of the ltalianate style. NEW ORLEANS PRESERVATION IN PRINT MARCH 1987 The Development of the Shotgun House By Phoebe Tudor pr erhaps because of its evocative, ather humorous name, the shot- gun house is dear to the hearts of many Louisianians. Those of us who have lived in shotgun houses often have love-hate relationships with them, the hate manifesting itself when out-of- town guests or in-laws have to trek back through the bedroom and the kitchen to get to the bathroom at the very rear of the house. The shotgun is a bona fide southern folk building, with lots of folksy explanations of its name and shape, and maybe that's why we like it. The truth is that even among experts in the fields of architectural history and cultural geography, no one is exactly sure how the shotgun house came to look like it does and get that funny name. This article will examine several theories about the shotgun's develop- ment, possibly debunking a few of the commonly heard "myths" and shed- ding some light on a few ideas not so well known to most of us. The characteristics of a shotgun house are very straightforward: the basic structure is one room wide across the front and at least three rooms deep, with a long, front gabled roof. It is usually made of lumber and raised a few feet off the ground on piers. It may or may not have a porch on the front or the back. The service areas, kitchen and more recently bath- room, are almost always in the rear. A variation on this theme is the double shotgun, which is two rooms wide across the front and at least three deep, divided down the middle into two separate living units. Probably the favorite story of how this simple house type got its name revolves around the idea that if some- one fired a gun from the front porch through the house, the shot could go straight out the back door without hit- ting anything. A less-told tale that rivals this one associates the name to the fact that many early buildings of this type were used as hunting camps in the country, therefore "shotgun house" related more to its former use than its configuration. Some very interesting studies of the development of the shotgun form have been done by cultural geographers at the Museum of Geoscience. Cul- tural geographers seek to "read the cultural landscape" in a way that com- bines anthropological concerns with the study of the built environment. According to an article by Milton Newton, Jr., associate professor of geography at LSU, the earliest shot- guns in Louisiana seem to have been "water-oriented dwellings" or "camps," 4 and were first common in the coastal areas in the early nineteenth century. Their uses then spread up the water- ways. Perhaps because of their ori- ginal use as rough dwellings, they came to be employed as rental hous- ing in the urban areas, and as poor country homes or slave quarters on plantations. This theory of a rural origin surely disproves the common idea that the long narrow form of the shot- gun developed primarily to fit narrow urban lots. In fact, Newton cautions in the same article that students of the built environment should not fall prey to "functionalist fallacies" by believing that origins of forms were necessarily caused by their functions. We know that earlier solutions to the long nar- row lots in New Orleans had been found in the Creole cottage and town- house types, so it should be clear that lot configurations did not functionally determine the form of the shotgun. Once introduced around the 1830s, however, shotguns certainly did fit well into the city layout and prolifer- ated widely. So, if the shotgun did not take its long narrow form just to fit city lots, why did it develop as it did? Numerous theories come into play concerning the development of this distinctive shotgun form. One explanation has linked it to the shape of palmetto- covered cabins of Louisiana Indians, and another to the shape of African dwellings. John M. Vlach, cultural geographer, claims that prototypes of the shotgun can be traced directly to Haiti and southwestern Nigeria. He even suggests that the etymological origins of the word shotgun may come from the word to-gun, used in western Africa for house, meaning "place of assembly." Vlach seems to have a wealth of research to support his assumptions, but they appear to be either largely unkown in the architec- tural community or simply not well accepted. Some say that the plan of the shot- gun resembles nothing so much as the plan of a service wing, which can be found projecting straight back from many a townhouse in New Orleans. Service wings consisted of one room behind another, two or three deep and usually two stories tall. Perhaps that layout was the precedent for the configuration of the one-story shot- guns. In support of that sort of evolu- tionary idea, it should be noted that although the earliest extant shotgun in New Orleans dates from 1848, there are a few remaining examples of the modest two-story brick houses from the 1830s which have linear room lay- outs. They look somewhat like service wings without their main buildings, and just as much like a two-story fore- runner of the wooden shotgun. Although its true origin may never be known, let's consider that early 1848 shotgun, located at 937 St. Andrew Street in New Orleans. It was documented by researcher Lynn Adams of the Historic New Orleans Collection based on notarial archives drawings: it is wooden, one room wide, raised slightly off the ground on piers, and displays characteristics of the Greek Revival style, including a classical entablature with dentil mold- ing that hides the roofline. Some claim that one reason the shotgun was so widely used even in the 1840s and 50s was that it conformed easily to preva- lent Greek Revival stylistic dictates. Though not many Greek Revival shot- guns remain, the validity of this argu- ment seems clear. Of particular note concerning the 1848 drawing is an exterior gallery down the right side of the house. This brings up the question of the relation- ship of the early shotgun houses to the Creole buildings already existing in Louisiana in the early nineteenth cen- tury. Creole style buildings were char- acterized by the lack of interior halls, with circulation occurrine via exterior galleries. ((See last month's article). Most early shotgun houses also lacked halls, and this example shows that at least in this case circulation could have taken place via the side gallery. This of course not only relates it to Creole- style building but also reinforces the connection with the service wing plan. The plot thickens. Bernard Lemann, noted architectural historian, author, and retired professor at Tulane University, revealed a more direct link between the shotgun house and French precedents, based on a little-known, unpublished manuscript from sixteenth-century France. A vol- ume of writings and sketches by the