Wednesday, March 23, 2011

where the shotgun once stood

Shotgun houses are an endangered species. In Anacostia, there exists only one true shotgun that I can think of, and it's just outside the historic district (and if we're being technical, in the Fairlawn neighborhood) on 17th Street SE near Good Hope Road. Shotgun houses are deep one-story homes that are typically very humble structures and are scattered across much of the American South.

the shotgun on 17th Street SE

On the blog Victorian Secrets, the author gives one explanation for the origin of the style:
It is often said that these houses acquired their name because, if all the doors were open, a shotgun could be fired from front porch to backyard without hitting anything. But even this near-cliche is disputed for reasons beyond the tendency of shotgun pellets to scatter widely.

Since the early 1990s, a widely-accepted theory is that the shotgun house design originated among plantation slaves in the Carribean, and was carried to New Orleans and disseminated throughout the south by slaves and free African-Americans. It has been claimed that the "shotgun" name is a corruption of several Yoruba words related to the concept of "house".

An irony is that exterminating shotgun houses was once a progressive goal. Well into the 1970s, shotgun houses were viewed as inherently-substandard, a symbol of poverty like the unpaved streets and outdoor plumbing that characterized the neighborhoods where they stood. Urban renewal relentlessly demolished them by the block.
Regardless, they are a form that should not be forgotten. Sadly, Anacostia lost a shotgun house at 1314 V Street SE in 2002, when the owner demolished it without permission.

bad condition ≠ reason to demolish

the area is now used as a parking lot for the church across the street

Here's some more history of DC's shotguns:
Washington has been a southern-style city for most of its existence, so it might be expected to have a great many shotgun houses. However, this does not appear to be the case. Perhaps the most likely place to find shotguns would have been among the notorious alley dwellings that were demolished in the 1930s and '40s. However, in photos most of these appear to have been very plain two story brick and wooden structures which allowed more density than single story houses. Perhaps the best DC neighborhood for finding shotgun houses is Deanwood, where there is a sprinkling on the sidestreets between Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue and Sherriff Road NE.

Although shotgun houses are most often associated with poor African-American neighborhoods, each of the pictured houses appear to have had early inhabitants who were white. 1314 V Street SE is another tradesman's home in a formerly segregated white neighborhood. It has many signature shotgun house touches, including a tin gabled roof and full-width front porch, which in this case has a flat, steeply-sloping roof. Some catalogers claim that because shotgun houses are meant to be packed cheek-by-jowl on narrow urban lots, pure examples should lack side windows, as 314 V does.
Every time I learn of a demolition I am more encouraged to continue acting to protect what's still here. This isn't rich people history - but it's a history that's incredibly important and needs protection.


Ward 7 Citizen said...

That is so unfortunate the these type of houses are damn near extinct, because they are sooo cute. It reminds me of a cottage home-Something that I love and should've considered buying. I hope that the ones that are left in the city are restored and maintained. Thanks for the great article.

Eden said...

This is very interesting. thanks for sharing the history.