Shotgun homes disappearing across the country

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JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Shotgun homes, once a standard architectural feature among cities across the nation, now find themselves fading away as more fall away from neglect.
By definition, the small homes all have the same feature - all rooms are directly aligned to each other. But in some cities, preservationists want to hold onto the homes, while others want to demolish them, like one home eyed by the city of Jonesboro.

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Shotgun homes, once a standard architectural feature among cities across the nation, now find themselves fading away as more fall away from neglect.

By definition, the small homes all have the same feature - all rooms are directly aligned to each other. But in some cities, preservationists want to hold onto the homes, while others want to demolish them, like one home eyed by the city of Jonesboro.

Dr. Richard Burns, associate professor of English and folklore at Arkansas State University, researched about three dozen shotgun shacks and bungalows. Burns describes the shotgun house as "a type of vernacular architecture common throughout the South, buildings that folklorists now recognize as part of an African-American heritage."

"You've got to assume enslaved Africans knew about the best kinds of architecture to this climate," Burns said Friday. "They're rather tall inside, and that lends itself to air circulation."

Some scholars believe the architectural style could have come from African descendants, passed through the Caribbean where French ideas of architecture mingled with the building ideas of future slaves, Burns said.

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"The Arawak Indians also probably influenced these structures. It became a hybrid type of architecture and dotted the landscape of the United States," he said.

Burns acknowledged the homes' unusual nickname, noting its possible to fire a shotgun the entire length of the house. The houses were usually three or four rooms deep and did not feature hallways, only doorways that allowed access to each room and were aligned with the front and back exterior doors, he said. Early shotgun houses did not have an inside bathroom.

In early times shotgun houses were frequently associated with poor blacks and whites. Sometimes they were homes for sharecroppers, Burns said.

The Singer Sewing Machine Co. set up shop at Trumann in 1911 and built shotgun houses for some of its low-ranking employees during the 1920s. They are referred to as "the Singer houses" and are situated on Oak Street, but then it was called "Three Row."

The shotgun house presents "a practical response to the environment, was relatively inexpensive to construct and was as solid as a rock," Burns said.

Perhaps that's one explanation for shotgun house preservation.

"The irony is that shotgun houses in New Orleans have been gentrified - almost tourist attractions," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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