I grew up in the 6000 Block of Annunciation Street in New Orleans in what is locally referred to as a Shotgun House. I can still recall the weathered cypress planks that adorned its long sides; the roof was composed of gray hued slate tiles. Rooms were spacious and ceilings were exceptionally high. The deep yard was bare of trees or shrubs and the home raised several feet off the ground on red clay bricks, known as pier and beam foundation. My grandmother owned the home and I was told the house originally stood adjacent to fields of sugar cane, built around the mid-1800's.
There's a great deal of speculation as to why this particular design is known as a shotgun house. There's a theory that suggests the term "shotgun" is a reference to the idea that if you opened all the doors to the house, the pellets fired from a shotgun would fly cleanly from one end until exiting out the rear door.
All rooms lined up one behind the other with all rooms built off to one side. The living room was first, followed by two bedrooms. The kitchen was next and included an enormous box fan in the window to remove both the heat generated from cooking, as well as, to draw ventilation through the home. Few families owned window air conditioner units. The noise generated by the loud, squeaky, belt-driven motor was deafening. Last came the bathroom, a later add-on when the out-house went out of style. I recall sharing the bathwater with my two brothers in the over-sized, white porcelain, ball-and-claw tub.
It's interesting to note that the New Orleans housing taxation structure contributed to the design of the shotgun house. The shotgun utilized a narrow face as property taxes were based on lot frontage. To add more living space and subvert the taxing system, the Camelback was created.
A Camelback house, also called Humpback, is a variation of the shotgun that includes a partial second floor over the rear of the home. The floor plan and construction is very similar to the traditional shotgun house, with the exception of stairs in the back room leading up to the second floor. The second floor, or "hump", contains one to four rooms. Because it was only a partial second story, it was originally taxed as a single-story house. This was a key reason for their construction.
The tax system was later revised and shifted to the number of rooms, which equalized the taxation per square footage within a property. Consequently, neither design contains closets or hallways, which were counted as rooms. Chest of drawers and armoires were the means to store clothing.
I have some fond memeories visiting my great-grandmother's Camelback home on Annunciation Street near Louisiana Avenue. Many summer nights were spent in my dad's four poster bed, the windows open and the sounds of riverboats on the Mississippi River lulling me to sleep.
Photos used by permission: Wikimedia Commons. Thanks to Infrogmation and Susan Murray, photographers.