Hansontown, just north of Downtown, was the first neighborhood targeted. In segregated Jacksonville, its unpaved streets and frame shotgun houses were quickly considered the slums by city leaders. In 1942, a large swath of the neighborhood’s west side was removed and replaced with the 700-unit Jefferson-Madison Homes Housing Projects. In 1954, an additional 171 units were added and the complex was named in honor of Joseph Haywood Blodgett.

Before and after aerials showing the impact on the construction of Interstate 95 through LaVilla’s shotgun rows.

The 1950s also saw the Jacksonville Expressway Authority established by the Florida Legislature in 1955. By 1960, to accommodate the construction of Interstate 95, Haines Street Expressway, Union Street Expressway and Mathews Bridge, the entire neighborhood of Campbell Hill and portions of LaVilla, Brooklyn and the Eastside had been lost.

Still not happy about the rest of Hansontown’s existence, the Jacksonville Housing and Urban Development Department razed what was left during the late 1960s as a part of a failed urban renewal project intended to replace the working class neighborhood with wide vehicle friendly streets, garden apartments and high-rise senior housing.

Many of Hansontown’s narrow streets still were not paved when the neighborhood was razed as a part of the Hogans Creek urban renewal project. Photograph courtesy of the Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department.

More than 75 percent of the families were relocated outside the neighborhood. Those who refused to move were forced by threats to remodel their homes and buy more property to meet the new 50-foot-wide lot requirement. Nearly all of the lots were 25’ or less in street frontage and occupied by a working class population. Not many, if any, could immediately afford to purchase an adjacent 25’ lot (which would have had another residence sitting on it) or remodel their homes.

Literally all of LaVilla’s historic building stock was razed in the mid-1990s as a part of the River City Renaissance revitalization plan and much of Brooklyn was demolished as a part of failed 2000s development projects. What’s left of Jacksonville’s shotgun housing stock today is located in portions of these historic working class communities that sit on the opposite side of the mid-20th century expressways that severed them off from the downtown core.

While shotgun rows are becoming harder and harder to find, due to continued demolition efforts by code enforcement, decent collections of this decaying historic urban residential building type still exists in Durkeeville and the Eastside. While most Jacksonville shotguns lack ornamentation, the Eastside boost an impression collection of shotguns with porches designed in the form of popular early 20th century architectural styles, such as the prairie-school and bungalow.

What has been will be again and what has been done will be done again. This was proven in New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston, all of which now have built impressive tourism economies focused around their preserved historic building stock. Jacksonville has largely lost that opportunity with the destruction of historic cultural centers like LaVilla and much of the Northbank’s original pedestrian scale walkability.

While a significant portion of our version of the rowhouse has been lost, decent collections of this small house type still exist just outside the downtown proper. As the tiny house movement continues to pick up steam among millennials, Jacksonville’s historic shotguns could play a major role in creating affordable housing opportunities in areas of city where the infrastructure is already in place to support increased density.

Examples of Jacksonville Shotgun Houses and Styles

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com