This is evident in cities, such as Jacksonville, that witnessed significant population growth and urbanization during the American Industrial Revolution. During those days, the shotgun house became the solution to providing quick affordable housing in the vicinity of railroad, maritime and manufacturing hubs. Serving a similar purpose to the rowhouse in Northeastern cities, the shotgun was the most popular style of housing in the Southern United States from the end of the 7American Civil War through the Great Depression.
Shotgun houses facing the former rail line separating the Eastside and Springfield during the 1970s.
Designed to provide a solution to urban overcrowding, shotgun houses were often built as rental properties near manufacturing centers and railroad hubs to provide affordable housing for workers. Shotgun houses tended to be narrow across the front in order to maximize the number of units on each residential lot. Running deep on the lot, rooms were typically arranged one behind the other connected by a long hallway. Because this long hall usually ran the entire length of the house, the name derived from the possibility of firing a round from the front door through the back door without hitting any part of the house.
Floor plan of a typical single shotgun with bathroom. (Wikipedia)
Many scholars believe shotgun houses reflect African building traditions that entered the American Southeast via the transatlantic slave trade through the Caribbean Islands, starting in New Orleans and brought to cities like Jacksonville by migrating Black freedmen. In Jacksonville, the typical shotgun house could be characterized as being of frame construction, 14’ to 15’ in width, with a metal gable or hip roof. With the city’s population increasing 103% between 1900 and 1910 and 59% between 1910 and 1920, the typical shotgun featured little to no ornamentation, offering less than 800 square feet of enclosed floor area. By the end of the Florida Land Boom, shotguns dominated the streets of working class African-American neighborhoods near Jacksonville railroad centers such as Hansontown, Campbell Hill, Lavilla, Brooklyn, Oakland (Eastside), Campbells Addition (Eastside) and Durkeeville.
Intersection of Franklin Street and 1st Street in the Eastside in 1928.
Shotgun construction spiked again in Jacksonville’s Eastside during World War II as a workforce housing solution for the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company. Beginning operations with an initial workforce of 258 in April 1942, employment rapidly increased to 20,000 by 1944, as the shipyard built liberty ships for the war effort. In Jacksonville, the construction of thousands of shotgun housing units through World War II led the city’s population density maxing out at nearly 7,000 residents per square mile by the 1950 census. However, by this time, the shotgun’s key advantages had become obsolete to home buyers due to increased affordability of the car and air conditions.
Since the 1950 census Jacksonville’s urban core has lost 50% of its population and density. Much of this loss can be equated to the massive demolition of shotgun housing districts over the last few decades. Once seen as a solution to urban overcrowding, following the end of World War II, the shotgun had become a symbol of blight and neighborhoods dominated with this housing style became prime targets for urban renewal initiatives.
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 email@example.com
Examples of Jacksonville Shotgun Houses and Styles
1. This row of shotgun houses on Cleveland Street (1323 to 1445 Cleveland Street) was constructed between 1919 and 1923, across the street from the Standard Oil Company’s Jacksonville plant. This intact two-block stretch is one of the largest remaining surving rows of shotgun housing in the city.
2. Owned by Hughes Homes, Inc., this shotgun row of 15’ wide, 680 square-foot houses on Oakley Street are withing walking distance of Everbank Field, Veterans Memorial Arena and the Baseball Grounds at Jacksonville.
6. Located near the terminus of the Jacksonville Traction Company’s Florida Avenue streetcar line, this shotgun features a bit more ornamentation that the typical shotgun structure built throughout the city. Completed in 1914, at 1558 Florida Avenue, this 15’ wide, 756 square foot shotgun is made of brick construction.
7. 1568 Evergreen Avenue was completed in 1922. Like many remaining shotgun houses built in the Eastside’s Campbells Addition plat, this 840 square foot structure features an extra level of porch ornamentation, when compared to the typical Jacksonville shotgun.
8. 1542 Evergreen Avenue was completed in 1916 in the Campbells Addition plat. Like many structures built in this section of the Eastside, this 810 square-foot structure includes a porch design and ornamentation, creating a visually unique front facade in comparison to its neighbors.
9. For many years, this 936 square-foot shotgun house at 1473 Evergreen Avenue was the residence of John C. Hurston, Jr. Completed in 1909, Hurston was the older brother of Zora Neale Hurston. During her time in Jacksonville, Zora lived here with her brother and his family. An African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist known for her contributions to African-American literature, Zora Neale Hurston would eventually become a leading figure in the New Negro Movement and Harlem Renaissance.
A camelback house, also called humpback, is a variation of the shotgun that has a partial second floor over the rear of the house. Camelback houses were built in the later period of shotgun houses. The floor plan and construction is very similar to the traditional shotgun house, except there are 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, most cities only taxed it as a single-story house – this was a key reason for their construction.
Camelback shotguns are a common variation of shotgun architecture in New Orleans. With this Eastside example, the second floor increases the shotgun’s overall size to 926 square feet.
11. 1339, 1335 and 1333 Evergreen Avenue predate the Great Fire of 1901. Built in 1899, they may well be on their way to meet the wrecking ball in a city that has a bad track record with preservation of African-American history.
12. Currently owned by Helpful Citizens, Inc. and within walking distance of EverBank Field, 707 and 709 Franklin Street, are two of the smallest examples of surviving shotguns in Jacksonville. Originally, completed in 1907 as 14-wide, 336 square-foot residences, rear additions have increased their overall square footage to 476 square-feet.