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March 2010

A Short History of Shotgun Houses

The shotgun house is a very enigmatic form of vernacular architecture whose full origins may never be known. Many attribute it to African design via Haitian immigrants to the United States; others cite the story that a shotgun could be fired cleanly through the rooms whose doorways all aligned.

New Orleans Shotgun House with Hurricane Katrina damageWhat is known is that shotgun houses are generally found in clusters in urban settings, mimicking narrow city lots. They consist of a one-story row of rooms, generally 12’ wide and three rooms deep, with the gable end facing the street. Some sources even credit the American front porch and the practice of "shooting the breeze" with one's neighbors to shotgun houses. In the US, the style waxed and waned in three distinct periods, spreading geographically during each phase. During the middle stage, the homes were highly decorated, taking on the architectural fashion of the time in roof brackets and vent covers. The vast majority of shotgun homes were built in the final period, the early 20th century, to house the rapidly expanding working class population; these later examples tend to be plainer.

From their initial US appearance in early 19th century, the form spread as far west as California, as far east as Florida, and as far north as Chicago, with a great concentration found in Southern Illinois region. The structure re-entered the popular lexicon after Hurricane Katrina left block after block of shotgun houses damaged or destroyed.

Shotgun House Cairo Illinois Adventures in PreservationAiP and our partners have taken on the daunting task of saving endangered shotgun houses and restoring them as affordable housing in Cairo, Illinois. It's a fight against time as already almost half of Cairo's shotgun houses listed in the 1979 National Register nomination have been demolished! You can help stop the demolition and start the renewal by joining us in Cairo in June.

Women in Preservation

Mount Vernon photo by Ken Lund/FlickrPublicly supported preservation in the United States began in the 19th century with Pamela Ann Cunningham and her vision of saving Mount Vernon, the 18th century estate of George Washington, first president of the United States. Early on she decried a series of proposed alternate uses for the building, insisting it “serve only as his house” and on preserving everything associated with the house.

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association is the oldest preservation organization in the US and even today is comprised solely of women. During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the vision and determination of women like Pamela Ann Cunningham and the many “little old ladies in tennis shoes” who followed, forming the background of the preservation movement. Continue the celebration and thank a woman in preservation for her own hard work and determination!

Generous Grant Boosts Lamu Project

traditional building construction in Lamu, KenyaSmiles stretched from Boulder, Colorado, to Lamu, Kenya, upon hearing that the Genographic Legacy Fund (GLF) would be funding AiP with a grant of US$22,000 for our project in Old Town Lamu – a World Heritage Site.

AiP's first grant for conservation work in Africa, the funding will be used primarily for materials for the project's hands-on work repairing and restoring traditional coral rag houses. And, what could be better than being with us to experience the thrill of helping residents save their thousand-year-old heritage?

GLF grants are generously provided through a partnership between the National Geographic Society, IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation. Like AiP, the GLF strives to support community-driven projects directly preserving or revitalizing traditional culture.

Adventures in Preservation and our project partners are recruiting a group of East African participants from countries with similar challenges to attend the November 14-27, 2010 workshop, which is open to all.

Join us in getting this unique project underway. Learn traditional building skills and help save Lamu’s architectural heritage. Then immerse yourself in the activities of the Lamu Cultural Festival directly following the workshop, and celebrate the culture with the community. We’ll see you in Lamu!

Conference  Calendar

Outback and Beyond: Annual Australia ICOMOS Conference - April 22-25, 2010 - Broken Hill, Australia
This conference, organized by Australia ICOMOS, TICCIH (The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage) and the City of Broken Hill, will have three themes: Management of Historic Towns, Industrial Heritage, and Remote Pastoralism. For information, see

1st International Meeting of the European Architectural History Network (EAHN) - June 17-20, 2010 - Guimaraes, Portugal
This meeting proposes to increase the visibility of architectural history as a discipline, to foster transnational, interdisciplinary and multicultural approaches to the study of the built environment, and to facilitate the exchange of research results in the field. Though the scope of the meeting is European, members of the larger scholarly community are invited to submit proposals related not only to Europe’s geographical framework, but also to its transcontinental aspects. For information, see

Layers Across Time — Preserving a Diverse Western Heritage - October 6-9, 2010 - Denver, Colorado, USA
The Association for Preservation Technology International's 2010 Annual Conference will examine the history of the built environment through materials, building typologies, patterns of growth, and the future of preservation through sustainable design. Deadline for student scholarship applications is March 22,2010; general registration opens May 1. For information, see
Upcoming Workshops

Saving Shotguns: Building a Better Future, Cairo, Illinois

Saving the Best of the West, Nevada City, Montana

City Center Recovery & Conservation, Gyumri, Armenia

Galleting Galore in the Garden, Bronx, New York

Caring for the Carriage House, Rye, New York

Cottage Industry: Saving Slovenia's Architectural and Ethnological Heritage

Keeping Tower Houses from Crumbling, Gjirokastra, Albania

Re-Discovering the Soul of Swahili Tradition, Lamu, Kenya

AiP in the News

Museum Exhibit Focuses on Cairo’s Past, Present

Past Horizons Issue 10: Making Preservation Happen


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