Creating Affordable Housing from Shotguns

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Cairo, Illinois, USA – June 2009, June 2010

shotgun house restoration project Adventures in Preservation volunteer projectOur shotgun house project in Cairo, Illinois, had the entire city buzzing about preservation, with thirty volunteers beginning a long-term project to create affordable housing while preserving the town’s architectural heritage.

The city of Cairo has been in economic decline for years, with demolition of vacant historic buildings commonplace. A group of community members began advocating a new approach involving preservation, re-use and new economic ventures rather than wholesale demolition.

Our goal was to reuse historic structures to create affordable housing for local residents who would like to own their own home. AiP and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale joined forces with Cairo Vision 20/20 and workshop leader Bill Black, Jr. of Ray Black & Son, Inc. to begin restoration of a circa-1900 shotgun-style house.

A team of students, community members and outside volunteers had the house on Sycamore Street cleaned out in 2 ½ hours. It was then ready for documentation and condition assessment. Thanks to the high quality of the wood used in its original construction, the house was determined to be sound and in good overall condition.

shotgun house wood window restoration Cairo Illinois Adventures in Preservation volunteer projectPreservation work the first summer focused on the house’s porch and windows. Bill Black taught volunteers how to repair and restore original wood windows. They then learned techniques for repairing the deteriorated wood porch, including both consolidation and replacement.

Work during the second year addressed the exterior wood siding, interior plaster damage, wiring and much more. The project received key support in the form of a grant from Landmarks Illinois and a great deal of time and materials donated by community leader Bill Harrell.

Volunteers contributed an astounding total of 1200 hours during AiP/SIUC workweeks. In addition, two SIUC architecture students worked at the site throughout the summer and into September to complete the shotgun restoration.

wood baluster lathe shotgun house project cairo Illinois Adventures in Preservation volunteer projectOur team crossed the wide expanse of river where the Mississippi and the Ohio converge at Cairo to visit a preservation carpenter in Kentucky. His shop was filled with regional woods and had enough tools to stock a hardware store! Using one of the balustrades from the shotgun house, he demonstrated how to create exact replicas for use in repair and restoration work.

The shotgun restoration project exemplifies AiP’s mission of connecting people and preservation through enriching experiential programs that safeguard heritage and foster community sustainability.

Jobie Hill traveled from New York City to join the team and loved her adventure:

I work in an architecture firm that specializes in historic preservation, so it was great to have a chance to be on the other end and implement the techniques used in preservation. … It was great to work and learn from people with different backgrounds, but shared a common goal.

Zachariah Green, a member of the community who works with AmeriCorps*Vista was very pleased with the results:

I do want to say thank you on behalf of all of the citizens of Cairo. … I thank all of you for caring for my city the same way that I do.

shotgun house preservation project porch restoration Adventures in Preservation

Learn more about Adventures in Preservation’s upcoming projects

Learn more about AiP’s previous volunteer preservation projects