Shotgun house

Reading the biography Hardcore Troubadour: The Life & Near Death of Steve Earle, by Lauren St John, I came across the following:

Like most of the houses of Steve's youth, it had three bedrooms, a bathroom, and a living room, all arranged in shotgun fashion off the main passage

Shotgun fashion? As a Brit, this was the first time I had encountered this American English term. Wikipedia explains that a shotgun house is "a narrow rectangular domestic residence... consisting of three to five rooms in a row with no hallways", and discusses the etymology of the term. I even found some plans for a shotgun house on an architectural website. And, of course, there is the lovely picture you see here.

But a bit of a discrepancy: the house described in the book has a "main passage", yet a shotgun house has "no hallways". Was St John using the phrase simply to mean that the rooms were arranged in a row? Can any American readers help? And how well known is the term Stateside? Any Brits come across it before?

7 comments:

Dan said...

For my part: I've never heard the term, and I'm not sure I've ever seen such a house here in the Midwest.

jerry said...

I know the term very well. Don't look for shotgun houses in the classier parts of town. I bet if Dan would visit the ghettos of some Midwestern cities, he'd see plenty of them. I don't think of them as having hallways, although the doors are usually lined up so you can look from one end of the house to the other if they're all open.

Roy said...

It's a very well known term, particularly in the southern states. Many slaves and, following that, cotton pickers and other field workers, lived in "Shotgun Shacks" which I believe meant that a shotgun bullet would go in the front door and straight through out the back because of the single room width layout. The term appears in many blues songs. I could have told you all this when I leant you the book, JD, if you had only asked! Dad

JD said...

Ah, but then I wouldn't have had such fun researching it, blogging about it and reading everyone's comments...

Anonymous said...

The term I've heard used in the Northeast U.S., is "railroad rooms" -- all the rooms in a row, like train cars, no hallway. I've never heard "shotgun house" used, but it does sound like the same thing. I don't know why the writer mentions a hall, other than maybe he or she didn't understand what the term actually meant.

--Jess

Anonymous said...

It does say in shotgun fasion leading off the main hall as opposed to being a shotgun house in the strict sense of the word - we can therefore assume that this particular house did indeed have a hall with all the rooms listed being lined up on one side of it.

Anonymous said...

I WAS RAISED IN A SHOT IN HOUSE.MY FAMILY WAS NOT SLAVES NOR COTTON PICKERS.THEY OWNED A BAR AND REST.IN NASHVILLE,TN.I LOVED THAT HOUSE AND I THINK I WOULD BUY ONE TODAY,IF THEY WAS AROUND.
SANDY