On a January backroads drive through eastern Texas and Louisiana, I noticed a funny, skinny, old clapboard house. What was funny was that it had two front doors, in the middle, side-by-side. Yet the house was barely 16 feet wide, and the door hinges were inches apart.
Once I’d noticed the first one, similar houses caught my eye every few minutes as I drove down the road. All of them seemed to be a certain vintage, maybe 100 years old, and the beat-up cars and overgrown landscaping around them spoke of poverty. I didn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy, but I desperately wanted a photograph.
Finally, I saw one with a “for sale” sign, so I made a u-turn and went back. Half of the porch roof had fallen down, and the lot was choked with weeds. I walked gingerly, afraid of turning an ankle or stepping on a snake, but made it to the concrete porch without incident. Peering in the windows, I could see that it was two narrow rooms wide and at least four rooms long.
When I did some research, later, I found out that such houses have a name: Double-barreled shotgun houses.
A shotgun house is narrow, with no hallways, and the rooms are arranged one behind the next. Doors at the front and back allow the breeze to blow through, and architectural historians trace the design’s roots to Haiti and Africa. In the period between the Civil War and the 1920’s, it was the most common home built in the South.
As the nation became more prosperous, after World War II, shotgun houses became a symbol of poverty. Many were without indoor plumbing, or had a bathroom or kitchen tacked onto the back end. Without hallways, the rooms had no privacy from each other. Double-barreled shotgun houses were even lower on the social strata, crowding two families on one lot with a thin wall between them.
Today, blogs and tweets about Tiny Houses and Tumbleweed Homes are as popular on the internet as kittens and puppies. I, too, yearn for simpler living in smaller spaces. Owning a one-hundred year-old House With Two Front Doors appeals to me, as an opportunity to turn off the air conditioning, sit on the front porch, and learn about community and tiny living at the same time.