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A brief history of shotgun homes in Louisville

These historic homes are truly a blast from the past.

A vibrant street is framed a bright yellow and blue house with a brick church visible in the background. Large Bradford pear trees bloom in the foreground on the other side of the sidewalk.

Butchertown is one of several Louisville neighborhoods filled with shotgun homes.

Photo by LOUtoday

If you drive through the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Louisville — think: Germantown, Schnitzelburg, the Highalnds, and the Russell + California neighborhoods — you’ll find an abundant architectural feature: the shotgun house.

Fun fact: Louisville has the largest collection of shotgun homes of any city in America.

Let’s take a shot at the history behind them.

What’s in a name?

Legend has it that someone could stand in the front doorway, fire a shotgun, and the shell would pass through the house, exiting the back door without touching anything, hence the “shotgun” name — why someone would do that is anyone’s guess.

A triangular, stone covered building, with wooden front porch, stained deep red.

Many shotgun homes have been repurposed as businesses, like this one on Goss Avenue, now home to Breakfast + Pizza AF.

Photo courtesy @schnitzelburg_sacc

Characteristics

Historians have traced the origins of the design to the Caribbean and Africa. The style first came to the US through New Orleans and spread to nearby cities.

Louisville’s shotgun homes were built after the Civil War, mainly between 1890 and 1915. They vary in design, but typically feature:

  • Narrow width, typically 12-15-ft wide
  • High ceilings — this design feature was intended to cool the homes in the pre-air conditioning era
  • Three to five rooms, all connected, typically, without an interior hallway
  • Ornate details — gingerbread trim, roof brackets, cornices, window casings, door surroundings, and columns

There are two variations on the traditional shotgun house:

  • The double-barrel is effectively two shotgun houses built into one, side-by-side
  • A camelback is a shotgun with a second floor, typically over the back half of the house — which looks like a camel’s hump

On the market

REady to move in? Here are a couple on the market:

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