Greg Tucker, Murfreesboro Post, May 17, 2016
According to Southern vernacular, if you can fire a shotgun through an open front door and the pellets pass through one or more interior doorways and out the back door, hitting nothing, it’s a “shotgun house.”
The most common domestic construction in the southern United States during the period between Reconstruction and the Great Depression, the “shotgun” classic and its numerous variations filled the rapidly expanding working class neighborhoods of Murfreesboro and other communities.
In its simplest form, the shotgun is a narrow, rectangular residence with three rooms arranged one behind the other, with doors between and no interior hallways. Most often the interior and exterior doors are aligned along one outside wall. Although some of the earlier designs were flat-roofed, the more common style would feature a roof ridge running perpendicular to the front wall. Front and rear porches were often added with shed roofs.
Numerous theories have been offered to explain the popularity of the basic design, but clearly the opportunity for high density and cost-efficient construction were major factors. The standard width was 12 feet and each of the rooms measured 12×12. The narrow, rectangular shape meant limited street frontage for each house. These dimensions also meant that mill-cut lumber in standard lengths could be used for framing with little on-site measuring and hand-sawing. As a result, framing a shotgun house was simple and economical.
Wood-sided shotguns in warm climates had high ceilings and only one brick chimney in the rear, for a woodstove. In colder climates a second chimney would be between the front and middle rooms for heating. Indoor plumbing was not added to the design before the 1920s and then only for the “better neighborhoods.” Later designs show a portion of the rear room divided off for “bath.”
The double-barreled shotgun consists of two singles built with a common wall. Most of the residential structures that housed workers in the the Bottoms, the industrial and residential area of Murfreesboro that developed in the late 1890s, were of this double design.
Another variation, the railroad shotgun, has a hallway down one side with the interior doors opening into rooms like railroad passenger compartments.
In 1910 Henry King and C. B. Ragland acquired farm land on the west side of the railroad on the bluff overlooking Lytle Creek in Murfreesboro. They were bounded on the west by the remainder of the original Lytle land grant, on the south by land owned by the Ledbetter descendants and others. To the north their property fronted on the Franklin Turnpike. Their proposal to add a new neighborhood to Murfreesboro with several new streets and 128 mostly residential lots was approved in June 1910. The name given this new neighborhood, perhaps inspired by its location and elevation, was “Westvue” (but on the original subdivision plat the name was spelled “West View”).
Incidentally, in 1908 King and Ragland started the first wholesale grocery business in Murfreesboro, which they promoted as the only wholesale grocer between Nashville and Chattanooga. This eventually grew into one of the largest wholesale grocery firms in the Southeast.
In deference to one of the owners, the six-block main street through the Westvue subdivision was named “King’s Highway.” The next street to the west was named Battle Ground Avenue, suggesting a proximity to the actual Civil War battlefield. The street name today has been shortened to “Battle Avenue.”
The street running parallel with and nearest to the bluff was designated Maple Crest Avenue, south of the preexisting Bridge Way Avenue. Today it’s simply Bridge Avenue. To the north of Bridge Way, where the Westvue subdivision bordered on the railroad park, this street became Park Avenue.
Despite ambitions of the original investors, only sixty-eight of the Westvue lots had been sold by 1925. On June 9, 1925, King, through several corporate entities, bought out his partner and immediately resold 45 of the remaining lots to Otho S. Cannon, another local investor. This new developer changed the Park Avenue name to Cannon Avenue and began an aggressive program of lot sales and development. For reasons of efficiency and economy, the shotgun was the prevalent residential design.
During the Great Depression about 24 of the original lots and Maple Crest Avenue were consolidated for the McFadden School campus, which remains today at the corner of King’s Highway and Bridge Avenue.
Westvue native Henry Stanley Richards wrote in 2006 that his family of six “lived in one side of a six-room house…on the other side of the house, the family was on relief.” This can be found on the first page of Richards’ “Westvue 1930-1956.”
The family home was one of several double-barreled shotgun residences on King’s Highway.
A surviving example of a classic single shotgun built in the late 1920s remains at 403 King’s Highway. It may be one of several built by James Patterson, who purchased lots from Cannon in 1927. The Patterson family owned and operated the cedar bucket factory just south of the Westvue neighborhood. The first homeowners at this address were the Flemings. Johnny Fleming worked at the bucket factory.
Over the next several decades, the original Fleming house was sold and resold through a series of owner-occupants and landlords. In 1960 it was sold to James and Florine Dyer who made it their home. In the early 1990s 403 King’s Highway was also the business address for Jimmy’s Snack Wagon. Today the well maintained shotgun is still owned by Dyer family descendants.
Rutherford County Historian Greg Tucker can be reached at [email protected]