Historic shotgun house to be relocated

Sunday, May 25, 2008 | 5:48 p.m. CDT; updated 1:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
A controversy has begun over whether to move the historic shotgun house from the corner of Garth and Worley to Boone Junction or Douglass Park.

COLUMBIA — Plans to relocate the historic shotgun house at Garth and Worley streets to the Boone Junction historical village at Nifong Park are on hold while the city Parks and Recreation Department considers whether a relocation to Douglass Park might be feasible.

Columbia residents Brian Treece and Mike Martin recently lined up a team of investors to buy the shotgun house and preserve it when they learned an application for permission to demolish it had been filed. They reached an agreement with the Boone County Historical Society and Parks and Recreation to relocate the house to Boone Junction, where the Pop Collins cabin and the Easley Store now stand. But some residents, led by First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, believe a vacant lot adjacent to Douglass Park is the better location.

The history of shotgun houses

COLUMBIA — Thought to have been conceived by Haitian immigrants in New Orleans, the shotgun house has a long cultural tradition in the United States. Once popular all over the country, the narrow houses come in multiple variations. The Columbia house is considered a “single barrel,” but there are other styles such as the “camelback” that include a second story at the rear of the house. The “cambelback” goes against the popular belief that, according to, shotgun houses were named after the notion that a person, because of architectural layout, could fire a shot through the front door and have it fly straight out the back. In his book, “By The Work of Their Hands,” social historian John Michael Vlach writes that urban renewal of the 1960s and 1970s brought demolition for many shotgun properties in urban areas. Recent years have seen a resurgence of construction in cities such as Charlotte, N.C., and in post-Katrina New Orleans. Vlach writes in his book that the shotgun house serves as a reminder of African-American heritage in the South and should be restored and preserved. This notion is one that seems to be widespread with shotgun houses being preserved in U.S. cities such as Louisville, Ky.; Washington, D.C.; Santa Monica, Calif.; and Key West, Fla.

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At the May 19 city council meeting, a proposal was made for the preparation of a report about the feasibility of dismantling the shotgun house and storing it in an alternate location in an effort to buy time, Sturtz said. This would allow for proper discussion about maintenance and how to manage the facility as a historical museum before its reconstruction at 411 5th St., he said.

Sturtz said he hopes a decision will be made by the next work session meeting on May 31.

Shotgun houses, which are narrow, rectangular homes in which rooms are lined up in a row, represented a quick and inexpensive form of architecture in urban areas beginning in the 1920s. But many of them have been demolished in the name of urban renewal. In the home at Garth and Worley, Treece and Martin saw an opportunity to preserve an important piece of history.

Plans to relocate the home to Boone Junction were discussed at length. The historical society has already agreed to restore the home at a cost of $17,700 in materials and labor, furnish it, operate the attraction and create an exhibit telling the story of urban renewal in the 1950s. It did not agree to cover the cost of moving the home and building a new foundation.

“The BCHS Board feels that the shotgun house would be a fine addition to Boone Junction — one that would represent the African-American community in a setting where it would be secured but available to the public,” society board president Gary Smith said in a letter to the city.

It was after a recent meeting called by Sturtz that several residents approached the society and suggested that the house be relocated to the Douglass Park site, which the city bought in 2006. They argued that the setting was more appropriate.

“The idea has been kicking around for a long time,” Sturtz said, adding that he thinks keeping the shotgun house in a black historical district would expand upon and link the house to other community landmarks.

If the house were to be relocated to the Douglass Park Fifth Street lot, there would be enough space for the house, but parking could be an issue as visitors would be forced to park on a residential street.

Smith said in his letter that the board respects the idea but that the society would be unable to pay for the renovation or to operate the home at Douglass Park, given its distance from the historical society’s headquarters.

Treece said he prefers to “do what is right by the house” and move it to a location where it is of greatest benefit to the community.

“The most viable and immediate option is for the house to be moved to the Boone County historical village,” Treece said. “It fits well in that context and serves as a juxtaposition between Lenoir Mansion and the log cabin. Here you have a circa-1920 element house that is identifiable to a different group of people.”

Although Parks and Recreation staff doesn’t oppose the concept of a relocation to Douglass Park, the financing is problematic. First, it’s unclear just how much it would cost. Money for the project would have to come from the existing budget, and the city would need an architect and an engineering specialist to evaluate the shotgun house to determine how much work it needs before and after the move. Meanwhile, all the parties involved are seeking a quick resolution; the city deadline for either restoring or demolishing the home is June of this year.

Whatever the outcome, efforts to preserve the shotgun house are in line with Columbia’s increasing interest in historical preservation, said Deborah Thompson, executive director of the historical society.

“Columbia has taken a serious effort into preserving whenever possible,” he said. “Most communities don’t have that.”

View the full city report on the proposed relocation of the shotgun house.

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Mark Foecking May 24, 2008 | 9:07 p.m.

Just leave it where it is!!

Why can't they just restore it, and let people tour it on a guided basis? It's been fine where it is since it was built.


(Report Comment)
Karen Mitchell May 24, 2008 | 9:55 p.m.

Why does the city want to demolish the house and what is the significance of the June deadline for demolition?

(Report Comment)
Bryan Ross May 24, 2008 | 10:46 p.m.

With all of the trouble that happens at Douglas Park, do they really think that is the best place for it? If it has to be moved, take it to Nifong Park.

(Report Comment)
Jon Galloway May 25, 2008 | 7:04 p.m.

Glad to see this is being explored. More mixed uses are needed in North Central. More people at all hours of the day make places safer. And, forget about parking. There is plenty of parking on Fifth Street and Lyon Street at all times, especially during the day.

(Report Comment)

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