103. Shot Gun House

Historic Marker number 103 is located at 525 Elizabeth Street between Fleming and Southard Streets.

It is believed that the term “shotgun house” comes from the ability to fire a shotgun blast through the front door and cleanly out the back door without hitting the house itself. In the 1880s, shotgun homes became popular in Key West for three reasons.

First, the long, narrow, one room wide building style was well suited for the narrow lots of the small, one-by-three mile wide island.

Secondly, Key West has always been short on housing supply. The relatively small, one story houses were easy to build and could be accomplished with the limited local building materials of the nineteenth century. Everything needed to build a home had to be shipped by sailboat from the U.S. mainland or the Bahamas. It was common to use “single ply” construction due to material shortages. Single ply refers to attaching siding and a roof to the frame of the house but excluding inner walls or ceilings. The building practice is also referred to as open stud construction.

The third reason hides inside or just behind houses along the streets of the Historic District. Shotgun structures were easy to expand as space needs grew or your prosperity increased. Often due to the limitations of small lot sizes, original shotgun structures have been swallowed by the larger, newer structure. Many of the homes scattered throughout Key West's Historic District were constructed by cigar factory owners as worker housing during the heyday of the cigar industry in 1890. Locally they are fondly referred to as “cigar maker's cottages”. For more on cigar makers and where they lived, please see Historic Marker #20.

It wasn't uncommon for families of 6 or more to raise their children in the cramped quarters; however almost any form of housing in the nineteenth century was a prized commodity.