While driving around the island recently, I noticed a tiny house sitting alongside a huge home. I really didn’t think much of it, until I saw another one a few minutes later. Then another, and another.
I snapped some photos and decided to do little digging into the history of these cool little houses, which many folks refer to as shotgun houses.
I reached out to Will Wright, Director of Communications and Special Events at the Galveston Historical Foundation. Here’s what he said in an email:
“I can tell you that the commissary houses, as they were locally known, are also referred to as shotgun houses. A shotgun floor-plan is a side-hall house, with a front and back door in alignment. The term shotgun comes from the fact that a person could stand at the front door and fire a shotgun straight down the hall and out the back door.
“Ellen Beasley writes in her book ‘Alleys and Back Buildings’ that 1,583 commissary houses were erected after the 1900 Storm. Of those, approximately one-third of them were long, narrow, three-room cottages (shotgun houses).
“The term ‘commissary house’ suggests that they were dispersed like other emergency supplies. So many people were left homeless after the storm, as you know. Commissary houses were like 21st century FEMA trailers, but better! Many of them are still here! You won’t be able to say that about a FEMA trailer in 100 years!”
Dwayne Jones, executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation, shed some more light on the tiny structures. Here’s what he told me:
“I would not say these are true shotgun houses. The shotgun has origins in Africa. These houses are similar but would be more accurately called two room gable front houses that maximized living space with economy of construction time, materials and costs.”
Whatever you choose to call them, these small habitations definitely add to the island’s charisma and they solidify Galveston’s reputation as Texas’ charming city by the sea.