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What is a Shotgun Shack?

Cabins once lined roadsides in the DeltaKnown as shotgun shacks, these houses were common in the Mississippi Delta near agricultural fields. Each home featured three to five rooms with no hallway ...

Cabins once lined roadsides in the Delta
Known as shotgun shacks, these houses were common in the Mississippi Delta near agricultural fields. Each home featured three to five rooms with no hallway just a series of doors leading from room to room. They were called shotgun houses because you could shoot a shotgun through the front door and it would go out the back door without hitting a wall.

Sharecroppers lived here
From 1865 until the 1960s, sharecropping was used in the Delta. A plantation owner would supply a home to a sharecropper's family. In exchange, the workers (both black and white) would farm "on shares" and settle up with the landowner at the end of the season. Once the owner deducted expenses, however, the families received little profit.

Comforts were limited
With no insulation, these single-wall houses were often freezing in winter and blazing hot in summer. Pages of newspaper were used as wallpaper, adhered with glue made from flour.

Mechanical cotton pickers replaced sharecroppers
When workers moved north to find better paying jobs in the 1930s, owners discovered faster, cheaper ways to harvest their cotton. The Rust mechanical cotton picker (above), introduced in 1935, picked in an hour what four workers would need a day to gather.

Few shotgun shacks remain
This symbol of the South is rapidly disappearing. This shack was located on the Helena Plantation before being moved here. Though less than half the size of a complete cabin, this home depicts the type where many Southerners were born, including McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters), who lived in a shotgun shack until he was three.

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