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Shotgun Tracts



This is a portion of a 1858 map of property lines along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The map reminded the author of shotgun houses -long, narrow houses with all the rooms stacked in a line, one behind another. Is there any relation between the two? Maybe the odd property shapes point to the fact that every landowner wants a bit of riverfront. See the entire (enlargable) map at Strange Maps. Link

The riverfront theory is probably correct. The river was the highway. You wouldn't build a house today without any connection to the transportation network, would you?
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If you look at the full-size map on that site, you'll see many lots that are bound on all sides by other lots (typically inside the sharper bends of the river). For those people, the river would be the only means of entry to their land unless they could get an easement across someone else's land.
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It's the Seigneurial system created in New France (Quebec) that was exported to Louisiana. There's physical evidence of this land division in today's Quebec.

The Wikipedia article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seigneurial_system_of_New_France
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The reason for long pieces of property along river banks is because the government wanted to ensure that every farmer would have access to the river for their fields so that one person didn't thrive while others perished. This was all before wells and underground aquifers of course....
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All of the above theories sound pretty solid to me. It's probably just a coincidence that shotgun houses were shaped the same as these land plots. Shotguns houses were intentionally designed the way that they were to allow a free draft of air to blow through the house and keep it cool when both the front and back doors were left open in the summertime. Rumor has it that the name "Shotgun House" was used because it was said you could fire a shotgun straight through the house from the back yard to the front without hitting anything. (As long as no one was standing in the hallway!)
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They did that here in Michigan along the Detroit River. They were called ribbon farms I think.

Here are some people discussing them here:
http://atdetroit.net/forum/messages/6790/91521.html?1180288955
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It is a relic of the old French Seigneurial system. The property lines along the St Lawrence River in Quebec are almost identical. Every holder of a Seigneurie had access to the river, some flat farmland and some timberland.
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As some people here have mentioned, this is a carryover of the Seigneurial system. It has less to do with access to land than with shipping of commodities. All sites along the river (plantations and agricultural tracts) had waterfront access for loading onto flatboats. The parishes shown on this map are just upriver from New Orleans, where goods would be unloaded for sale. If you look at a current map of Ascension, St. James, St. John the Baptist, and St. Charles Parishes, the division of land has remained relatively unchanged up to now. The similarity with shotgun houses is just coincidence.
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Interesting - I was just in Kyoto this summer, where there are old townhouses (machiya) arranged the same way (narrow front, long house), for a similar but somewhat different reason: property taxes were assessed based on street frontage!
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