Archaeology in Action: Shotgun House Site

Posted on February 15, 2024 by Rachel Hines
Rachel Hines

We excavated the Shotgun House Site in 2023 as part of the I-10 Mobile River Bridge Archaeology Project.  The site was named for a row of 8 shotgun houses in the northeast corner of the site, and is bound by I-10 and Texas, South Conception, and New Jersey Streets. The residents of the shotgun houses lived Down the Bay, the neighborhood south of Government Street.


1955 Map of houses at the corner of New Jersey and South Conception streets2023 excavations at the Shotgun House Site on the 1955 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (left). Courtesy of the Library of Congress. The map on the right shows the location of the site (in red) and the other sites for the I-10 MRB Archaeology Project (in gray).


Despite the name, the Shotgun House Site spans Mobile history, with artifacts from the precontact Native American period and the Colonial era in addition to our most recent history. The area isn’t shown on early maps, but the shotgun houses were built by the early 1900s, when they are first shown on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. 11 structures were built on the west side of the lot between 1924 and 1955, but were demolished when I-10 was constructed and only the very back of their yards fell within our site boundary, so we focused our efforts on the houses on the east side of the block.


three archaeologists excavate a brick pier and utility linesArchaeologists excavate a brick pier from a shotgun house. Utility lines cross through their unit.


We excavated the backyards of the row of shotgun houses and uncovered trash pits, brick house piers (above), utility lines, and associated residential remains. We also excavated a few units in the front yard of 762 South Conception Street. We found brick piers from the house, but surprisingly, beneath the house we found native American pottery on the pre-19th century ground surface.


Several pieces of clay pottery with a scale barFragments of Native American pottery sitting on the pre-19th century ground surface found beneath one of the former shotgun houses.


Possibly the most unexpected part of the site was a deep, dense deposit of artifacts that extended 1.5 to 2 meters beneath the ground surface in the southern part of the site. Some of our hypotheses include land reclamation, refuse disposal in an alley in the middle of the block, and redeposited I-10 construction debris. This also included a possible retaining wall running east/west. As we continue our analyses, we hope to learn more about turn of the century landscape modifications and filling episodes.


The house at 754 South Conception Street was the last one standing on the block, and was home to the Packer Draine Family from 1945 to 2017, when ALDOT purchased the lot for the bridge widening project. John Draine, who lived in the house for several decades, shared his memories of the neighborhood with us as part of the Down the Bay Oral History Project.


Light greens shotgun house with three people on the porchShotgun house at 754 South Conception Street, the last remaining structure on the street, in 2018.


Archaeologist Dusty Norris discussed the Shotgun House site and the archaeology of African American yards in his poster for the 2022 Southeastern Archaeological Conference. The Shotgun House Site is one of 15 sites we excavated for the I-10 Mobile River Bridge Archaeology Project. Stay tuned to learn more about our excavations and what we’ve learned so far!

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