Relationship of the Parts – 1833

Or… Why I Think New Orleans and Louisville Share Shotgun Architecture

In modern Louisville it’s hard to tell that we were originally a patchwork of smaller towns. This 1833 map shows how Louisville, Shippingport and Portland sat on one side of the Falls of the Ohio and Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany sat on the other. I found this old map in the on-line UofL Photo Archives today. The link to the full map is HERE.

Lou Map copy

And on the same map I found these distances up-river from Louisville to Pittsburgh and down-river to New Orleans. This is one link in my storytelling of why Louisville has so many shotgun houses.  This chart of distances is divided into two major sets (upriver from Louisville and downriver from Louisville) not because it was a map designed for Louisville, but because the Falls of the Ohio presented a barrier to river travel.  From Louisville you could go up river or down river.  But you couldn’t pass through Louisville because of the falls.  So… Louisville represented a northern terminus and New Orleans represented a southern terminus for flatboat travel.

Untitled 2 copy

The Boatmen’s Dance is the first song in Aaron Copeland’s Old American Songs. Here’s the words…

The Boatmen’s Dance
Traditional

The boatmen dance, the boatmen sing,
The boatmen up to ev’rything,
And when the boatman gets on shore
He spends his cash and works for more.

High row the boatmen row,
Floatin’ down the river the Ohio.

Then dance the boatmen dance,
O dance the boatmen dance.
O dance all night ’til broad daylight,
And go home with the gals in the mornin’.

High row the boatmen row. . . etc

I went on board the other day
To see what the boatmen had to say.
There I let my passion loose
An’ they cram me in the callaboose.
O dance the boatmen dance. . .

High row the boatmen row . . . etc

The boatman is a thrifty man,
There’s none can do as the boatman can.
I never see a pretty gal in my life
But that she was a boatman’s wife.
O dance the boatmen dance. . .

High row the boatmen row. . . etc

1024px-George_Caleb_Bingham_The_Jolly_Flatboarmen
Painting by George Caleb Bingham – Jolly Flatboatmen 1846

Here’s a couple of fellers singing the song on YouTube: HERE

In the first verse the line
“And when the boatman gets on shore
He spends his cash and works for more.”
caught my attention when I was living down in NewOrleans.  What did these Kentucky boatmen work at when they were “on shore” at the end of their flatboat ride?  Their raft wasn’t going back upstream so I figure they took those boats apart and sold the lumber.  Lumber that was being used to build shotgun houses in the Marigny and Bywater parts of New Orleans among other places. Here’s two links (not primary evidence and fairly weak support…but…):

A blog entry describing a “Bargeboard” home in New Orleans   HERE
And an article in The Gambit (a New Orleans rag) about “Bargeboard” homes.   HERE

This is as far as I’m going with this story in this post.  But in a future post I’ll lay out feeble evidence for:

  • Kentucky boatmen making a bit of extra cash by disassembling their rafts and selling the lumber.
  • Boatmen signing on with construction crews in New Orleans where they learned to make shotgun homes.
  • Bringing that knowledge back up to Louisville with them.
  • Building shotgun houses here.
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