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“Barn Builders” Blunders Badly

April 11th, 2016 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, my buddy Milton saw an episode of “Barn Builders” (DIY TV, Season 2, Episode 9), which featured a short bit on a Sears Home. According to the episode guide that accompanied the program, “the guys restore an 1856 log cabin.”

The log cabin sat on a spacious old family farm. The “Barn Builders” did a fine job with that 1856 cabin, but it all went off the rails when they decided to do a snippet on another structure on the land, sitting a few hundred feet away. The house in question was a very primitive house, probably built in the late 1800s, and on the cusp of collapse.

As one of the crew members wandered over to the badly dilapidated structure, he said, “this looks like a Sears kit house.” Thus began a four-minute segment on Sears Kit Homes, replete with quick shots of Sears Modern Home catalogs from the early 1920s and house plans and other imagery.

Next, the Barn Builder walked into the old house and made several comments affirming his remarkable find of a kit house from Sears.

The entire four-minutes worth of shenanigans left me shaking my head in disbelief. The show probably has a wide-spread audience, which means that “Barn Builders” has now disseminated a whole slew of bad information about kit homes to a whole new audience.

It’s mighty frustrating and even more so when you think about the fact that this house wasn’t even built in the right CENTURY to be a Sears kit house.

Enjoy the pictures below and if you happen to know anyone involved in the production of “Barn Builders,” ask them to give me a call.

Did you enjoy this blog? Please share this link with your friends on Facebook!

Read about another unfortunate use of the airwaves and old houses, click here.

To read about a bona fide Sears House in West Virginia, click here.

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Fine

This tired wooden house sits on an old family farm in West Virginia, and was featured on a recent episode of "Barn Builders." Its condition is very poor.

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After a few minutes, this fellow leaves the project (an 1856 log cabin) and strolls over to the old farmhouse for a closer look. As hes walking, he identifies the old house as probably a Sears kit house. Thats when the real fun begins.

After working on the 1856 cabin for a time, one of the workers leaves the project and strolls over to the old farmhouse for a closer look. As he's walking toward the old house, he says that it's "probably a Sears kit house." That's when the real fun begins.

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The

There are many reasons as to why this is not a Sears kit house, but let's start with the "low-hanging fruit." First, it was probably built in the late 1800s. Sears started selling their "Modern Homes" in 1908. The house shown here is supported with what's known as "rubble stone" piers or "dry stacked stone" piers. While this type of foundation remained in use into the early 1900s, it was more common in the mid-to-late 1800s. And a rubble-stone foundation would not have been considered acceptable for a Sears kit home. And there's this: The house had no exterior sheathing. Those clapboards were nailed right to the studs. This is not a good way to build a house, and it's certainly not a kit house.

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The

It's rather amazing that this old house is still upright.

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If this house were in the south, wed say it was a mess.

There are no windows on the side of the house and there are two unusually long windows on the rear. This was a house designed and built by a novice. In short, it was the cheapest way to cover air in the 1800s.

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Inside the house, the man rambles on about the fact that the kits came with nails and paint and everything else.

Inside the house, the man rambles on about the fact that the kits came with nails and paint and everything else. If you look at the trim in the house, you'll notice that it's also extremely primitive. Again, it's pretty clear, no architects and no professional builders were consulted in the building of this house.

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These fellows should stick to building barns.

These fellows should stick to building barns.

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Read about another unfortunate use of the airwaves and old houses, click here.

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Thanks to Jim, We Found Sears Modern Home #158

April 11th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

Twice in the last several months, I’ve done a blog on a Sears House that I’d never seen, but had hoped to see, and both times, readers have found those houses! The first one was the Sears Monterey, which Jennifer successfully found and identified in Pennsylvania. And now, Jim has found and identified a Sears Modern Home #158 in West Virginia!

I wrote Jim a letter and asked, “How did you do that?” He replied, “The listing said it was a Sears and it’s pretty unique design with the first-floor porch tucked under the bedrooms, so it wasn’t difficult to identify.”

Part of what piqued my interest in this house is that it merited an honorable mention in a book titled, “Flesh and Bone” by Jefferson Bass (2007).

Thanks to Jim for contacting me on this #158!

Many thanks to the unnamed and unknown Realtor who took the photos. If I knew who you were, I’d give you some link love.

To read about Jennifer’s find in Pennsylvania, click here.

The blog to which Jim responded can be found here.

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Sears Modern Home #158, as seen in the 1910 catalog.

Sears Modern Home #158, as seen in the 1910 catalog.

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Interesting floor plan

It always tickles me to find a Sears kit home with servant's quarters.

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Jhs

The bedroom on the front left is 12x20, which is massive for a Sears House.

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Cement, brick and plaster were not included in the kit, due to weight and freight.

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Ffff

As Jim said, it's a pretty distinctive house!

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There it is, in all its beauty, in West Virginia.

There it is, in all its beauty, in West Virginia.

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Closer

If anyone ever decides to leave me a Sears House in their will, I hope it's in West Virginia. What a fabulous place to live! I'd also settle for Western Virginia. Or Southern Virginia. Or North Carolina. Or South Carolina. Maybe Maryland. And California. And even Hawaii. Heck, I'd take one anywhere.

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Cool

Put side-by-side, you can see that the house in West Virginia is a really nice match, down to the detail on the underside of the porch roof. And what a delight to see that those full-length porch railings are still in place.

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Nice back yard, too. Plenty of room back there for some horsies.

Nice back yard, too. Plenty of room back there for some horsies.

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The outside is lovely, but its the interior that made me swoon.

The outside is lovely, but it's the interior that made me swoon.

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My heart is all aflutter just looking at these images.

My heart is all aflutter just looking at these images.

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Now that's a view to wake up to!

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Beautiful, isnt it?

Beautiful, isn't it?

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Nice front porch, too.

Does the swing convey? How about the adorable baby Adirondack chair?

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The fireplace surround probably isn't original. Looks very 1950s to me. I could be wrong...

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However, Im fairly certain that all this original wood planking is original to the house. And its too beautiful for words. Heres hoping the new owner doesnt paint it or tear it out.

However, I'm fairly certain that all this original wood planking is original to the house. And it's too beautiful for words. Here's hoping the new owner doesn't paint it or tear it out.

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Thanks again to Jim for contacting me about this treasure!

Thanks again to Jim for contacting me about this treasure!

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To read about Jennifer’s find in Pennsylvania, click here.

The blog to which Jim responded can be found here.

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Where’s Rosie?

April 8th, 2016 Sears Homes 9 comments

That might be the question on my friends’ lips, as I’ve well nigh disappeared from polite society for the last several weeks. I didn’t realize how long I’d been “under the radar” until last night, when I glanced at an entry in my personal journal and saw that I went silent the second week of January.

That was three months ago.

After years of researching and writing about  Penniman, I realized that this book would never be completed unless I made it my raison d’être and singularly devoted myself to that task. For the last 90 days, I’ve spent 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week, finishing up this manuscript with a few days off from time to time. There were days that I worked for 16 hours straight. Not a fun time.

It’s been intense, and now the first draft is done. From here, it gets much easier.

We’ve been researching this topic since 2010, but it turned the corner and became a “manuscript” about three years ago. For more than 18 months, an entire room of my beautiful old house has been in a state of great disarray and extreme messiness. Wednesday night, I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning (that’d be Thursday morning) pulling notes down from the walls and tidying up. My entire collection of research now sits in five large plastic bins, ready to be stowed.

Before I dismantled The War Room™ I snapped a few photos.

I seriously thought about titling this blog, “So you want to be a writer?” but decided against it. When my children were young, my daily prayer for them was, “May these three sweet girls realize their full potential in this life.” I think some of those prayers rebounded into my own life, because researching and writing this book has required 100% of all my emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and intellectual abilities.

But I must add, now that it’s done, I’m a very happy girl. My feelings of joy and satisfaction and accomplishment are unmatched in my life experience, and those are some very good feelings. Enjoy the photos, and you can expect to hear more about “the book” very soon.

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If there was a single word that could be used to describe this mess, it might be post-it notes.

If there was a single phrase that could be used to describe this research effort, it might be "post-it notes." There were many of these involved and in many places.

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There were a few on the fireplace mantel.

There were a few notes on the fireplace mantel. This was late in the process. The notes on the left were the "completed" tasks. The ones on the right were the "need to be done." That's my dear sweet Mama are on the far right, smiling at me as I toil away. She passed 14 years ago.

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These were the books that I used most often.

These were the books that I used most often, a collection of newspaper articles from the "Virginia Gazette" and the "Daily Press." There are a few post-it notes here, too.

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Early on, Teddy figured out that post-it notes were the best way to get my attention.

Early on, Teddy figured out that post-it notes were the best way to get my attention.

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The 1950s lamp was not spared the indignity of note placement.

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Not counting the material adorning the walls, the notebooks were an impressive lot.

Not counting the material adorning the walls, the notebooks were an impressive lot. There were seven additional notebooks that didn't make it into the pile. The rolled documents are maps.

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There were a few post-it notes within the pages, too.

There were a few post-it notes within the pages, too.

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When Wayne came home, I insisted he pose here too.

When Wayne came home, I insisted he pose here too. He was instructed to "look professorial and erudite." I think he nailed it.

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Perhaps I should have asked him to look patient. He never said a word when I started covering the walls with 100-year-old newspaper stories - you know - the walls hed just painted the year before...

Perhaps I should have asked him to "look patient." He never said a word when I started covering the walls with 100-year-old newspaper stories - you know - the walls he'd just painted the year before...

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Ever the varnished door was not spared.

Even the varnished door was not spared.

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back

And nothing accents a 1950s Mid-Century Modern house like cheap plastic banquet tables.

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All in the name of history!

All in the name of history!

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And it all started with those little bungalows in Riverview...

And it all started with those pretty little bungalows in Riverview, moved to Norfolk from Penniman...(Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware).

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To learn more about Penniman’s little houses, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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A Penniman Bungalow - in Larchmont!

March 13th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

Larchmont is a prestigious neighborhood in Norfolk, filled with stately Colonial Revivals, Cape Cods, Dutch Colonials and Neo-Tudors from the 1920s and 30s. As far as older neighborhoods go, Larchmont is one of Hampton Roads’ most expensive communities, and prices range from $350,000 to $1.2 million.

If you had asked me last month, which early 20th Century neighborhood in all of southeastern Virginia is least likely to have a Penniman house, I would have said “Larchmont.”

But you might be asking yourself, what’s a Penniman house?

Penniman was a World War One munitions plant, built by DuPont, about six miles from Williamsburg. The village of Penniman sprung up around the plant, and by Summer 1918, about 15,000 people were living on the 6,000-acre site, with two miles of frontage on the York River. More than 5,000 laborers and carpenters worked long hours building dorms and apartments and cottages and houses.

Large caliber artillery shells were loaded at the plant and sent onto Newport News, by rail, where they were loaded on troop transports and shipped to the Western Front in France. Penniman was one of the largest shell-loading plants in the country and according to The History of Explosives, workers at Penniman produced more than 27,000 shells per day.

The war’s end on November 11, 1918 took many folks by surprise. Most thought that the war would go on for months if not years. When Armistice came, construction at Penniman ceased immediately and the government canceled contracts. As one local newspaper said in 1919, “Penniman was deserted almost overnight.”

The houses built at Penniman were designed by DuPont, built by Hancock-Pettyjohn, a Lynchburg contractor, and paid for by Uncle Sam. The finer houses were closer to the York, and were occupied by higher-end management, and were offered in more than a dozen designs. “The Cumberland” (shown below) was not the biggest and not the smallest, but probably leaning toward the upper tier of housing options at the plant.

When the plant closed down after The Great War, the houses (most of which were less than six months old) were not torn down but salvaged. Two Norfolk men (Warren Hastings and George Hudson) purchased several of the houses and moved them - by barge - to Norfolk.

Before last week, we knew of 20 Penniman houses that had been moved to Riverview, 27 to Riverfront and 4 to Willoughby Spit. That was it, and frankly, that seemed like a lot, but we suspected there were more. How to find them?

My buddy Bill Inge took this task on last week and had phenomenal results. While we’d been looking around waterways and inlets, Bill had a novel approach: He went looking for land records. In his searching, Bill found that Warren Hastings had also purchased a lot in Larchmont. Converting the legal description to a street address, he found the precise location. Bill then texted me and said, “Is it possible that there’s a Penniman house in Larchmont?”

When I first saw his text I thought, “Whoa, wouldn’t THAT be a story!” but I had my doubts. After all, Larchmont is a high-dollar, impressive community full of fine homes. Was it really likely that someone had moved a war-time frame house into Larchmont?

I googled the address he gave me and within a few seconds, I realized Bill was right: It was a “Cumberland” from Penniman. When I write about unusual Sears Homes, I often wonder, “Do the people living in this house know what they have?” Based on my research, about 75% don’t know that they’re living in a Sears House. What are the odds that people know they have a Penniman? I’d say it’s a lot less than one percent!

Thanks so much to Bill for all  his help and for finding this house!

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with friends or post the link on Facebook!

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Penniman was a very crowded place.

Penniman was a very crowded place, occupied by 15,000 at its peak. The houses that were moved to Norfolk are the two-story houses in the background of this photo. Picture is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Cumberland

The model that ended up in Larchmont is The Cumberland. Designed by DuPont for their plants, this house was also built in Old Hickory, Tennessee, another munitions plant.

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house

The Cumberland was one of their nicer homes, but it's still not very big.

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Floorplan

That's upstairs bedroom is 8x11. In the 21st Century, we call that a closet.

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Cumberland

The Cumberland was a traiditional foursquare. A distinctive feature of many of these DuPont houses is the windows flanking the front door, and a fixed transom over the door.

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Hanckcok

About 50 years ago, this metal tag was found near the site where the Penniman houses were originally built, and probably served as a chit for workers checking out tools from the tool shed. The "H-P. Co." is for Hancock-Pettyjohn, the Lynchburg-based company that built the houses at Penniman.

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house house

In December 1921, this appeared in the "Virginian Pilot," showing the houses coming from Penniman to Norfolk. To the right are two Cumberlands - back to back.

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Riverfront

Here's a Cumberland in Riverfront (on Major Avenue). Notice the windows next to the door. There's another Cumberland next door to this one. Prior to Bill's discovery, these were the only two Cumberlands we knew about in Norfolk.

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Larchmont

According to assessor records, the porch on the Larchmont "Cumberland" was removed in 1957, which is a real pity. As shown here, the house has been covered in substitute siding, and that's probably when the windows and transom disappeared (by the door). This photo was taken in 1959.

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house house house

The city records say the house was built in 1920, but in fact, it was built in Spring of 1918 by Hancock-Pettyjohn and moved (by barge) to its current site in 1921 or 1922.

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dimensions

According to the city's information, the dimensions for the house are correct.

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Google

An image from Google Maps (2015) show the house with new siding (third layer) and replacement windows.

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Penniman

Yesterday, when Milton and I drove past the house, the porch had been restored and it looks like the homeowner did a fine job. And it looks far better with a porch. Not sure what's happening with the transom.

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Penniman

Do they know that their house was born in Penniman, and then traveled by barge to Larchmont?

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Cumberland 1918

Do they know that their house looked like this in 1918?

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Location

If you look at a map of the home's current location, you can see how accessible it is by water.

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Mr. Hastings who brought this house

Here's a picture of Mr. Warren Hastings, standing in front of the homes in Riverfront.

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DO they know

And it all started here - in Penniman.

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To learn the details of how Mr. Hastings moved these homes by barge, click here.

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“Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work - Or Houses”

February 19th, 2016 Sears Homes 3 comments

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

Local Arts Center buys 105-year-old house in historic river town of Mathews, Virginia.

After a careful analysis, officials of this Arts Center determine that the old house they bought is an old house and must be demolished.

Perhaps the directors need to read this blog: “Thou shalt not destroy good old work.”

“Thou shalt not destroy good old work” is the first commandment in old house ownership.

The Bay School Community Arts Center paid $80,000 for the L. M. Callis house in March 2015, for the purpose of expanding their enterprise. When the property (and its one-acre lot) was purchased, the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal ran a nice article, where they quoted Arts Center Business Director Debbie Brown as saying that there were “many ideas” for the best use of the house and land.

A subsequent article which appeared this week in the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal (February 17, 2016) said that the Bay School Community Arts Center was now planning to demolish the house.

Arts Center spokesman Kelsey Desmond said it was a “difficult decision” made after they realized that the house needed insulation, roof repairs, plumbing upgrades, and heating and air conditioning systems. Plus (and maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back), the house had several broken window panes.

Many in the community remain hopeful that the Arts Center will have a change of hearth on this one. A contractor and two local architects have written letters of support, urging the Bay School Community Arts Center to preserve the house, as it is a contributing structure, built in 1910  by a well-known businessman,  and represents some of the finest architectural features of its time (early 1900s). After inspecting the L. M. Callis house, a contractor stated that it is “an excellent candidate for refurbishment.”

Every now and then, Norfolk Historian Bill Inge does a program called, “Lost Norfolk” which features dozens of pictures of the most beautiful old houses and buildings which are now gone, thoughtlessly demolished in the dark name of progress. At each slide, the audience first gasps and then sighs when they see the majesty and the sheer number of architectural gems that were razed, reduced to a pile of debris at the local landfill.

Fortunately, the majority of those dwellings were lost pre-1980. By the 1980s, most communities realized that in destroying architecturally significant properties, they were ripping out the very soul of their community and the beating heart of their history, and the wanton destruction stopped.

That’s one of 27 reasons it surprised me to hear that the L. M. Callis house is facing the gallows. This is 2016. We know better than to continue tearing down these irreplaceable gems. Perhaps the Arts Center needs to see these old houses as I see them: Breathtaking massive sculptures, painstakingly carved out from Cypress, Cedar, Oak and Pine. These glorious and massive wooden sculptures come with this immeasurable bonus: We can live within them, and experience these glorious artistic forms from the inside-out.

In my opinion, tearing down a grand old house is no different from purposefully destroying historic artwork.

And don’t get me started on the recycling issue. More than 40% of all the detritus in American landfills is construction debris. So while the Arts Center may place a few recycle bins at their shiny new facility, is that really going to counteract the effect of sending 350,000 pounds of irreplaceable first-growth lumber from virgin forests to the landfill?

Please share this blog on your Facebook page.

To read more about why this wood is irreplaceable, click here.

To learn more about why you should not destroy “good old work” click here.

Thanks to Lori Jackson Black for supplying the photos.

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This old house was built by local merchant, L. M. Callis, and its located behind the Bay School Buildings.

This old house was built by local merchant, L. M. Callis, and it's located behind the Bay School Buildings. Yeah, that is slate on the roof, and most likely, it's Buckingham Slate, considered the finest roofing material in the world. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Buckingham slate is mined in Buckingham County (hence the name) and weighs about 1,400 pounds per square. You heard that right: A 10x10 section of Buckingham slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses built to receive this roof would have been overbuilt to accomodate the phenonenal weight of the roofing shingles.

Buckingham slate is mined in Buckingham County (hence the name) and weighs about 1,400 pounds per square. You heard that right: A 10x10 section of Buckingham slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses built to receive this roof would have been overbuilt to accommodate the phenomenal weight of the roofing shingles. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the best reads for any old house lover,

In this wonderful book, Mr. Jenkins explains that Europeans don't tear down things like we do, and there are slate roofs in Europe that are more than 400 years old. Slate roofs need maintenance but they need never be replaced. Remember I mentioned that 40% of all materials at landfills are construction related? About 35% of that is roofing materials. Slate roofs are forever and they are the "greenest" roof you can possible use.

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IT

And you'll note, the house has slate on the gables as well. Perhaps most incredibly, 105 years later, this house still retains its original windows, siding, roof and even shutters. They appear to be original. I'd guess that the clapboards and shutters are cypress or cedar, both of which are "oily" woods and will last for a long time. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This house deserves a better ending, than being reduced to the "demolished houses" vertical file at the local library. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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I could talk for a long time about this house, but Ill stop here: Its a stunning house and is worthy of restoration.

I could talk for a long time about this house, but I'll stop here: It's a stunning house and is worthy of restoration. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about why this wood is irreplaceable, click here.

To learn more about why you should not destroy “good old work” click here.

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Oh Dear Ethel, What Were You Thinking…

February 15th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

According to newspaper accounts, Ethel didn’t die easy. For 10 days in November 1918, she lingered in a Richmond hospital before succumbing to her injuries, caused by two bullet wounds through her left lung.

In the last days of her life, between labored breaths and unimaginable pain, Ethel dictated her will to her mother and bequeathed “many pieces of diamond jewelry” to her mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher. Carrie had come down from Girard, Pennsylvania so that Ethel Mae wouldn’t die alone.

Ten days earlier, Ethel Mae Brown had stepped off a train in downtown Richmond to meet her lover, Ralph E. Walker. It was a Wednesday night, about 7:00 o’clock, on a typical November night with temps in the mid-40s. Ethel and Ralph had met at Penniman, a World War One munitions plant on the York River. Ralph did the same work at Penniman as he’d done back home in Chattanooga: He managed the livestock at the plant. Ethel was a foreman, probably in the shell-loading area.

Both Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

Eyewitnesses later told police that there was an argument between the two as they stood on the sidewalk at 14th and Main Street. Ralph (55) pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot Ethel Mae (38) twice in the left chest at close range. She fell to the ground immediately. He then pointed the pistol at his own chest, and fired two shots before collapsing on the sidewalk.

Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from two wounds, Ralph managed to prop himself up on one elbow, point the pistol at Ethel and fire two more bullets at her, with one bullet grazing her head.

Ralph then collapsed.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and saw the horrid scene. Using a citizen’s vehicle, Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, about one mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. While the entire world celebrated, Ralph fretted. Soon, he’d be separated from his sweetheart.

It’s my opinion that Ralph had decided sometime earlier that he’d either sweep Ethel away to a new life, or take both of their lives. Either way, Ralph had no intention of returning home. Shortly before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel signing the register as “F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama.”

Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children, one of whom (Ralph, Jr., age 28) had become an invalid after a terrible street-car accident. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, and was the youngest son of Judge Dawson Walker, and the brother of Judge Seth Walker.  Ralph’s work had always centered around buying, selling and managing livestock.

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Despite Ethel’s suffering, she consistently refused to provide details of the tragedy to the police or medical staff.  When admitted to the hospital, she used the name, “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

Ethel would only tell the police that Ralph “had been despondent for some time,” and that he had a terrible temper. Ethel told the police that Ralph had shot her “in a fit of anger…following a quarrel.”

In the wee hours of November 22, 1918, Ethel breathed her last, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918). Her body was prepared by Henry W. Woody Funeral Home of Richmond and shipped to Girard later that day.

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Until a couple days ago, that’s a summary of everything we knew about Ralph and Ethel. Thanks to Genealogist Extraordinaire Milton Crum and Ohio Historian Ashley Armstrong-Zwart, we now know quite a bit more about Ethel.

Ethel and her mother misrepresented Ethel’s age on several legal documents, but we now have a confirmed birth date of October 23, 1880. Her father was Wilford Joseph Schneittacher and her mother was Carrie Grace Young Schneittacher. Carrie was born in 1865, and she was only 15 when Ethel was born.

On June 3, 1905, Ethel married Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth in Manhattan. The two had met at J. Hood Wright Hospital (also in Manhattan). Sydney didn’t tell his poor blind mama about his marriage for more than a year. When he went home to Plainfield, New Jersey, he sprung the news on everyone. The story of the young doctor who returned home with “a diploma and a bride” was a headline in the New York Times (June 14, 1906).

As the inimitable Milton Crum said yesterday, “There’s a reason you don’t tell your own mother about marrying a certain ‘type’ of girl, and it’s not a good reason.”

The newspapers said that Ethel made a statement to the police, informing them that her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.” Milton and I thought Ethel was talking about Sydney R. Titsworth. We were wrong.

And we also assumed that Ethel had created the pseudonym of “Mrs. Brown” in order to hide her true identify. We were wrong about that too.

Our big break came when Milton discovered that Ethel was enumerated twice in the 1910 census. She was enumerated in early April, living with her physician husband in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and then ten days later she was enumerated again, this time as a boarder in Manhattan, and working as a manicurist.

In other words, there was trouble in paradise. Sometime between those two enumerations, Ethel grabbed her diamond jewelry and left Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, landing in Manhattan at a rooming house. In 1911, the good doctor sued his soon-to-be-ex for divorce. Seems that Ethel was a friend of the drink, and to hear Sydney tell the story, she was a mean drunk.

By 1912, Ethel was back in Pennsylvania, working in Erie as a corset dealer at 924 State Street. In December 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown, and lied about her age on the marriage certificate. Most likely, Ethel headed off to Penniman in the Summer of 1918, about 2-1/2 years after marrying Frank. The 1910 census shows that Frank was a laborer, and his 1917 draft card showed he was a laborer at American Fork and Hoe Company.

On May 26, 1918, Frank became something else: Part of Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force. Private Frank Brown survived one of the worst battles of World War One: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It raged from September 26, 1918 until the end of the war, November 11, 1918. More than 26,000 Americans died and 95,000 were wounded. Frank survived with no permanent physical injuries.

While Frank was serving his country and trying to stay alive in the mud-filled trenches on the Western Front, Ethel was serving in the second-line trenches at Penniman, and in her spare time, she was playing “who’s got a secret” with the guy in the stable.

Ralph Walker, the man with a wife and six children in Chattanooga, told several people that he had a “sweetheart” at the plant. He also told the lady who ran his rooming house that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into the room one morning and found that he had killed himself.

When Ethel got off that train in Richmond on Wednesday night, she was probably returning to Penniman to pack up her things and go home. The previous few days, she’d been on a short vacation in Girard, visiting the folks back home. The war was over. Perhaps Ethel decided that it was time to end the affair and go back home to Pennsylvania and get on with her life. Frank would be coming home soon, and she could forget all this ever happened.

Instead, standing on a sidewalk in Richmond, still wearing an expensive diamond brooch and “handsome diamond ring,” she was mortally wounded when an angry lover pressed a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger - twice.

In death, Ethel didn’t fare much better. The story of her very bad ending was kept out of the papers in and around Girard. Her hometown paper, The Cosmopolite Herald, which detailed every citizen’s runny nose, sprained ankle and wandering chicken, had almost nothing to say about Ethel’s death. In a newspaper where even an infant’s death merits a front-page 200-word obituary, how did Ethel get overlooked? It must have been intentional and/or a gentleman’s agreement with Mr. and Mrs. Schneittacher.

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Titsworth Brown was buried in Girard Cemetery with the simplest of markers. The only child of Carrie Grace and Wilford Joseph Schneittacher rests alone in the cold ground. Cemetery records show that three plots were purchased for the three Schneittachers, but only Ethel’s plot was used. The remnant of the Schneittacher family lies in Gustavus Cemetery, more than 50 miles south of Ethel’s grave site.

Some may ask, is this really a story about Penniman? Yes, I’d say it is. It provides a thumbnail sketch about what happens in war time when people are put under difficult circumstances and endure grievous dangers and hardship. In short, it’s a story about the people of Penniman, and that’s what makes history so enchanting.

Thanks to Milton Crum, Ashley Armstrong-Zwart and Anne Hallerman for their help and brilliant research work!

To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Ralph (from Chattanooga) and Ethel (from Erie) met one another at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

Ralph and Ethel were only two of the 6,000 workers employed at Penniman. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Ethel Nove 16

Ethel's story appeared in "The Chattanooga News" on November 16, 1918.

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Titsworth

In early 1911, Dr. Titsworth sought a divorce from Ethel.

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1911

And the divorce was granted a short time later.

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In 1912

The 1912 directory shows that Ethel is a "corset dealer" in Erie.

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Even after the divorce

Even after the divorce, Ethel kept the name.

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Married

On December 15, 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown.

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Ethel's father died on March 30, 1923 from cirrhosis of the liver. Did he become an alcoholic after his little girl's death or was that a contributing factor to Ethel's many problems?

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In a town where every sniffle makes the news, its hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethels death.

In a town where every sniffle makes the news, it's hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethel's death.

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Ethel

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Brown rests alone in the Girard Cemetery, with her grave marked with the simplest of headstones, offering only the barest facts as to her life and death.

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To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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A Penniman Murder Mystery: Ethel and Ralph

February 7th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

About 7:00 o’clock, standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection in downtown Richmond, Ralph and Ethel got into an argument. Ethel had just stepped off the train, and the two started quarreling. Ralph pulled a pistol out of his pocket and shot 39-year-old Ethel twice in the chest. She collapsed immediately. Ralph (55) then turned the pistol on himself, and managed to shoot himself twice in the chest before he fell. Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from the two wounds, Ralph summoned the strength to prop  himself up on an elbow and fire the last two bullets at Ethel, with one bullet striking her in the head.

Ralph then fell back on the sidewalk, where a sailor kicked the empty pistol out of his hands.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple at 14th and Main moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and commandeered a citizen’s vehicle. Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, a modern three-story hospital about a mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. The entire world rejoiced when Germany surrendered and hostilities ceased, except for Ralph E. Walker, as it meant that he’d soon be separated from Ethel.

The two had met each other at DuPont’s munition plant at Penniman, Virginia, about seven miles from Williamsburg. Many of Penniman’s residents regularly took the C&O train to Williamsburg when they wanted to get out of the village. Ralph and Ethel probably hoped that Richmond would be a safer bet, where it wasn’t as likely that they’d be recognized. According to newspaper articles, the story of their involvement was already well known throughout the munition plant.

In Chattanooga, Ralph’s hometown, this story of the “suicide-slayer” was headline news for several days. The Chattanooga News immediately sent a reporter to Richmond to interview Mrs. D. S. McDonald of Williamsburg, where Ralph had been a boarder. According to Mrs. McDonald, Ralph had told several people that he had “a sweetheart at the DuPont plant.” Ralph also told Mrs. McDonald that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into his room one morning and found that he’d committed suicide.

Ethel lingered for 10 days. As soon as Ethel’s mother received the news, she rushed to Ethel’s bedside from her home in North Girard, Pennsylvania. Ethel, who was lucid part of the time, refused to make any statement about the events, admitting only that they’d been quarreling, and that Ralph had a terrible temper. Despite intense questioning from both the medical staff and law enforcement officers, both Ethel and her mother managed to keep Ethel’s true identity secret. The story made the headlines up and down the Eastern Seaboard, but - from what I can glean - nothing appeared in the newspapers around Ethel’s hometown of Girard.

At Penniman, Ethel was in a supervisory position (probably on the shell-loading line) and Ralph managed the livestock at the stables,  at the edge of the Penniman camp. Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children. They lived at 801 Union Avenue. His eldest child, Ralph E. Walker, Junior (30) had been in a tragic streetcar accident years earlier and was now an invalid who suffered from frequent convulsions. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, with two judges in his immediate family (a brother and a cousin).

Before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel under the pseudonym of F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama. Letters from his wife and youngest child (Mark) were found in his suitcase.

Despite the agony that Ethel must have been experiencing, she wouldn’t give anyone her real name, identifying herself only as “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

By all accounts, Ethel’s sufferings were great. With Mother at her bedside, Ethel dictated a will, bequeathing her “jewelry, diamonds and other effects” to her. On November 22, 1918, Ethel succumbed to her injuries, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918).

And for 98 years, that’s about all we knew about the murder/suicide in downtown Richmond.

Soon after I discovered this story, I asked Milton Crum, my BFF and genealogy genius if he could “spare a few minutes” to track down this mysterious Mrs. Brown. Frankly, I thought it was hopeless. But he found her, and that’s when we learned the rest of the story.

Ethel’s husband back in Girard was not a prominent physician, but a 41-year-old army doctor who enlisted in March 1918, and was serving somewhere in France. His name was Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, and he met Ethel in the early 1900s, when she was a nursing student at J. Hood Wright Hospital in New York. Secretly married in 1905 after a very brief courtship, they had no children.

Milton first found Ethel when he discovered her death certificate. Her mother (the informant) gave false information on this document as well, stating that her daughter’s last name was “Brown,” and giving her age as 28.  A 1900 Census gives a birth date of 1879 for Ethel, which corresponds to newspaper reports, putting her age at “about 35″ in 1918.

Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher, made the necessary arrangements to have her only child, Ethel Mae, buried in Girard Cemetery. Ethel’s tombstone bespeaks the deep shame her own family felt toward her. Stripped of her married name, deprived of the traditional familial connections and dates, it says only, “Ethel, dau of J.W. and C.G. Schneittacher.”

Less than 14 months after Mrs. Ralph Walker (Mary) buried her husband in disgrace, her eldest son (Ralph, Jr.) died during a convulsive fit. He was 31 years old. Mary died in 1938 at the age of 70. Her occupation was listed as “domestic.” It must not have been an easy life for either family. Four years after Ethel’s tragic death, her father (Wilford Joseph Schneittacher) died from cirrhosis of the liver.

So what is the mystery? There are many.

Did the Pennsylvania papers carry anything on this story? I’ve searched several archived newspaper sites (LOC’s Chronicling America, Newspapers.com and Find My Past) and can not find a single mention of this story. What happened to Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher? She just disappeared after the death of her husband.

And what about Ethel? Did anyone in Girard ever know what happened to her? Was there an obituary for Ethel? The family had been in Girard since the 1900 Census. Surely, someone would have missed this woman.

Lastly, is Ethel buried in the family plot, or in some corner, forgotten by her family - even in death? If Girard wasn’t so far from Norfolk, I’d drive up there, just to see for myself.

There are many interesting stories we’ll find when we go digging around in history, but this story of Ethel is one that I’ve found especially sad and haunting.

Thanks so much to Milton Crum and Anne Hallerman for assisting with the voluminous research.

The above is a preview from Rose’s forthcoming book, Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City. You can read more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

Ralph and Ethel met at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. It was located about seven miles from Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

About 6,000 men and women worked at Penniman, loading shells for The Great War. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names.

Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names. This shows the freight depot, where the 155mm and 75mm shells were shipped out to Newport News, for transport to France.

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Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock. At Penniman, he got a job managing the livestock.

Originally from Chattanooga, Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock, and that became his job at Penniman. In the upper left hand corner, you can see the stables for the donkeys, horses and other animals. The small square buildings at the top are chicken coops. Located on the edge of the property, this is probably where Ralph spent much of his day.

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This is the lone photo of Mrs. Ethel Brown. It was published only in the Chattanooga News, and the accompanying article described her as a good-looking woman.

This is the lone photo of "Mrs. Ethel Brown." It was published only in "The Chattanooga News" with the accompanying headline, "Same Old Story of Human Emotions Repeated in Virginia City."

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News

This article appeared in the "Richmond Times Dispatch" on 11.14.18

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Ethels mother, the informant misrepresented the true facts about Ethels name, age

It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who figured out Ethel's real last name, and I'm still not sure how he did it, but I think it was the discovery of this death certificate that started it all. Ethel's mother, the "informant" misrepresented the true facts about Ethel's name and age.

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It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who

This 1900 census shows Ethel is still living with her father "William" and mother "Gracie" Schneittacher in Girard, Pennsylvania. In 1918, when Ethel "disappeared" did anyone in Girard ask about her?

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Ra

Ralph Walker's body was shipped back to Chattanooga where a "family only" service was held.

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Ethels husband

Ethel's husband was discharged nine months after Ethel's death, in August 1919. He spent the next several years traveling the oceans, working as a ship's physician. He remarried in 1925.

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Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery.

Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery in Erie County, Pennsylvania. Stripped of her legal, married name, Ethel's marker is nondescript. It's my impression that - even in death - Joseph Wilford and Carrie Grace wanted to put a little distance between themselves and their only child.

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An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, The Kane Republican.

An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, "The Kane Republican" (November 15, 1918).

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Sometimes, It Takes a Village of Historians to Document a Hillrose…

February 5th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Until just a few months ago, I’d never seen a 1920s Sears Hillrose in real life. And then in August 2015, I had the delightful opportunity to visit a stunning Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia. Shortly after I wrote that blog, Greg Decker and Carrie Milam (from our Sears Homes Facebook group) discovered a Hillrose in Griffith, Indiana, and took a plethora of first-class photos!

Next, Rachel Shoemaker had the presence of mind to check Rebecca Hunter’s wonderful book, “Putting Sears Homes on the Map,” and found two more of this very same model in Convoy, Ohio and nearby Antwerp, Ohio. Fuzzy online images of the Sears Hillrose in Convoy really piqued my interest: It appeared to be in mostly original condition.

Next, I contacted the County Economic Development Officer in nearby Van Wert, Ohio, who forwarded my email to Adam Ries, with Main Street Van Wert Inc., who contacted Larry Webb at the Van Wert County Historical Society. Mr Webb was kind enough to run out to the house in Convoy and photograph the house from several angles.

Now if I could just get some photos of that Hillrose in Antwerp!

When the Hillrose was first offered, it was known as a “prize winner.” Read more about that here.

Thanks again to Larry Webb for these wonderful photos.
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The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog.

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As you can see from these floor plans, it was an unusually spacious house.

As you can see from these floor plans, it was an unusually spacious house.

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Its a house with several distinctive features, making it easy to spot.

It's a house with several distinctive features, such as that slender window in the upstairs closet, the large squared bay at the rear and the off-center front door. The spacious porch with the flared columns is also eye-catching, but sometimes, porches get dramatically altered through the years.

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Many thanks to

Now that's a fine-looking house. It's so rare to find these 100-year-old houses in original condition. Yes, the house needs a little sprucing up, but it's a rarity and a real gem in a world filled with HGVT-crazed homeowners. Many thanks to Larry Webb at the Van Wert County Historical Society for providing these photos.

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My goodness, what a house.

My goodness, what a house. Once you see a house "in the flesh," it becomes infinitely easier to identify other models out in the world. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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From the homes side

These Sears Homes had cypress clapboards and window trim. Even without paint, this siding will endure for many years. However, it appears that the current owners are painting this classic old foursquare. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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f

What a glorious find on a road that literally straddles Indiana and Ohio. And quite a testament to old-fashioned paint, that would hang on through the decades! Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Mr. Webb had the presence of mind to photograph this home from the rear!

Mr. Webb had the presence of mind to photograph this home from the rear! This angle shows (again) how delightfully original this Hillrose is, with an original wooden storm door on the back porch. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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cf

If you compare the floor plan to the Hillrose, you'll see how delightfully original this old kit house truly is. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And if you look really close, youll see another relic of a bygone era: A cistern.

And if you look really close, you'll see another relic of a bygone era: A cistern. See how the rounded downspout disappears into the ground, and the concrete pad on top of that area? Odds are good that this was an underground cistern (typically lined with brick) and this water was used for washing clothes, as it was the softest water imaginable. The beautiful old hand pump in the foreground may have been piped into that cistern. Photo is copyright 2016 Larry Webb and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Last but not least, there's another Hillrose about 20 miles due north of our Hillrose in Convoy, Ohio. If someone could just hop in their Sears Allstate sedan and run up to Antwerp and get that photo...

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Thanks to Rebecca Hunter, Rachel was able to locate those two Hillroses in Ohio! This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter's well-researched book, Rachel was able to locate those two Hillroses in Ohio! This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

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Gre

Here's the Hillrose that Carrie Milam and Greg Decker found in Griffith, Indiana. Sadly, the front porch is MIA. Photo is copyright 2015 Greg Decker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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When the Hillrose was first offered, it was known as a “prize winner.” Read more about that here.

Read about the Hillrose in Brandy Station here.

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Sears Modern Home, “The Winston”

January 31st, 2016 Sears Homes 4 comments

It’s been 17 years since I wrote my first article on Sears kit homes, and I’ve learned a lot in those years. Yet even now, there are still lots of surprises. That’s the nature of history, and probably the #1 reason I love history so much - it’s always shifting and changing - and there’s always something new to learn.

When Bob Gentzel posted pictures of his “Sears Winston” in our Facebook group, I was skeptical. I took a moment to study the house, but then I scrolled on to the next shiny bauble on Facebook, hoping that someone else might gently explain to him that it wasn’t really a Sears House. I was running out of nice things to say to people who were similarly confused.

A couple days after he posted his photos, I was looking up something in a plan book house and I stumbled across a Standard Homes Plan called, “The Winston.” Better yet, it was a spot-on match to Bob’s house in Pennsylvania. I went back to Bob’s photos on Facebook and posted the images I’d found from Standard Homes and explained to him that it was a plan-book house and people often confused plan-book houses with kit homes.

Bob was grateful to see his house in a plan-book catalog, but he remained insistent that it was a Sears House.

I asked how he knew it was a Sears House. His reply piqued my interest: “The name ‘Sears & Roebuck’ appears on the home’s original blueprints.” Frankly, I was still a little doubtful. I asked for photos, and Bob supplied them.

That’s when I became a believer. Bob Gentzel’s custom Sears House in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a real doozy. And it’s a real Sears House!

Thanks so much to Bob Gentzel for sharing this fascinating story and providing me with the photos below.

To read about another custom Sears House, click here.

Learn more about plan-book houses here.

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Its a Sears House, they always tell me, and I have to be the one to tell them, Sorry, Charlie. Its not even close. But in this case, I was wrong - this really IS a Sears House, built with plans from Standard Home Plans.

"It's a Sears House," is a refrain that's quite popular, but sometimes wrong, and often I have to be the one to tell them, "Sorry, Charlie. It's not even close." But in this case, I was wrong - this really IS a Sears House, built with plans from Standard Home Plans. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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When I found this image in the Standard Homes Planbook (1920s), I thought, Poor guy. Hes got a plan book house and he thinks its a kit home.

When I found this image in the Standard Homes Planbook (1920s), my first thought was, "Poor guy. He's got a plan-book house from Standard Homes and someone told him it's a kit home." Well, Bob's house is two amazing homes in one! It's a plan-book house - with blueprints and building materials from Sears & Roebuck, Chicago, Illinois.

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There's no arguing with this little tidbit, on the corner of the blueprints for Bob's house. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Blue

The describe the house as "Special Winston." Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And its special in other ways, too. The Winston (as shown in the SHP floor plan) is 26 feet wide. Bobs Special Winston is 34 feet wide, adding a lot of extra square footage to the house.

And it's special in other ways, too. The Winston (as shown in the SHP floor plan) is 26 feet wide. Bob's "Special Winston" is 34 feet wide, adding a lot of extra square footage to the house.

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Upstairs, there's a darling little alcove in that front gable.

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Bobs Special Winston has Sears La Tosca hardware.

Bob's "Special Winston" has Sears "La Tosca" hardware (1930 catalog image).

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Which

"La Tosca" was very popular in Sears Homes (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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Bob found this

Glued to the back side of the blue prints, Bob found this unique tape. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And Bob has the o

And Bob has all manner of original documentation for the house, such as this wonderful letter. My favorite line is, "If you have any irregularity of any kind, write to us and we shall take prompt action." In other words, if you find anything missing or in error, we'll make it right. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And

This list delineates the special changes made to the Special Winston. And there were quite a few. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And its even signed!

And it's even signed! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres this...

And there's this. All these documents were passed along to Mr. and Mrs. Gentzel when they purchased the house in 1985. The Gentzels purchased the house from the daughter and son-in-law of the original owners. God bless the home's prior owners for hanging on to all this documentation and ephemera! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Its a mighty fancy kit house!

It's a mighty fancy "kit house"! You don't often find exposed beams in a 1930 house. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The fireplace mantel is fairly unusual, too.

The fireplace mantel is fairly unusual, too. I wonder if that's rock that's been locally quarried. I'm in awe that the house retains its original varnished woodwork. It's stunning. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The entry foyer made me swoon.

The entry foyer made me swoon. Every piece and part of that staircase is breathtakingly beautiful unpainted wood. I'd be interested to know what that little door is for. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And who doesnt love a breakfast nook?

And who doesn't love a breakfast nook? Unfortunately, these darling little nooks are often removed by an aggressive remodeler. Nice to see the original nook in this old house! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Upstairs

Here's a view of the nook upstairs, in that front gable. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The house is a spacious beauty from top to bottom. Heres a view of the master bedroom, looking in to what is now a master bathroom.

The house is a spacious beauty from top to bottom. Here's a view of the master bedroom, looking in to what is now a master bathroom. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the master bedroom, looking toward the hallway.

Another view of the master bedroom, looking toward the hallway. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Returning to the first floor, theres this little mystery.

Returning to the first floor, there's this little mystery. That's a door leading into the closet, and that's a small inward-swinging casement window inside the closet, but is that a SINK in the corner of the closet? Sure looks like it to me. But why a sink in the corner of a coat closet? Is it a graphic for a hat shelf? If so, it's a mighty odd one.

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Bob very graciously supplied a picture of the house from that angle, just to assuage my curiousity.

Bob very graciously supplied a picture of the house from that angle, just to assuage my curiosity. He also explained that his house had been modified, so that little closet wasn't present in his Special Winston. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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I found Bobs house in this reproduction of a 1920s Standard Home Plans catalog. I bought it a few years ago on Amazon. And I love that design on the front cover.

I found Bob's house in this reproduction of a 1920s Standard Home Plans catalog. I bought it a few years ago on Amazon. And I love that design on the front cover.

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And look whats next door to Bobs Special Winston.

Ruh Roe. Just look what's next door to Bob's "Special Winston."

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To read about another custom Sears House, click here.

Learn more about plan-book houses here.

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Kit Homes in Kinston - What a Bonanza!

January 25th, 2016 Sears Homes 2 comments

Was I surprised to find 19 Aladdin kit homes in Kinston? My oh my, yes! And those 19 were found during a very quick windshield survey. There are more lurking about, I’m sure.

Last week, my husband and I visited New Bern, and while there, we drove out to Kinston to look at the local architecture. Lo and behold, we found an Aladdin kit home on almost every street in the older neighborhoods. In one memorable area (near Harding and Pollock Streets) we found seven Aladdin homes together.

The older suburbs we visited had many wide-open spaces, suggesting that many of these early 20th Century kit homes have already been demolished.

If you’re new to this website, you may be wondering, what is a kit home? In the early 1900s, aspiring homeowners could order a “kit home” from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Each 12,000-piece kit came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that the neophyte homebuilder could have the house ready for  occupancy in 90 days. In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs, such as Aladdin (based in Bay City, Michigan) and Gordon Van Tine (Davenport, Iowa).

Aladdin was bigger than Sears, in business longer, and sold more homes than Sears, but they’re not as well known as Sears. Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, North Carolina, which explains why Aladdin Homes were so popular in the Southeast.

Based on my research, the overwhelming majority of people living in these kit homes didn’t know what they had, until I contacted them (or they discovered their home on my blog).

What was the industry that promoted Kinston’s growth in the early 1900s, and put them on the map? Industries often turned to Aladdin to supply housing for the workers. It’s likely that someone turned to Aladdin for the houses we’re now finding in Kinston, but who was it?

Lastly, before we get into the photos, I’m hoping some progressive-minded soul in Kinston will contact me about coming back to town to do a thorough survey. Perhaps identifying these bungalows as historically significant kit homes can be a key to revitalizing parts of Kinston.

Let’s hope.

Contact Rose by leaving a comment below.

In addition to the 19 Aladdin homes, I found a lone Gordon Van Tine home: The Peach House Restaurant! And it’s a real beauty! You can read more about that by clicking here!

You can read here about the kit homes I found in New Bern, NC.

UPDATE! We found a Montgomery Ward kit home in Kinston, too!

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1914 Moosejaw

Aladdin sold more homes than Sears, but was not as well known.

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1916

What was the industry that promoted Kinston's growth in the early 1900s, and put them on the map? It seems very likely that *that* employer turned to Aladdin to supply worker homes in Kinston.

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houses

Aladdin had catalogs devoted to "solving the problem of industrial housing."

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Aladdin 1916

Aladdin was named for the magical genie who built "a house in a day" for his master. Apparently, Old Genie is perusing the latest catalog to find a snappy design.

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1919

The Shadow Lawn is one of my favorites. It was spacious and beautiful (1919).

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Shadow two

When I drove in Kinston, the first house I spotted was this Aladdin Shadowlawn on Lenoir Avenue. Looks like it walked right off the pages of the 1919 catalog (shown above).

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Shadow

During our brief time in Kinston, I initially missed this Shadowlawn (another beauty) on Atlantic Avenue. Shown above is a screenshot from Google Maps. It's another delightfully original house.

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1916

The "Colonial" was probably Aladdin's biggest (and fanciest) kit home.

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19 Colonial

And there's one in Kinston! Do the owners know that they're living in a kit home?

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1919 Classic Bungalow

The Pomona was a classic early 20th Century bungalow (1919).

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Pollock 805

This was my favorite Pomona in Kinston (which has three of them). This house still as so many of its original features, including the half-timber effect on the porch gable, original windows with diamond muntins and those rectangular eave brackets. And that appears to be an old wooden storm door.

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305 Washington

This Pomona on Washington Street is also a lovely home, but its windows have been replaced.

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810 Collge

The years have not been kind to this Pomona on College Street.

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Carolina 1923

In all my travels, I'd never seen an Aladdin "Carolina." It seems fitting that there are not one but two Carolinas in Kinston, North Carolina. This image is from the 1923 catalog.

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605 Rhem

This Carolina on Rhem Street is in picture-perfect condition.

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308 Capitol

This is an Aladdin "Carolina" and it does have its original windows, so that's a plus. It's had some insensitive remodeling. Anything salt-treated on an old house is just not a good plan.

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Willard 1919

I've not seen that many "Willards" in my travels, but there are two in Kinston (1919).

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Details

It's also a cute little house with lots of interesting details and features.

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Willard 413 Harding

And this Willard on Harding Street is perfect - right down to the lattice!

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Willard on Harding

From every angle, it's a beauty!

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Porch

And it's astounding that 100 years later, that lattice is still in such good shape.

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811 Pollock

On an opposing corner, I found this Willard which has had some remodeling, but still looks a lot like a Willard. It's a pity that the guy-wire got in the way of an otherwise perfect picture.

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1919

The Virginia was a popular house for Aladdin (1919).

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310 Capitola

This "Virginia" on Capitola Street is next door to the Carolina shown above!

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Capitola

Okay, so we lost the little girl (in the image on the right) and gained a trash can, but other than that, it's a lovely match. And a pretty house, too!

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Florence 1916

The Florence was a popular house for Aladdin and I've found an abundance of these in North Carolina's mill towns. There are two Florence models in Kinston.

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Florence

And they're across the street from each other. This is on Harding.

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406 Harding

And so is this one.

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1919 BLVD

The Aladdin Boulevard was not a hugely popular house (1919).

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BLVD

But it is distinctive with that low shed dormer and the window arrangement. The Boulevard has 12/1 windows on the front porch (1919).

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Street

This was the first "Boulevard" I've ever seen. On this model, someone took out those living windows when they put in that fireplace. There's also an addition on the rear of the house.

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House

In this picture, you can see those 12/1 windows on the Kinston "Boulevard."

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1924 Sunshine

The "Sunshine" was a popular house with a really cute name (1924).

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Sunshine

"You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine..." This was the only Sunshine we found in Kinston.

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Street

These four models were lined up like little soldiers in a row on Pollock Street in Kinston.

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Harassment Street

The Willard is to the far left, with the Sunshine next, the Boulevard beyond it, and the Pomona at the end of the run. Kitty-corner to this Willard was The Perfect Willard, and the two Florences are behind this WIllard. These are the seven Aladdins mentioned above.

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Bruns 1923

I've been looking for an Aladdin Brunswick for a long time, butt prior to coming to Kinston, I'd never laid eyes on the real deal (1923 catalog).

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509 Washington

And Kinston has two of them. This house is on West Washington.

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Brunsh

A distinctive feature of the Brunswick is this window arrangement on the side of the house. The centered window is a staircase-landing window. The small windows are closet windows.

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Brusnswisk

This is another house that I missed on my first drive through town, and found when I was double-checking addresses via Google Maps. It's in pitiable shape. It's just off Perry and Atlantic, and just around the corner from that stunning Aladdin Shadowlawn. I hope this home has a hope of restoration.

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GVT

And the Gordon Van Tine #705 was the only non-Aladdin home I found in Kinston.

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Moo

Now this is a beautiful house - and it's also a restaurant!

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Gustatory Delights

Had we only been more familiar with the delicious delights offered at The Gordon Van Tine #705 Restaurant, errr, the "Peach House" we would have stopped there for lunch!

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At the end of the day,

At the end of our trip to Kinston, Hubby was mighty glad to get back to our "home away from home," The Aerie Bed and Breakfast in New Bern. He was tired of looking at houses.

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You can visit The Peach House website here.

To read about what I found in nearby New Bern, click here.

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