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Keyword: ‘virginia’

Sears Catalog House or Something Like It (Hopewell, VA)

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last week, Hopewell was in the local news again, touting their Sears Homes. I’m not going to post a link to the article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, because it was rife with errors.

I’m somewhat incredulous that a paper as prestigious as the Richmond Times Dispatch didn’t do some fact-checking before publishing this story.

The recording and publishing of history is such a sacred trust, and writers have a solemn charge to get the facts right, before sending this information into perpetuity.

And there’s this: I’ve been sought out and interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, BBC Radio, All Things Considered (PBS)  and more. I’ve been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, and MSNBC.

It’s disheartening to know that a newspaper so close to home ran this article without seeking me out for a quote, or even asking me to help with the fact checking (which I would have gladly done).

Hopewell and I have a history.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003 (to give a talk), I was shown a small brochure touting 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

As mentioned in several other blogs (click here), Hopewell is mighty mixed up about what is, and what is not a kit house.

Of those 44 purported “Sears Homes” in Crescent Hills, only eight are the real deal, and frankly, it may not be eight. Some of those eight could well be plan book homes.

On that “list of 44,” this house (see below) was featured.

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!


Nice House

The brochure promoting the Hopewell Sears Homes stated that this was a Sears "Newbury." Ooh, nice try and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.



The Hopewell brochure states that it looks JUST LIKE a Newbury, except for the "sloping roof, full width dormer, extra windows and round columns." Good grief, if that's our criteria I could say that my dog Teddy looks like just like a Sears Magnolia.



Except for the absence of a hip roof, full width windows, round columns and cypress wood, these two dwelling places are stunningly similar. You'll note that the subject on the right also does not have ears or fur, but both of these items could have easily been removed during an earlier remodeling.



Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.



Wow, look at this! The house on the left is in Illinois and it actually LOOKS like a Newbury!



Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!



Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, we now know that this house in Hopewell came from "Standard Homes Plans" (1923, 1928 and 1929). You may notice that THIS looks a lot like the house in Hopewell!



In fact, "The Monticello" is on the cover of the catalog! What a beauty!



And lookie here. It is a very fine match!


Big and fancy

Did anyone from Hopewell ever go into this house and compare the interior layout? If so, I hope the homeowner gave their seeing-eye dog a tasty biscuit. The floor plan for the Monticello is radically different from the Sears Newbury (shown directly below). And the Monticello is 50% bigger. These details matter.



The Newbury is a modest, simple house (1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).


If you dont love this house, theres something wrong with you!

According to the text in the ad, if you don't love the Monticello, there's something seriously wrong with you!


It’d really be swell if Hopewell would invite me back to do a thorough and proper survey. I would be more than happy to get the facts right and help them create a new brochure.

In fact, I really wish they’d give it a go. It’s time to make this right.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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World War One and the Working Women of Wilmington

July 13th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Based on our research, more than 50% of the workers in the Penniman Shell Loading Plant were women. The high explosives used in the plant turned the worker’s skin a bright yellow color. This was such a common problem that it became a frequent topic in early 20th Century medical journals. It was called “TNT poisoning.”

The women workers became known as “Canary Girls,” because of their bright yellow skin and ginger-colored hair. At lunch time, the Canary Girls were segregated in the cafeteria, because everything they touched turned yellow.

The body’s reaction to to the TNT usually began with sneezing fits, a bad cough, severe sore throat and profound digestive woes. Some women said the worst of it was the constant metallic taste in their mouth.

Many women simply couldn’t tolerate the suffering produced by the super-fine explosive dust that hung in the air, and left after the first day.  Others left when their health failed, days or weeks later. A few died.

The medical journals of the day stated that only 24% of the workers (male and female) showed no symptons of TNT poisoning (based on blood tests).

More than 3/4ths of the workforce were affected by the daily exposure to the high explosives. Some dramatically.

TNT poisoning depressed the development of red and white blood cells, which explains why the Spanish Flu was so devastating at Penniman. It wasn’t the tight quarters that killed Penniman employees by the dozens: It was the compromised immune system.

But more on that later.

According to news articles, almost 100 women left their homes in Wilmington, NC to go to Penniman in September 1918. And that was just the first two waves.

I wonder if anyone in Wilmington knows more about this piece of their local history?

What inspired all these women from Wilmington to jump on a train and go “stuff one for the Kaiser” at this plant in Virginia? Did any of these women share their story about life at Penniman after the war? Did all the women come back to Wilmington healthy and strong? Did some perish during the Spanish Flu epidemic?

As usual, I have more questions than answers.

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This appeared in in a 1918 US Army publication titled "The Shell Loader," which gave some wonderful insight into day-to-day life at Penniman. Notice that one of the things a Penniman soldier should know is, "Whether Triton (TNT) or Nature made his girl's hair that way."


Rude girls

Oatine Face Cream was marketed specifically to Canary Girls. Notice the 155-mm shells scattered about on the ground. Image is from "Nice Girls and Rude Girls: Women Workers in World War I (Social and Cultural History Today)" published in 2000 by I. B. Tauris and written by Deborah Thom. Great book!



"Mrs. Lamb and Miss Jackson are astonished by their response to their appears for volunteers for war work..." (August 30, 1918, Wilmington Morning Star.)



Wages: 34 cents per hour. And by the way, if you or your parents were born in Germany (or Austria or Hungary or The Ottoman Empire), you would not be employable at Penniman.


house house house

This article appeared in the "Wilmington Morning Star" on September 7, 1918.



And someone took pictures! This appeared in "The Wilmington Morning Star," on September 9, 1918. Based on my ciphering, that picture should appear on September 15th, plus or minus three days. Bottom of first paragraph: "The Wilmington women are carried away with...the surroundings." Really?



"The Wilmington women are carried away with...the surroundings." In Summer 1918, Penniman had more than 15,000 living within its small borders. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)


The workers at Penniman wore an outfit such as this.

The women workers at Penniman probably wore a "uniform" such as this. It was found that skin contact with TNT caused severe dermatitis, and that the ankles, wrists and waistband were particularly susceptible, so there were elasticized bands at these points. Gloves were also worn in the shell-loading plants. (Ladies' Home Journal, June 1918.)


To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Sadie Bowers of Newberry, SC - Please Tell Me More?

June 24th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The truly patriotic women are willing to work in the booster plants. Do not come for the money only. The compensation is not commensurate with the hazards.

So wrote Sadie Bowers, who left her home and family in Newberry, SC in 1918 to work at the WW1-era munitions plant in Penniman, Virginia. Her detail-filled letter was published in her hometown newspaper “The Herald and News.”

It was mostly women that worked on the shell-loading lines at Penniman. The work was considered so dangerous that these plants were called “The second-line trenches.”

Penniman was the only booster plant in America, and before Penniman went online, the boosters were inserted after the shells arrived in Europe.

In England, shell-loading plants, like Penniman, were called “Filling Factories,” and the section of the plant where boosters (or “gaines”) were inserted was called, “The Danger Zone.”

Sadie’s English contemporary was a woman named Mabel Lethbridge, who worked at the Hayes-Middlesex Munitions Factory (near London). Like Sadie, Mabel worked in a section of the plant where the shells were prepared to receive the boosters. Like Sadie, Mabel came from an upper-income family but felt compelled to do her part for the War Effort.

On October 23, 1917, 17-year-old Mabel was working in The Danger Zone when an explosion ripped through her building, killing several women*.

Mabel’s family was summoned with a simple message: “Mabel has been taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in a Dying Condition.”

Mabel survived, but lost her leg at the knee.

It was Mabel’s third day at the plant.

After Armistice (November 11, 1918), Sadie Bowers returned to her home on College Street in Newberry and in the 1940s, she took a job as Postmaster and was living with her mother. Sadie died in Newberry, the town where she was born and raised, in 1976.

As you’ll see below, Sadie Bowers was a first-rate writer, and according to the 1920 Census, Sadie had a four-year degree, and her father was a professor (Andrew Bowers). This well-educated woman, born into the upper echelons of society, left home and hearth to travel to Penniman, Virginia to “stuff one for the Kaiser.”

In the late 1930s, Sadie’s young niece (Martha Jane Gray Click) lived with her for a time. Many years later, Sadie’s positive influence was noted in the preface of Martha Jane’s book, “Through The Bible.”

Several weeks after I first read Sadie’s wonderful letter, it dawned on me that perhaps this woman had written more than just a single letter. Perhaps there were articles, personal narratives, unpublished manuscripts, or subsequent interviews.

I’d love to know more about Sadie and her life at Penniman.

I’ve contacted the college (two responses, but they’ve got nothing on Sadie), and the local library (no response yet) and even the Mayor of Newberry (who has been a wonderful help), but thus far, nothing has been found.

If you’ve got an insights or suggestions on finding more on Sadie, please contact me.

Thanks so much to Mark Hardin for finding this article on Sadie!


*  Despite much effort, I’ve found precious little on the explosion at the Hayes-Middlesex Munitions Factory on October 17, 1917. According to Mabel Lethbridge’s autobiography (”Fortune Grass, 1934″), several women were killed in the explosion, but an exact number is not given.

Full text of article

Full text of article that appeared on October 11, 1918 in the Newberry "Herald and News."



This is one of the shells that the women were loading at Penniman and Hayes. The image is from "America's Munitions: 1917-1918" by Benedict Crowell. It was printed by the Government Printing Office in 1919.



Picture of Sadie E. Bowers from the 1940s (from


To learn more about Penniman, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

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Dogs and Cats - Living Together in West Virginia

June 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last year, I visited the Eighth Magnolia in northern West Virginia. The owners were kind enough to give me a full tour, from the basement to attic. What a happy day that was, to see that old house, faithfully restored to its former splendor!

My hubby and I spent two hours at the house, photographing it from every possible angle, and soaking in the happy ambiance of a gorgeous Sears Magnolia in beautiful condition. This 90-year-old Sears kit house sits majestically on several acres in the bucolic hinterlands of West Virginia.

I was floating on air when we drove away from The Beautiful Magnolia. When I came to the first intersection, I saw a very interesting house on the corner and snapped my head around to get a better view.

“Oh my gosh,” I said slowly, but happily.

“What is it?” my husband asked, hoping that it was not another kit house. It was already an hour past his lunch time and he was not happy about that.

“It’s another kit house,” I said absent-mindedly, as I stopped the car hastily and retrieved my digital camera.

You could hear a soft little “plop” as his heart sank in his chest.

“Oh,” he said apprehensively.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m just getting a few pictures.”

Famous last words.

Fortunately, I was able to get several good shots in a hurry (I was hungry too), and we were back on our way in less than five minutes.

So what kind of house is living next door to The Beautiful Magnolia?

It is a *perfect* example of a Gordon Van Tine #612, a classic bungalow, and one of their finer houses. Gordon Van Tine, based in Davenport Iowa, was a significant kit home company and probably sold more than 50,000 kit homes. They were also the company that supplied kit homes for Montgomery Ward.

To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.


Gordon Van Tine

The Gordon Van Tine #612 as it appeared in the 1924 catalog.


Spacious too

Look at the size of that living room! The dining room is also quite large.


house 1924

It really is a beauty.


Be still my heart

Be still my heart. Wow, wow, WOW! What a fine-looking home!


And its on a pretty lot

And it sits on a beautiful lot in West Virginia. Notice the short window in the dining room? It's likely that they had a built-in buffet in that bay window, necessitating the smaller window.


house on lot

A better view of the house from the side.


See that detail on brick

See that detail on chimney?


nice match isnt it

Nice match, isn't it?


Beautiful house in Vinton, VA

And here's a beautiful brick #612 that Dale found when we were in Vinton, VA (near Roanoke).


Heres a not-so-beautiful GVT 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA

Here's a not-so-beautiful GVT # 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA. It's just outside of the Old Wythe section of Hampton, which has many kit homes. Heaven only knows why that extra roof piece was added between the two gables. My oh my.


Yeah, it really is one.

Due to the many trees on the side, I could not get a good picture down the right side, but a visual inspection satisfied me that this really is a Gordon Van Tine #612 (or its Montgomery Ward counterpart). If you look down this side (shown above) and compare it with the floorplan, you'll see it's the real deal.


And its all just around the corner from our Maggie!

And that Gordon Van Tine is just around the corner from our Maggie!


To read my favorite blog about the Magnolia, click here.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

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Beaverboard: Long Tough Fibers of White Spruce

June 13th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The houses that DuPont built for their munitions workers at Penniman, Virginia featured “Beaverboard” interiors. Sounds pretty fancy, but in fact, it was an economical alternative to real plaster walls.

Bill Inge lent me his “Sweet’s Architectural Catalog” (1917) which had a two-page spread on Beaverboard. It answered all my questions (and then some).

Apparently, this wallboard product was quite the rage in the first years of the 20th Century, and was hugely popular in low-cost industrial housing.

In 1981, our family moved into a house built in 1949, and it had Beaverboard on the walls of its small attic room (complete with 2-inch strips at the seams). When we tore it out, it created a massive mess.

Apparently, Beaverboard wallboard was a product that endured for many years.

According to Wikipedia, it can also be used as an artist’s canvas. Grant Wood’s famous painting of the morose farming couple - American Gothic - was painted on a piece of Beaverboard.

What made plaster so expensive? Click here.

To learn more about industrial housing at DuPont’s villages, click here.

Interested in Virginia’s own Ghost City? Click here.


Beaver Board

I wanted to title this blog, "Beaverboard: Who Gives a Dam?" but I couldn't bring myself to do it. ;)



The houses that DuPont built at their munitions plants had beaverboard walls.



Despite the glowing reports in the Beaverboard literature, this was still an "economical" alternative to plaster.



The header says, "Foreign Branches." Quite an outfit!



"Long tough fibers of white spruce...compressed and built up into...panels..."


house beaverboard

Is the homeowner weilding a walking stick at the old worker?



Now that the worker has started putting up Beaverboard, the walking stick has been removed from sight.



Why bother to put six big beautiful windows in a house and then cover them up? Why not just put Beaverboard right over the windows? If I were queen of the world, I'd make it illegal to have a sunporch shrouded in heavy drapes.



"It permits of mural decorations in theaters..." I have my doubts about this.



Under "Club" it reads, "The club's activities never will be hindered by repairs..." Wow.



Here's a Penniman house that was moved from the munitions factory to Capitol Landing Road (Williamsburg). Was it built with interior walls of Beaverboard? Probably so.


Was that house at Penniman beaverboard

How I'd love to see the inside of this Penniman/DuPont house when built in 1918.


To learn more about industrial housing at DuPont’s villages, click here.

Interested in Virginia’s own Ghost City? Click here.

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Just One More Post on the 1950s…(Maybe Two)

June 11th, 2014 Sears Homes 8 comments

I keep saying that, don’t I?

Fact is, there was a lot of cool stuff going on in the 1950s. Turns out, many of the finest people I know were born in the 1950s.

I had lunch with one of them yesterday. Cynthia and I strode through the streets of greater downtown Phoebus (Hampton, Virginia) peeking in windows and visiting shops and pretending to be flatlander tourists.

Personally, I am highly allergic to shopping of any kind, but I must say, our adventure was great fun and most memorable.

One of our stops was Cody’s Lighting and Repair on E. Mellen Street. Inside, there were hundreds of vintage lighting fixtures spanning the whole of the 20th Century, but my heart stopped when I gazed upon a coppertone hanging light behind the old-fashioned glass counters.

Several months ago, I did a little work on my kitchen and bath, returning them to the 1950s. Even since then, my dining room (situated between the kitchen and bath) has been feeling a deep sense of shame with its anachronistic post-1970s light fixture. I could hardly bear to walk through the dining room for the lugubrious moans wafting from its walls.

It was troubling.

I knew - as soon as I gazed upon that coppertone light fixture at Cody’s - that my dining room could now re-join its merry 1950s compatriots.

I couldn’t whip out that VISA card fast enough.

For the rest of my visit with Cynthia, I was having a little trouble concentrating because I kept thinking about The World’s Most Beautiful Mid-Century Modern Coppertone Hanging Light Fixture. It was a happy distraction.

Whilst driving home from Hampton with the new (old) fixture in my back seat, I called my buddy Milton and asked him if he was busy.

Poor Milton has come to recognize that this is a very dangerous question when asked by moi, and one needs to be cautious with their response.

“What do you have in mind?” he gingerly asked.

“I’m going to surprise Wayne with a new light fixture I just bought!”

Milton started laughing, and not only did he agree to help with the install, but he went to my house at once and started unhooking the old fixture to make way for the new.

Less than 30 minutes later, The World’s Most Beautiful Mid-Century Modern Coppertone Hanging Light Fixture was suspended from my dining room ceiling.

The dining room emitted an audible sigh of relief.

To read more about the Atomic Powder Room, click here.

To see cool car ads from the 1950s, click here.

Ooh, click here to read an update!  :D


When the dining room was remodeled in 1979, this light fixture was installed. Now I realize that some peopel will say, OOOH, how pretty!

Blech. This fixture was installed in the late 70s (before my watch). I realize that some people will say, "Oh, how pretty!" but I'm not one of those people. It overpowered the small dining room, and it was not period appropriate. Plus, each of the ten sockets had a 60-watt bulb in it, so for brightness, it was the equivalent of 1,000 suns. When entering the room, one had to be careful to NOT gaze directly at it, lest they be blinded for several days. The good news is, when I put it on Craigs' List for FREE, I was inundated with responses.


In my eyes, this is a beautiful light fixture for my 1962-built ranch.

TA-DA!!! What a pretty fixture! Those fins on the side cast a lovely pattern on the walls.



It's a great old house and now it has a great old dining room light!


The soft glow of a satisfied room.

The soft glow of a satisfied light fixture.


And it has a cool pattern on the glass shade!

And it has a cool pattern on the glass shade!


And the pull-down feature works, too!

And the pull-down feature works, too!


After it was installed, Milton stepped back to admire it and said, You know what? It looks just like Jupiter Two.  Took me a minute and then I realized, he was right.

After it was installed, Milton stepped back to admire it and said, "You know what? It looks like 'Jupiter Two." Took me a minute and then I realized, he was right. It does!


It *does* look a bit like Jupiter Two! (And if youre from the 1950s, youll know what that means!)

It *does* look a bit like Jupiter Two! (If you're from the 1950s, you'll know what that means!)


To read about Sears Homes, click here.

What the heck is Jupiter Two?

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One Word for Sandston: Oopsie

June 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

When you drive into Sandston (Virginia), you might see this historic marker (shown below) which states that Sandston (a WW1-era DuPont munitions site) had “230 Aladdin houses, that were erected for plant workers.”

That’s the “oopsie.”

Yes, they were built for plant workers, and yes, they are houses, but they’re not Aladdin houses.

For some time now, I’ve been researching Penniman, Virginia (another WW1 DuPont munitions plant) and that’s how I came to learn about Sandston. (Sandston was renamed in 1921. Prior to that, it was known as “Seven Pines.”)

In June 1918, DuPont signed a contract with the US Government to supply smokeless powder for the guns of The Great War. By later Summer 1918, thousands of women were employed at The Seven Pines Bag-Loading Plant. The women, all members of Virginia’s Women’s Munition Reserve, were charged with sewing silk bags and filling them with smokeless powder. The silk bags of propellant were for use in large caliber guns on ships and on the battlefield.

Seven Pines is located about seven miles from Richmond. The location was not considered ideal because the cigarette factories in Richmond provided stiff competition for attracting quality workers (which would be predominantly women). As an enticement, DuPont decided to build a village with 230 modest bungalows, some shops, churches, and more. The little houses would be rented out to the employees.

DuPont turned to a Grand Rapids contractor to build 230 darling bungalows in one big hurry. The contractor “Owen-Ames-Kimball” turned to North American Construction Company to supply the lumber for the houses. In 1918, North American Construction Company (based in Bay City) was also known by another name: Aladdin Homes.

According to my dear friend and architectural historian Dale Wolicki, it’s most likely that Aladdin provided the building materials in pre-cut lengths. Dale surmises this is most likely because, during WW1, boxcars were in short supply. And the US Government had done a full-court press to get the Seven Pines plant up and operational immediately. Pre-cut lumber would expedite the construction process. And we know that DuPont and Aladdin had a corporate relationship.

But the houses in Sandston were built based on DuPont designs. These same designs were built at other DuPont plants, such as Carney’s Point, New Jersey, Hopewell, Virginia, Penniman, Virginia, Old Hickory, Tennessee, and more.

It’s my opinion that, for a house to be a true “kit house,” both building materials and the architectural design must come from the kit home company; in this case, that’d be Aladdin.

As you scroll through the photos below, you’ll see that the houses in Sandston are unquestionably DuPont designs.

In short, the houses in Sandston are not Aladdin kit homes.

Sorry about that, Sandston.

Perhaps you can get that sign fixed now!



Perhaps they could put a piece of black electrical tape over the part where it says, "Aladdin" and save the expense of redoing the entire sign. Photo is copyright 2010, Leon Reed.


Drove through and found many DuPont Houses, but only two Aladdins - and they were iffy!

In November 2013, my buddy Milton and I went all through Sandston and I found only two Aladdin kit homes! However, I did find a surfeit of DuPont designs, such as this "Denver."


You may notice the pretty blue house shown above looks just like the DuPont Denver model.

You may notice the pretty blue house shown above looks just like the "DuPont Denver" model. (House above is a mirror image of the model shown in the vintage catalog.)


Another example the Arlington

Another example of a "DuPont Model" is the Arlington (shown above).


Arlington Dupont

This is one of several fine-looking Arlingtons in Sandston.


The Ketcham

The Ketchum was a fine spacious house, but it did not have plastered walls; rather, it had an "interior finished with beaverboard" (an early 20th Century compressed wood-pulp product).



There are several Ketchums in Sandston.


Aladdin Contract 2b

And here's where it gets really interesting. This paperwork (supplied by Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University) shows that Owen-Ames-Kimball Company turned to Aladdin to supply them with building materials for "75 DuPont Houses" and "51 Painter Houses." Oops (again). Is it possible that the 230 number is also wrong? Hmmm... (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).


Contract 2aaaa

Seven Pines was still gearing up when Armistice ended the war. It's likely that the contract for these houses was canceled, which is why many of the "painter houses" were never completed. BTW, what is a "painter house"? That question plagued me for some time. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).


Contract 3a

Page 2 of this agreement shows that 149 of those painter houses were not built. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).



So what is a "painter house"? This map helped me figure that out. In 1918, the government asked DuPont to provide a detailed map of Penniman. This map shows the layout of the village and the plant. In the image above, you'll see that there's a section of houses in the village that's labeled "plastered houses." If you look at the description of the modest homes offered by DuPont for their workers, you'll see it states that many of the models had interior walls finished with "beaverboard." This was, in short, a cheap wall covering made of compressed wood pulp. Its best feature was that it was very "economical." The better-class homes (probably for supervisors) had plastered walls. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.


Hagley two

Close-up of the 1918 map of Penniman shows that this section in the village features "plastered houses." So there were "plastered houses" and "beaverboard houses." Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.



This inventory of Penniman houses, done by the US Army after the war had ended (1919), provided another clue to "painter houses." The houses are broken down into two groups: Ruberoid houses (tar-paper siding) and painted houses (with wooden siding). If you're not a big architecture buff, and you're assigned with the task of inventorying houses, the houses in these DuPont villages had two categorizations: Ruberoid Houses and Painted Houses. Made it simple and sweet.


Contract 2aaaa

The DuPont Houses were - probably - the Ruberoid Houses with tar-paper siding. The "Painter Houses" were the houses "of a more permanent nature" with wooden siding. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).


The DuPont Houses and Painter Houses erected at Seven Pines were built with lumber supplied by Aladdin, but in that these were DuPont designs, they can not accurately be described as Aladdin Homes.

So, who has some black electrical tape for that sign?


To read more about what got me started on DuPont’s villages, click here.


You can read an earlier blog about Sandston (with many more photos) here.

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So Proud of Hubby…

June 4th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Hubby (a self-described “old workhorse trial attorney”) argued a case before the Virginia Supreme Court (in Richmond) on Wednesday morning. I went with him, because I wanted to see how he did, and I also wanted to be part of the fun!

And it was a lot of fun.

The night before, he was a bit nervous, but when he arose to address the seven justices of the State Supreme Court, he performed flawlessly!

The Supreme Court of Virginia is housed in the former Federal Reserve Building, and it is a stunning piece of architecture. And - praise to be the visionaries of Richmond - it’s in gloriously original condition - down to the hardware on the massive old doors.

To read more about Hubby, click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.


The day before, we took a little walk around Commonwealth Park, and Hubby posed on the steps of the court building.

The day before, we took a little walk around Commonwealth Park, and Hubby posed on the steps of the court building. We won't know the court's opinion on this case until September!


1959 Was a Very Good Year - For Kitchens!

May 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 14 comments

My friend Bill Inge knows that I am trying to finish a book on Penniman, Virginia and yet today, he threw a real monkey wrench into the works. He lent me a 54-year-old book titled, “Better Homes and Gardens; Kitchen Ideas.”

Turquoise refrigerators, canary yellow cabinets, stainless steel countertops, pink built-in ranges - who could possibly gaze upon these gorgeous mid-century miracles and then look away!

Not I!

So this afternoon, instead of reading dusty old newspaper articles or scholarly tomes on WW1 munitions plants, I sat down and read this 1959 publication cover to cover.

And my oh my, these were gorgeous kitchens.

Take a look for yourself!

And many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing this treasure with me (I think)!  :D

To read about my very own “Atomic Kitchen” click here!


The publication Mr. Inge brought over is titled - innocuously enough - Kitchens

The publication Mr. Inge shared is titled - innocuously enough - "Kitchen Ideas." It should be titled, "How to spend 4.5 hours grinning from ear to ear whilst looking at pretty, pretty pictures of old kitchens."



This is artwork in architecture. I have one word: Wow



Dad eats potato chips while the children play with arsenic-laden Lincoln Logs on an asbestos floor. Their next stop was to go sample some of the lead paint on the home's exterior. And the coup de grace would be drinking water right out of the garden hose. The best part is, little Jimmy there probably washed his hands less than once a month, and played with sticks and dirt most of the time. And he'll probably live to be 117.



In the 1950s, we gave ourselves permission to enjoy bold colors. I love the yellow and red. And notice the wallpaper - it's gold and black. Just stunning. I'm not sure what that appliance next to the sink is, but I really want one.



Yes, the original caption says all this magic was created with spray paint.



Check out the lighting over Betty Crocker's head. And again - look at these colors. Pink and deep green.



Yellow and Robin's Egg Blue with pink accents (see the phone and curtains). So pretty. When did we decide that it was a good idea to have "industrial-looking kitchens" in our home? This kitchen exudes warmth, beauty and comfort.



I'm not even a fan of green, but this kitchen is stunning. Stainless steel counters, and yet it has a copper pendant light fixture. And the wicker furniture is a nice touch too.



A pink kitchen. And with red accents. Visual poetry. If I were a gazillionaire, I'd throw money at some smart contractor and have this kitchen re-created in my own home. And it has a built-in dishwasher, too.


My favorite:

My #1 favorite: A purple kitchen. Words fail me.


To read about my own “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

To learn more about the book that I should be writing, click here.

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HUD: Destroying History One House At a Time?

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

If HUD gets its way, a beautiful, mostly original Sears Alhambra  in Portsmouth, Virginia will soon be remuddled into a homogenized plasticine mess.

The old Sears kit home is in a historic district of Portsmouth (Cradock), and - speaking as an architectural historian - I can say with some authority that this is a one-of-a-kind house.

What makes this house special?

It’s a Sears Alhambra (one of Sears finest homes), and it’s 85-years-old, and it’s still in mostly original condition.

Inside, it has an original porcelain bathtub, original light fixtures, unpainted oak trim (a $160 upgrade!), vintage plaster, and original wood windows (some casement; some double-hung).

Through the decades, these beautiful old houses often get remuddled into an almost unrecognizable form.

The Alhambra in Cradock was spared that fate because it was owned by one family for 75 of its 85 years.

And if those 85-year-old walls could talk, they’d tell quite a story.

In 1929, Swedish immigrant Gustav Emil Liljegren picked up a Sears Roebuck catalog and ordered his Sears kit house, an Alhambra.

Price: $2,898.

The 12,000-piece kit arrived within six weeks later in Portsmouth, Virginia and a few weeks later, Gustav’s new home was ready for occupancy.

For years, Gustav Emil Liljegren had toiled and sacrificed and saved so that he could provide a fine home for his family (a wife and four children).

In April 1929, Gustav was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his kit house from Sears.

He had saved enough money to pay cash for the house. His wife was pregnant. He had a good job at the Proctor and Gamble plant in Portsmouth (near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard).

Only five years earlier, Gustav had immigrated from Malmö, Sweden, working as a steward to pay for his passage. It was on the ship - bound for America - that he’d met William Proctor (of Proctor and Gamble fame) who was so impressed with this young Swede that he promised him a job at the Portsmouth plant.

Within a year, Gustav was able to send for his wife and four children. And in 1929, it all fell apart.

His wife’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She contracted blood poisoning and died three weeks later, leaving Gustav with four little children. And 12,000 pieces of house coming to Portsmouth.

A short time later, the market crashed and Gustav lost his life savings.

But Gustav pulled it together and pushed on. He picked up the pieces of his life and the 12,000 pieces of his house and slogged through the hard days. Gustav, after all, was a survivor.

In 1937, he married his second wife. In 1954, Gustav retired from Jif and moved to Florida, and sold the Alhambra to Ingvar (Gustav’s son) for $8,000. In 2004, due to declining health, Ingvar Liljengren, (born in 1923) had to sell the house.

A few years later, the house went into foreclosure and that’s when it became a HUD house (in 2014). A long-time Portsmouth resident had always admired the house and put in a bid to buy it. Her bid was accepted.

But that’s where it went off the rails.

After inspecting the house, HUD demanded that the following repairs be completed.

1)  All existing wooden windows were to be replaced with new windows.

2)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, all interior woodwork had to be painted (encapsulated). Yes, all that solid oak, varnished, stunningly beautiful woodwork must be painted.

3)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, the plaster walls had to be covered with sheetrock.

In other words, HUD wants the new buyer to destroy the home’s historic significance (prior to moving in).

I’ve never dealt with HUD but I suspect it’s a massive bureaucracy awash in red tape. I suspect that the local HUD representative doesn’t understand that this house is in a historic district within a very historic city (Portsmouth, Virgina).

I suspect he/she has never read the Secretary of Interior’s preservation briefs on the importance of saving a home’s original features.

I suspect he/she doesn’t understand what they’re asking of a woman who purchased an old house because she fell in love with its inherent unique historical characteristics and charms.

That’s what I suspect.

I hope this is just a massive misunderstanding.

Because if it’s not, our old houses are surely doomed.

If you’ve any ideas how to stop this, please leave a comment below.

Gustav and I thank you.

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The Alhambra was first offered in 1918.

The Sears Alhambra was first offered in 1919.


In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.


And it was a very beautiful home.

And it was a very beautiful home.



The dining room featured a built-in buffet (shown above).


But who doesnt love a sun porch!

But who doesn't love a sun porch - and with a chaise!


One of Gustavs hobbys was wrought iron work, so he did a little embellishing of the homes exterior railings.

Gustav ordered the Alhambra in Spring 1929. Inside, the house retains many of its original features, such as an oversized porcelain tub, varnished oak trim, original light fixtures and more. This Sears House is now 85 years old, but is still a real jewel. However, if HUD has its way...


One of the homes best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor.

One of the home's best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor. BTW, one of Gustav's hobbies was wrought iron work. He added the wrought iron railings when he built the house in 1929. In 2002, I was given a full tour of the home's interior, and I was blown away. It is a real beauty, and has been tenderly cared for through the many decades. It's truly a gem.


It truly saddens me to think that HUD wont be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin.

It truly saddens me to think that HUD won't be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin. And yes, that's an Alhambra, all dressed up for the 21st Century.


Please leave a comment below. I’m feeling mighty sad these days about the future of these old houses.

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