Since I moved to Norfolk in September 2006, the 16 identical bungalows on Ethel Avenue have been whispering my name, and imploring me to come close, and learn more about their unique origins. Problem was, I could never quite make out what they were saying.
For years, I pored through my vintage catalogs from Sears, Aladdin, Gordon Van Tine, Lewis Manufacturing, Sterling Homes and even Pacific Ready Cut Homes, hoping to identify them as kit homes from a mail-order company.
I never could find a design that was anything close.
Someone in town said the houses were built at the 300th anniversary fair at Jamestown (1904) and moved from that site to their resting place in Riverview (Norfolk). That didn’t ring true, because these little bungalows were more typical of the 1910s. And somewhere, we heard that there had been a DuPont factory in Penniman, Virginia (about 30 minutes from Norfolk), and that the houses might have come from the factory at Penniman.
And then I started doing research on Hopewell, Virginia and learned that it had also been the site of a DuPont munitions factory. So I drove around Hopewell, trying to find our “Ethels” (as they came to be known).
If I was doing this project on my own, it probably would have ended when I couldn’t find the houses in my mail order catalogs. But I’m not alone. Norfolk historian David Spriggs and Researcher Extraordinaire Mark Hardin have been doing most of the heavy lifting. And they’ve made some amazing discoveries.
It was Mark who found our “Ethels” in other cities (Butte, Montana and Dupont, Washington), and it was Mark who found a plethora of info on the architecture history of DuPont’s “Munition Towns.”
It was David who found an article about George P. Hudson in a newspaper article dated April 14, 1922. Hudson owned several lots where Ethels landed, and also owned a barge company here in Norfolk.
A few months ago, Mark Hardin sent me a photo of a Dupont design in Old Hickory, Tennessee (near Nashville). I looked at it, but I wasn’t sure what to think. And then last week, David Spriggs said, “I think I’ve identified a two-story Dupont design here in Riverview.”
I thought, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”
And that’s when things took a turn for the better.
Looking at the architectural details of David’s “two-story Dupont house,” and comparing it to our Ethels, I had to say, he was right. The two houses shared several important architectural features. And then I noticed the two-story house had a long tall attic window. Where had I seen that before? In the picture that Mark sent me, of the houses in Old Hickory.
David and I had also been told that there were some houses on Major Avenue (another part of Norfolk), that had come here by barge. We drove down Major Avenue and that’s when it all started to come together. The houses on Major Avenue had a very distinctive attic window that we’d just seen on the two-story “Dupont Design” in Riverview.
Pictures are a lot better than words, so here are a few pictures (below).
I’d be grateful for any information anyone can share about Old Hickory, TN.
If you have any information about the houses in Old Hickory, please leave a comment below.
And there was an employee newsletter called, “The Projectile,” which featured a story on the building of these houses. That would also be an incredible resource. Thanks in advance for any and all help.
If you’d like to read earlier posts, start with Part I.
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