Virginia’s Very Own Ghost Town: Penniman (Part II)
In 1918, Penniman was a real boom town, with 10,000 living in the village and another 10,000 to 20,000 people living in the outlying areas. By 1920, it was all over, and the 250+ houses in the village were boarded up and moved to other places.
In all started in late 1916, when DuPont selected Penniman as the site of their 37th munitions plant, probably because of its location: It bordered the broad York River, had good rail access, and it was safely away from population centers. When you’re manufacturing explosives, sometimes things go BOOM. (Google “DuPont Munitions Plant Explosions” to find a dozen pre-WW1 examples.)
Recently, David Spriggs and I drove to Williamsburg, trying to find any original Penniman houses that had been moved there.
An aside: If you’re a person who adores early 20th Century architecture, Williamsburg is bad news. Due to the incredible expansion of the college (W&M), and the massive re-creation of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1920s and 30s, most of the early 1900s housing is gone. In 1926, Standard Oil philanthropist John D. Rockefeller donated more than $50 million to restore and re-create Virginia’s colonial capitol. To make way for the reproduced village of Williamsburg, many “crummy little bungalows” were sent to their reward.
Thanks to an old article in the Richmond News Leader in June 1938, we knew that some of the houses from Penniman had been moved to Williamsburg, and in fact, we had a street name: South England.
The house(s) on Scotland are gone, and I suspect the “temporary dormitories” are long gone, too. We didn’t find anything on North Henry Street.
When David turned his dark blue Volvo down South England Street, we weren’t expecting much. It was a dead-end street and despite a lot of driving around, we hadn’t found a single Penniman house anywhere in town.
But when we rolled down to the corner of South England and Williamsburg, I recognized a house that I’d seen before. Actually, I’d seen a picture of it before. Mark Hardin had emailed the photo a few weeks prior, asking if it was a Penniman house. Looking at the picture, I’d said, “No, I don’t think it is.”
Seeing the house in the flesh changed my mind. It was most certainly a Penniman “Georgia.”
Thanks to Mark Hardin and David Spriggs for finding these little jewels in Williamsburg! :) It was Mark Hardin who first found this house on S. England, via Google!
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