Home > Uncategorized > Virginia’s Very Own Ghost Town: Penniman (Part III)

Virginia’s Very Own Ghost Town: Penniman (Part III)

Sometimes, when you’re running down a mystery, there are wonderful and unexpected surprises.

Such a thing happened Friday morning. An email appeared in my inbox, from a woman who was the granddaughter of Warren B. Hastings. Mr. Hastings owned a stevedore company in Norfolk in the early 1900s, and he was the fellow who moved many houses from DuPont’s plant in Penniman to Norfolk, Virginia.

Saturday morning, I met with “Harriet,” and she shared old photos and old documents. It was a wonderful visit and she also answered many questions about this piece of Norfolk’s architectural history. Harriet told me that Mr. Hastings moved 40 houses from the old munitions plant to Norfolk, and that he kept most of the 40 houses, and once they were finished, he rented them out.

She also told me that there were a few in Ocean View, on Willioughby Spit. That was also new information. The old newspaper article we’d found from 1921 didn’t mention anything about Ocean View.

And she had an old ledger book, showing the rental income collected from this collection of old Penniman houses. The ledger had only names (no streets) but using old city directories, David Spriggs and I went through all the names and found precise addresses. With that list of addresses in hand, we then went looking for the houses on our city streets.

Harriet said that two of the little Penniman houses had burned down, and we later learned that two had been torn down.

For more than a year, David Spriggs, Mark Hardin and I have been searching for information on these houses that were moved out of Penniman, and in our 75-minute visit, Harriet was able to answer many, many questions and help us discover the rest of the story, and with her information, we were also able to discover, the rest of the houses!

To learn more about the amazing history of Penniman, read part I here. And then read Part II hereIf you want to read about the history of this project, click here.

In short, Penniman (near Williamsburg) got its start in 1916, when DuPont decided it’d be a dandy site for their 37th munitions plant. At its peak, there were 10,000 people living in the village, and another 10,000 to 20,000 souls living just outside its borders. As The Great War waged on, the plant was being expanded more and more, and in Fall 1917, there was news that a $10 million plant would soon be constructed at Penniman. The munitions factory was hiring so many people, that the local farmers complained that they were having a hard time finding people to work the farms.

But then something very unexpected happened: On November 11, 1918, The Great War - also known as “The War to End All Wars” came to a swift and sure end.

By 1920, the plant was closed down and the 250+ houses in the village were boarded up and moved to other places.

In 1921, the Virginian Pilot did a short story on the houses being moved by barge from Penniman to Norfolk by Warren Hastings.

In 1938, The Richmond News Leader did a feature story on this Virginia Ghost Town, but that was 74 years ago. From what we can glean, that was the last time anything was written about Penniman.

Now, we still need to figure out how those 14 little bungalows in Riverview (Norfolk) got to their location. Hastings moved 40 houses, but his ledger didn’t mention anything about houses in Riverview.

Maybe soon, we’ll know more about those houses.

To read Part I, click here.

To read Part II, click here.

To read how this whole search got started, click here.

Warren Hastings stands in front of his home at 7317 Major Avenue in Norfolk. He moved 40 of these little houses from Penniman to Norfolks Riverfront neighborhood. He lived in one, and gifted the houses to his children.

Warren Hastings stands in front of his home at 7317 Major Avenue in Norfolk. He moved 40 of these little houses from Penniman to Norfolk's "Riverfront" neighborhood. He lived in one, and gifted a handful of the houses to family members. Photo is about 1945 (approx).

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Warren Hastings (the man who moved these homes to Norfolk) lived in this house on Major Avenue. DuPont named this design, The Georgia.

Warren Hastings (the man who moved these homes to Norfolk) lived in this house on Major Avenue. DuPont named this design, "The Georgia."

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The Georgia, as it appeared in the old DuPont literature.

"The Georgia," as it appeared in the old DuPont literature.

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A short article in the Virginia Pilot talks about the houses coming to Norfolk by barge.

A short article in the Virginia Pilot talks about the houses coming to Norfolk by barge. Harriet pointed out during our talk that Warren's name has a typo. His name was "Warren B. Hastings,'" not Warren T.

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The houses, being floated in by barge, in 1921.

The houses, being floated in by barge, in 1921.

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The article from the Richmond News Leader (1938).

The article from the Richmond News Leader (1938).

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Close-up of the good part.

Close-up of the good part.

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To learn more about lone Penniman house we found in Colonial Williamsburg, click here.

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This is the only photo we have of the houses in Penniman. This appeared in the Richmond News Leader article in 1938, and it was a vintage image theyd obtained from a man named

This is the only photo we have of the houses in Penniman. This appeared in the Richmond News Leader article in 1938, and it was a vintage image they'd obtained from a man named Drewry Jones of Williamsburg. Oh, how we'd love to find the original of these photos!! (There were several of them, according to the paper.)

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In the Penniman photo (above), you can clearly see a few Haskells. This was another DuPont design and was apparently the prevailing style of house built at Penniman.

In the Penniman photo (above), you can clearly see a few "Haskells." This was another DuPont design and was apparently the prevailing style of house built at Penniman.

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DuPont had a much larger munitions factory in Hopewell, Virginia. Heres a picture of two of the many Haskells found in Hopewell. Photo is copyright 2012 Mark Hardin and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

DuPont had a much larger munitions factory in Hopewell, Virginia. Here's a picture of two of the many Haskells found in Hopewell. Photo is copyright 2012 Mark Hardin and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This all started

It all started with these 14 little bungalows in the Riverview section of Norfolk. They're fine-looking little houses and we were wondering - where did they come from? The story is that they were floated in by barge from somewhere "up river," but no one seemed to be sure where they came from. And then Mark Hardin found that our "Ethel Bungalows" (as we called them) had been built in other DuPont towns.

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Dupont Mark

Mark Hardin found our "Ethel Bungalows" in several other DuPont towns, such as DuPont Washington, where they have more than 100 of these houses, lined up - one after the other - like little soldiers. In fact, Mark found that there's a "Penniman Street" there in Dupont, Washington. The house shown above is in Dupont, Washington. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

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Penniman

Here's a piece of a panoramic photo of Penniman sometime around 1917. This photo came from the Library of Congress. No date appears with the photo, but given Penniman's short time in existence, it must have been taken mighty close to 1917.

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According to information gleaned from Mr. Hastings ledger, there were two houses at this location, now occupied by Algonquin House (built 1964). In early 2007, I lived at Algonquin House with my new hubby.

According to information gleaned from Mr. Hastings ledger, two of his Penniman houses were placed here in the 7300-block (even side) of Glenroie Avenue. Apparently these two houses were torn down when the Algonquin House was built in 1964. According to Harriet, the houses were floated in on the water directly behind the Algonquin House. (In early 2007, I lived at Algonquin House with my new hubby.)

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The ledger shows the rental prices in 1953.

The ledger shows the rental prices in 1953.

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Thanks to all this new information shared by Harriet, weve now learned that there were four Penniman Houses placed on Willoughby Spit in the Ocean View area of Norfolk.

Thanks to all this new information shared by Harriet, we've now learned that there were four Penniman Houses placed on Willoughby Spit in the Ocean View area of Norfolk. This photo shows three Haskells in a row on 13th View Street. The old ledger shows FOUR houses in a row on 13th View Street. Was one moved to another spot? Or was it razed?

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And about three blocks away from 13th is another Penniman house: The Georgia. Its on Chela Avenue, also in Willoughby Spit.

And about three blocks away from 13th View Street is another Penniman house: The Georgia. It's on Chela Avenue, also in Willoughby Spit.

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And heres another Georgia that we found last month in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg.

And here's another Georgia that we found last month in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg.

To learn more about Penniman and its history, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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  1. Mark Hardin
    March 12th, 2012 at 20:49 | #1

    Thank you for putting this story on the blog. I know a lot of the readers here can’t connect with the story of these homes like the people who grew up or lived in these DuPont powder plant villages.

    Unlike the Sears or Aladdin homes that folks come to this site to learn about, these DuPont homes only exist in a few scattered places but to the people that grew up around and in them they are priceless. I was very lucky to be involved in the search for the origins of the Riverview homes in Norfolk.

    I started out looking for a house but what I found was the reason for the close knit community that I had the privilege to grow up in. When I was raising my own kids in Hopewell Virginia I worked in a small community grocery store in B village.

    I know now why so many of the elderly folks I met there and waited on in the store had such a gleam in their eye when they talked about the old days. As we hunted down clues about these homes we learned a lot about DuPont’s reasons for providing everything a family needed to thrive.

    DuPont needed to insure the powder plant maintained a steady stable workforce and in the end they created a fantastic place to grow up.

  2. Ann
    March 14th, 2012 at 21:21 | #2

    This is an interesting article. I used to live on Penniman Rd., just outside the restored area of Williamsburg.

  3. Tara
    May 8th, 2012 at 15:34 | #3

    Approximately 300 Old Hickory houses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Old Hickory Historic District. I spent five years in one of the “Cumberland” style homes in the early 2000s. :)

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