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Archive for June, 2014

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

June 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

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!

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*  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."

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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.

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Picture

Picture of Sadie E. Bowers from the 1940s (from http://genealogytrails.com).

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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.

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Gordon Van Tine

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

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Spacious too

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

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house 1924

It really is a beauty.

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Be still my heart

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

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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.

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house on lot

A better view of the house from the side.

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See that detail on brick

See that detail on chimney?

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nice match isnt it

Nice match, isn't it?

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Beautiful house in Vinton, VA

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

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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.

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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.

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And its all just around the corner from our Maggie!

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

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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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Jupiter Two and The Twins: Together Again

June 19th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

Last week, I wrote a blog about The World’s Most Beautiful Light Fixture, purchased from a quaint little antique store in Pheobus (Hampton).

When I purchased that chandelier, I noticed that the store also had two matching sconces. They were just stunning, and a perfect complement to the chandelier, and yet there was one major impediment: I didn’t currently have any sconces in my dining room.

As I held the World’s Most Beautiful Wall Sconces in my quivering hands, I thought about this hard truth:  If I purchased these two beauties, I’d have to hire an electrician to install wiring for sconces.

More money. More hassle. More aggravation. More work.

Drat.

I put the sconces down and walked away.

I didn’t get very far.

I returned to the sconces and stroked their cool, coppertone-colored cones. I sighed softly as I pondered their magnificent beauty, once installed and fully illuminated. I closed my eyes and pictured them sharing their light and warmth with the world.

I couldn’t stand it. Plus, I couldn’t bear the thought of separating them from The Mother Ship.

I asked the shop dealer if he’d be willing to make me a deal if I purchased all three items (chandelier plus two sconces). There was some haggling and we settled on a price - $230 for the lot of it.

Yesterday, the electrician came and the sconces were restored to life and light.

Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe it!

:)

To read more about The World’s Most Beautiful Light Fixture, click here.

To read a blog about 1950s kitchens, click here.

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Lovingly nicknamed, Jupiter Two this is the chandelier I purchased last week when Cynthia and I visited a little shop in Pheobus.

Lovingly nicknamed, "Jupiter Two" this is the chandelier I purchased last week when Cynthia and I visited a little shop in Pheobus.

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It was Milton who observed that it looked a bit like Jupiter Two (the spaceship the Robinsons flew in Lost In Space.

It was Milton who observed that the new light fixture looked a bit like Jupiter Two (the spaceship the Robinsons flew in "Lost In Space").

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Voila!

Jupiter Two and the Twins! Together again, and connected with LOVE (and 120 volts)!

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They look right at home, dont they?

They look right at home, don't they?

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I learned

I learned that these are called "Bow Tie Sconces."

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And I love the fact that they cast light in two directions. Very practical.

And I love the fact that they cast light in two directions. Very practical.

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They even look good when theyre sleeping!

They even look good when they're sleeping!

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The electrician had a young helper named Tommy. When Tommy first saw the sconces, he said, Wow, theyre like antiques! And I said, Well, not really. Theyre from the late 1950s, and he said, Wow, they really are antiques!  I took umbrage at that. I almost found myself saying, Young man, that means that *I* am an antique!!

The electrician had a young helper named "Tommy." When Tommy first saw the sconces, he said, "Whoa, they're like antiques!" And in a flawed attempt to point out that they were not *that* old, I said, "Well, they're from the late 1950s," and he said, "Wow, they really *are* antiques!" I almost found myself saying, "Young man, that means that *I* am an antique!!"

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I also had this light fixture installed on the other wall (in the hallway) to light up this notoriously dark space.

I also had this wall sconce installed on the other side of the dining room wall (in the hallway) to light up this notoriously dark space. This $10 Lowes fixture is just saving a space for the other bowtie sconce - that I hope to find SOON!

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So pretty!!

So pretty!! Now, to find some 1950s wallpaper! :)

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To read more about The World’s Most Beautiful Light Fixture, click here.

To read another blog about 1950s and kitchens, click here.

Did You Remember To Put The Bed Back In The Ceiling This Morning?

June 18th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

Whilst researching Beaver Board Walls in the 1917 Sweets Architectural Catalog, I came across something I’d never seen before: An invisible ceiling bed.

At first blush, one might think this is an ideal solution for house guests that you wish were invisible, but in fact, it’s a close-cousin of the Murphy Wall Bed.

Instead of the bed “hiding” in a closet or wall, the Sorlien Ceiling Bed stows in the ceiling when not in use.

I’m sorry to say, I’ve never seen one in real life, but I bet that there are a few old house owners mystified by a massive hidden panel in the ceiling of their early 20th Century bungalow.

It’s quite a concept, and it’d be fun to know how popular these “ceiling beds” really were!

Thanks to Bill Inge for loaning me this awesome old catalog!

To read all about the Murphy Bed, click here.

To see a youtube video of a Murphy Bed in action, click here.

Click here to read about a 1950s invention!
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Beds from ceilings

"Beds from ceilings" (as seen in the 1917 Sweets catalog).

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed

An iron bed with a sagless spring! But the best part: "It may remain in ceiling witout collecting dust." Really? Does it collect rats? Nutria? Roof rats? There's lots of cool stuff like that in *my* attic!

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed

Kind of an interesting concept. I doubt anyone would be willing to try this today. Imagine the lawsuit potential!

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Sorlien Bed two

I'm not sure how this "false ceiling panel" closes automatically.

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text

Yes, you read that right: 790 pounds (first paragraph). And it's also interesting that this thing only works for houses with an "attic above." Can you imagine cranking this thing down and finding a rat sitting on your bed? Blech.

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Bed

And you can use it with a double bed!

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed View

Looks like a lot of work to me.

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Ceiling

Now that's a serious pulley.

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Sorlien Ceiling

Close-up on the prior image.

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Ceiling

The text above says that the "bed is raised or lowered with a removable crank." Wonder if that's a subtle reference to his visiting mother-in-law?

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To read all about the Murphy Bed, click here.

To see a youtube video of a Murphy Bed in action, click here.

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Modern Home #158: Did Anyone Love You Enough to Build You?

June 16th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

There are many models of Sears Homes that I have never seen “in the flesh,” and Sears Modern Home #158 is one of them. It was offered only a short time (about 1910 to 1913), and yet, it was an attractive home with a good floor plan.

I hadn’t though much about this particular model until recently, when Sarah in our “Sears House” Facebook group mentioned that she’d found a reference to #158 in a contemporary book.

“Flesh and Bone” (a novel, written by Jefferson Bass and published in 2007), has several lines on our beloved Sears Modern Home #158.

The excerpt reads,

You know one of my favorite things about this house? Guess who created it.”

“Let’s see,” I said. “Surely I can dredge up the name from my encyclopedic knowledge of Chattanooga architects of the early 1900s…”

“Wasn’t a Chattanooga architect,” she grinned.

“Sears.”

“Sears? Who Sears? From where - New York?”

“Not ‘Who Sears’: ‘Sears Who.’ Sears Roebuck, the department store,” she said, pointing to a wall.

There, she’d hung a framed page from the century-old Sears catalog, showing an ad for the house I was standing in. It bore the catchy name “Modern Home #158,” and a price tag of $1,548.

“Houses by mail order,” said Jess. “The house came into town on a freight car, in pieces. Probably four grand, all told, for the kit plus the caboodle.”

“I’m guessing it appreciated some since then.”

“Well, I appreciate it some,” she said.

I’d love to know why author Jefferson Bass picked #158. Does he know of one somewhere? Or did he pick it out of a book at random?

Is there a #158 in Chattanooga, TN (as is described in the story)?

I’d love to know!

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158 1910

In the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog (shown here), Model #158 was priced at $1,533. In Mr. Bass' novel "Flesh and Bone," it's given a price of $1,548.

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He got the rice right.

In "Houses by Mail" (a 1985 field guide to Sears Homes - published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation), Sears Modern Home #158 is listed with a low price of $1,548. Seems likely that *this* was the source of Mr. Bass' info. The "four grand" is given as a total price, which is pretty close, and reflects the info shown here.

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Beautiful house, too

Modern Home #158 was a classic foursquare with some a sprinkling of Prairie-style thrown in.

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With servants quarters

Yes, a kit house with servant's quarters.

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FP1

This 2,200-square foot house was unusually spacious for a kit house. And check out the first-floor powder room! Another unusual feature for this era.

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FP2

Two sets of staircases, and lots of space on the second floor.

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And

Modern Home #158 was also shown on the cover of the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog (far right).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To join our Facebook group, click here.

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.

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Beaver Board

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

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housing

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

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Beaverboard

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

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house

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

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house

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

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house beaverboard

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

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house

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

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house

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.

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beaverboard

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

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house

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

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Denver

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.

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Was that house at Penniman beaverboard

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

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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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A *Beautifully* Original Magnolia in South Bend - For Sale!

June 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to see a Magnolia in original condition.

Now, I know.

The Sears Magnolia in South Bend was recently listed for sale, and the Realtor kindly sent me a few pictures.

It can be described in one word:  STUNNING.

Or maybe two:  Original!

These photos give us a rare opportunity to step back in time almost 100 years, and see what the Sears Magnolia looked like when built.

If I was queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that the potential buyers of this rare, historically significant home be required to do a proper, thoughtful and historically sensitive restoration (which is radically different from a remodeling). I’d demand that they find a way to preserve the home’s original features.

As my buddy Bill Inge says, “The first commandment of preservation is, ‘Thou shalt not destroy good old work.’”

The 3,895-square foot home is listed at $320,000. Situated on 1/3 of an acre, it has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths. The listing says it was built in 1927, but we know that that’s not right. The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

This house is a rare treasure. I hope its next owners “catch” the vision and see what a remarkable property it really is.

Ready to see some photos? You should get ready to be dazzled!

To buy this fine old house, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Sears Magnolia kit home, click here.

Interested in reading more about how these homes were built? Click here.

All photos are copyright Steve Matz, 2014.

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The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mag

The Magnolia in South Bend is remarkable because it's in original condition.

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A view from the inside.

A view from the inside.

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house

This Magnolia still retains its original mouldings and trim but the inglenook and columns are not in place. It's possible that the house was built without these built-ins.

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house

I suspect that this is the fireplace in the den.

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house house

The den (right rear) was very small (only 8'9" deep). It's unusual to see the den in its original shape and size. It's also unusual to see a house from this vintage with a half-bath on the first floor (next to the den).

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house

The Realtor had the good sense to photograph the staircase from the same angle as the original catalog image!

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hfhfhf

Nice match, isn't it? Check out the French doors at the rear - both upper and lower level.

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house

Nice, huh? :D

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The best

There's something about these old nooks that just makes my heart skip a beat.

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house house house

This is the very best picture of all. And perhaps the home's finest feature: A built-in nook, completely untouched by time, with the original tile floor, white hexagonal tiles with a blue flower center. This pattern is a classic feature found in early 20th Century Sears Homes. You can see the three original wooden windows behind the nook.

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house

Fun comparison, isn't it? It's so rare to see these nooks still in place.

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Another incredible feature is that

Not only does this house have its original Butler's Pantry, but it has the original sink, wooden surround and fixture. This house is such a rare find, and to think that it's a Sears Magnolia!

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And it just gets better. Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, the dressing room, is the original sink, light fixtures and oak cabinetry - unpainted!

Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, is a surprisingly large dressing room. The fact that even the dressing room is original is a real testament to the home's prior owners, who had the wisdom to follow the #1 rule: "Thou shalt not destroy good old work." And this cabinetry was incredibly good work. In the corner, is the Magnolia's original sink, light fixtures and medicine chest - unpainted! If you look closely, you'll see the original cabinet pulls.

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house

It's true that I am nutty as a fruitcake, but seeing this century-old Magnolia - wholly untouched by time - sends me. Original sink, original fixtures, original medicine chest, and an original light fixture (porcelain sconce). Just incredible. I'm a big fan of old plumbing but I've never seen a three-sided sink before.

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house house

Close-up of the upstairs floorplan, showing that small sink in the dressing room.

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And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

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A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

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To buy this fine old house, click here.

Interested in learning more about the Sears Magnolia? 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

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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.

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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.

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Sj

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

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The soft glow of a satisfied room.

The soft glow of a satisfied light fixture.

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And it has a cool pattern on the glass shade!

And it has a cool pattern on the glass shade!

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And the pull-down feature works, too!

And the pull-down feature works, too!

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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!

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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!)

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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!

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Oopsie

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.

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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."

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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.)

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Another example the Arlington

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

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Arlington Dupont

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

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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).

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Ketcham

There are several Ketchums in Sandston.

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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).

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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).

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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).

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Hagley

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.

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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.

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Ruberoid

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.

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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).

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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?

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

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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.

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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!

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