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The Dorchester: A Joy To A Woman’s Heart

In the last two years, I’ve visited Richmond three times and have seen many parts of the city, but it would seem that I missed the 5100-block of Riverside Drive all three times!

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Last month, after my lecture, a woman came up to the podium and said, “There’s a Lewis Dorchester here in Richmond.”
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If I had a nickle for every time I’d heard that…

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I’d have ten cents.

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Fellow old-house-lover Molly Dodd graciously offered to get a picture of the house for me, and lo and behold, it appears to be the real deal.

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A Lewis Dorchester in Richmond!

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This city - less than 100 miles from my home in Norfolk - has been an endless source of entertainment for me, as we’ve found kit homes from Sears, Gordon Van Tine (including an original “testimonial house”), Aladdin and Harris Brothers. And now, not only does it have a kit home from Lewis Manufacturing, but it has their biggest and best kit home - The Dorchester.

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Thanks to Dale Wolicki for providing original catalog images of the Lewis Dorchester, and thanks to Molly Dodd for taking pictures of the Richmond Dorchester.

To learn more about the kit homes in Richmond, click here.

Lewis Homes was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. Heres a cover of the 1925 Lews Homes catalog.

Lewis Homes was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalogs in the early 1900s. Here's a cover of the 1925 Lews Homes catalog, courtesy Dale Wolicki.

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The Dorchester was a spacious house with more than 2,600 square feet. For a kit home, thats most ununual.

The Dorchester was a spacious house with more than 2,600 square feet. For a kit home, that's most unusual. The Dorchester had a sunporch, library, 2.5 baths and four bedrooms.

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love it

"A joy to a woman's heart." How poetic!

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house

The first floorplan shows that this was a spacious and fancy home. The breakfast room was accessible from both the kitchen and dining room, which is a really nice feature!

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floor

The bedroom in the upper left was probably maid's quarters, as it was at the top of the rear staircase and had it's own tiny bathroom. Notice that there's a separate shower in the main bathroom. Very progressive for 1925.

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doges

Good golly, that's a big house.

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Dorechester molly tooddd

My oh my, Richmond has its own Dorechester! Photo is copyright 2014 Molly Todd and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the front entry.

Comparison of the catalog image (left) and extant house (right) shows that it really is a perfect match, right down to the downspouts! Only problem is, our Richmond house is missing its "hospitality benches."

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Do you know of any other kit homes in Richmond? Perhaps there’s a Magnolia lurking behind a row of wax-leaf legustrums somewhere? If so, please leave a comment below!

Learn more about “hospitality benches” by clicking here.

To read more about the kit homes in Richmond, click here.

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  1. October 17th, 2014 at 11:00 | #1

    A ha! 1925 I knew it!!!

    I suspect the Dorchester is a rare model. It’s not in the 1924 catalog and in 1926 the Lewis catalogs were completely changed when they became “Liberty” and it’s not in the 1926.

    I wonder what else is in the 1925 Lewis catalog that we might be missing?

    That catalog is a beauty :)

  2. Dale Wolicki
    October 18th, 2014 at 00:05 | #2

    The Dorchester is rare. There is one on Bay City, Michigan (of course), one in Caro Michigan about 45 miles northeast of Bay City, and a third out in Kansas (cant give out the location).

    In 1925 the Lewis Homes and Lewis Manufacturing mills were destroyed in a spectacular fire. Lewis Homes subcontracted its pre-cut house orders to nearby Sterling Homes, but realizing it would not be able to offer big homes until the plant was rebuilt introduced smaller Liberty Homes in a 1926 catalog.

    By the time the new mill was completed Lewis realized the housing market had changed and they never went back to the big homes like the Dorchester. Lewis Manufacturing and Liberty Homes were business until 1973!

  3. Mary Trice
    March 14th, 2015 at 10:03 | #3

    There is also a Dorchester in Chevy Chase which was featured in a New York Times article on
    kit homes in the late 1980s.

    This is how we learned that our house was one and the same and then sent off for the original plans, seen above.

    I was of the understanding that the reason the Dorchester is more rare is because it was much more expensive than most of the other models and the Great Depression unfortunately hit shortly after the time of it’s unveiling. Few people could afford it after that.

    In our particular home, the small bedroom in the back has never been a maid’s room.

    It has been used for the two back bedrooms.

    There is a two-story detached garage with an apartment above which was used for the help instead. My guess would be that that particular bedroom was a bit too close to the family for a maid.

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