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Finding the CUSTOMIZED House That Sears Built, Part V

February 25th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

Fellow Sears House Hunter Carey Haeufgloeckner found this one-of-a-kind customized Sears House in Canton, Ohio by doing a search at the local courthouse for mortgage records. It’s one of many ways to find Sears Homes, and one of the better ways to find a customized Sears kit house.

The grantee records will show a conveyance of the house to Sears (or one of their trustees) as security for the note (or loan). The grantor in this case is the homeowner, who’s conveying a security interest to the mortgage holder (Sears).

And this customized Sears House is less than four blocks from the Sears Magnolia in Canton!

Carey found a build date of 1924 for the customized house, and the Sears Magnolia was purchased sometime in 1922, so it raises the question: Was the homeowner awestruck by the magnificent Magnolia, and decided that he wanted his own glorious Sears House?

While I’m the one penning the words for this blog, it is in fact Carey Haeufgloeckner who has done all the legwork, research and photography. If you’re in Canton, and would like to know more about kit homes, Carey is an incredible resource!

Thanks so much to Carey for providing the material for this blog!

To read about the Magnolia in Canton, click here.

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When Carey first shared these photos, I wasnt sure what I was looking at. It has the dormer from a Sears Hamilton and a front porch reminiscent of the Sears Ardara, but other than that, it really isnt close to matching any of the 370 designs of Sears Homes.

When Carey first shared these photos, I wasn't sure what I was looking at. It has the dormer that's a bit like the Sears Hamilton and a front porch reminiscent of the Sears Ardara, but other than that, it really isn't close to matching any of the 370 designs of Sears Homes. Photo is copyright 2016 Carey Haeufgloeckner and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Its a fine-looking and spacious home

It's a fine-looking and spacious home and even looks good in snow! Photo is copyright 2016 Carey Haeufgloeckner and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Carey got good shots from every angle! Photo is copyright 2016 Carey Haeufgloeckner and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The owners told Carey that it was modeled after the Sears Lexington. Shown here is a Sears Lexington in Glen Ellyn (near Chicago).

The owners told Carey that it was modeled after the Sears Lexington. Shown here is a Sears Lexington in Glen Ellyn (near Chicago).

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The Sears Lexington (shown here from the 1921 catalog) might not look like a good match to the house in Canton - at first glance, but...

The Sears Lexington (shown here from the 1921 catalog) might not look like a good match to the house in Canton - at first glance, but...

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I can see many similarities.

The Canton house is seven feet wider (43' wide per the auditor's website) and two feet less deep (22 feet), but the interior layout is apparently pretty close (but flipped in the Canton house).

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The second floor is also a good match.

This house (in Canton) was built with the rooms reversed!

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If you put

If you compare the home's rear with the floorplan and "reverse it," you can see the windows are all a good match. That small window next to the three living room windows is the half-bath. See those double windows next to the half bath? I suspect the homeowners chose not to go with the grade entry shown above. The next opening is the kitchen window.

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The second flloor

On the second floor, you can readily see those two small windows for the oversized landing.

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That dormer looks a lot like it came from the Hamilton or Starlight.

That dormer looks a lot like it came from the Hamilton or Starlight. Photo is copyright 2016 Carey Haeufgloeckner and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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See what I mean?

It's similar, not identical.

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And the front porch is impossible to peg, but its a bit reminiscent of the Sears Ardara.

And the front porch is impossible to peg, but it's a bit reminiscent of the Sears Ardara. Photo is copyright 2016 Carey Haeufgloeckner and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Kinda sorta, but the Canton house has a more dramatic flip!

Kinda sorta, but the Canton house has a more dramatic flip!

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When I was a child, Id ask my mother if I looked like my siblings and shed say, No I dont think so. You look just like YOU! This house doesnt really look like any of its siblings either!

When I was a child, I'd ask my mother if I looked like my siblings and she'd say, "No I don't think so. You look just like YOU!" This house doesn't really look like any of its siblings either! But it surely is a lovely home in its own right. Photo is copyright 2016 Carey Haeufgloeckner and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks so much to Carey for providing the material for this blog!

To read about the Magnolia in Canton, click here.

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The Croydon: A Spanking New Outlook!

February 22nd, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

So read the liner notes for the Sears “Croydon,” a darling Tudor Revival from the late 1930s.

From what we can discern, the Croydon was offered only in 1939 and 1940, the final two years of the Sears Modern Homes program. These post-1935 Sears Homes are scarce as hen’s teeth, and discovering a Croydon is a remarkable thing. And, it removes another “never seen this one” model from my life list!

The joy of discovering this rare bird goes wholly to Jeff S. Alterman, who not only found it, but provided all the photos you’ll see below.

To see Rose and Rebecca’s list list, click here.

Read more about Sears Homes here.

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For years and years, wed always believed that the 1939 and 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs were identical. Reading up on The Croydon we learned that this wasnt the case.

For years and years, we'd always believed that the 1939 and 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs were identical, and that the 1940 catalog was a straight reprint of the 1939. Reading up on "The Croydon" we learned that this wasn't the case.

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In 1940, the Croydon looked like this.

In the 1940 catalog, the Croydon looked like this.

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In the 1939 catalog, it looked like this.

In the 1939 catalog, it looked like this. Remember that feature in "Highlights Magazine" where readers were invited to spot the differences in two images? Let's play that game here.

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Here, Ill make it easier.

Here, I'll make it easier.

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The Croydon that Jeff found in Hastings-on-Hudson

The Croydon that Jeff found in Hastings-on-Hudson is a beautiful match to the 1939 catalog image. (I'm assuming you figured out the difference between the 1939 and the 1940 by now.) Photo is copyright 2015 Jeff S. Alterman and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And heres a fun close-up of

And here's a fun close-up of the detail on that bell-cast asymmetrical front gable. I love this photo and am so tickled that Jeff's keen eye decided to zoom in on this. Plus, it shows that the Croydon had functional shutters - very unusual for a Sears Home. Only a handful of models had working shutters; most were ornamental. Photo is copyright 2015 Jeff S. Alterman and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Reason #1,489 that vinyl-siding salesmen should be legislatively banned from all old-house neighborhoods. Technicially, this is aluminum trim (not vinyl) but cmon. This is a special kind of ugly.

Reason #1,489 that vinyl-siding salesmen should be legislatively banned from old-house neighborhoods. Technically, this is aluminum trim (not vinyl) but c'mon. Instead of peddling your putrid products so aggressively, why not suggest to the homeowners that this particular piece of front-facing trim be left uncovered, and simply be re-painted once every 10 years or so. Photo is copyright 2015 Jeff S. Alterman and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Back to the happy comments: The Croydon was a beautiful house. What a pity that this model in Hastings-on-Hudson may be one of only a handful ever built in the country. However, this one is in beautiful condition. Photo is copyright 2015 Jeff S. Alterman and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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That upstairs is actually quite spacious.

That upstairs is actually spacious, with two bedrooms and a full bath. Photo is copyright 2015 Jeff S. Alterman and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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If you ascend in your Sears & Roebuck™ drone and remove the home's roof, this is what you'll find.

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As Sears Homes go, those two bedrooms are pretty spacious.

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Did you figure this out?

Did you figure this out? The 1939 model (left) has that dramatic bell-cast roof reaching almost to the ground, together with a short brick pedestal on the right side. The 1940 model (right) doesn't have those eye-catching features.

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Did you miss that small pedestal adjoining the gable when you first glanced at our Croydon in Hastings-on-Hudson? I sure did!

Did you miss that small pedestal adjoining the gable when you first glanced at our Croydon in Hastings-on-Hudson? I sure did! BTW, if one of my smart friends can give me the proper architectural term for that, I'd be grateful. I'm tempted to call it a "sideways cheek" but that is probably not right. Photo is copyright 2015 Jeff S. Alterman and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks so much to Jeff for sharing his expertise and his photos!

Thanks so much to Jeff for sharing his expertise and his photos!

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By the way, while google driving around a bit in Hastings-on-Hudson, I found this glorious Sears Gladstone around 17 Hillside, which Jeff tells me isnt included on the main list.

While "google driving" around a bit in Hastings-on-Hudson, I found this glorious Sears "Gladstone" around 17 Hillside, which Jeff tells me isn't included on the main list. I'd love to come to Hastings-on-Hudson sometime a do a proper street-by-street survey! I found several Sears Homes (and a rare GVT house) in a short time in this delightful New York town.

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Thanks again to Jeff S. Alterman for the beautiful  pictures.

To join our happy group on Facebook, click here.

Did you love Highlights Magazine as a kid? You’ll want to read this.

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“Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work - Or Houses”

February 19th, 2016 Sears Homes 3 comments

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

Local Arts Center buys 105-year-old house in historic river town of Mathews, Virginia.

After a careful analysis, officials of this Arts Center determine that the old house they bought is an old house and must be demolished.

Perhaps the directors need to read this blog: “Thou shalt not destroy good old work.”

“Thou shalt not destroy good old work” is the first commandment in old house ownership.

The Bay School Community Arts Center paid $80,000 for the L. M. Callis house in March 2015, for the purpose of expanding their enterprise. When the property (and its one-acre lot) was purchased, the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal ran a nice article, where they quoted Arts Center Business Director Debbie Brown as saying that there were “many ideas” for the best use of the house and land.

A subsequent article which appeared this week in the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal (February 17, 2016) said that the Bay School Community Arts Center was now planning to demolish the house.

Arts Center spokesman Kelsey Desmond said it was a “difficult decision” made after they realized that the house needed insulation, roof repairs, plumbing upgrades, and heating and air conditioning systems. Plus (and maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back), the house had several broken window panes.

Many in the community remain hopeful that the Arts Center will have a change of hearth on this one. A contractor and two local architects have written letters of support, urging the Bay School Community Arts Center to preserve the house, as it is a contributing structure, built in 1910  by a well-known businessman,  and represents some of the finest architectural features of its time (early 1900s). After inspecting the L. M. Callis house, a contractor stated that it is “an excellent candidate for refurbishment.”

Every now and then, Norfolk Historian Bill Inge does a program called, “Lost Norfolk” which features dozens of pictures of the most beautiful old houses and buildings which are now gone, thoughtlessly demolished in the dark name of progress. At each slide, the audience first gasps and then sighs when they see the majesty and the sheer number of architectural gems that were razed, reduced to a pile of debris at the local landfill.

Fortunately, the majority of those dwellings were lost pre-1980. By the 1980s, most communities realized that in destroying architecturally significant properties, they were ripping out the very soul of their community and the beating heart of their history, and the wanton destruction stopped.

That’s one of 27 reasons it surprised me to hear that the L. M. Callis house is facing the gallows. This is 2016. We know better than to continue tearing down these irreplaceable gems. Perhaps the Arts Center needs to see these old houses as I see them: Breathtaking massive sculptures, painstakingly carved out from Cypress, Cedar, Oak and Pine. These glorious and massive wooden sculptures come with this immeasurable bonus: We can live within them, and experience these glorious artistic forms from the inside-out.

In my opinion, tearing down a grand old house is no different from purposefully destroying historic artwork.

And don’t get me started on the recycling issue. More than 40% of all the detritus in American landfills is construction debris. So while the Arts Center may place a few recycle bins at their shiny new facility, is that really going to counteract the effect of sending 350,000 pounds of irreplaceable first-growth lumber from virgin forests to the landfill?

Please share this blog on your Facebook page.

To read more about why this wood is irreplaceable, click here.

To learn more about why you should not destroy “good old work” click here.

Thanks to Lori Jackson Black for supplying the photos.

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This old house was built by local merchant, L. M. Callis, and its located behind the Bay School Buildings.

This old house was built by local merchant, L. M. Callis, and it's located behind the Bay School Buildings. Yeah, that is slate on the roof, and most likely, it's Buckingham Slate, considered the finest roofing material in the world. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Buckingham slate is mined in Buckingham County (hence the name) and weighs about 1,400 pounds per square. You heard that right: A 10x10 section of Buckingham slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses built to receive this roof would have been overbuilt to accomodate the phenonenal weight of the roofing shingles.

Buckingham slate is mined in Buckingham County (hence the name) and weighs about 1,400 pounds per square. You heard that right: A 10x10 section of Buckingham slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses built to receive this roof would have been overbuilt to accommodate the phenomenal weight of the roofing shingles. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the best reads for any old house lover,

In this wonderful book, Mr. Jenkins explains that Europeans don't tear down things like we do, and there are slate roofs in Europe that are more than 400 years old. Slate roofs need maintenance but they need never be replaced. Remember I mentioned that 40% of all materials at landfills are construction related? About 35% of that is roofing materials. Slate roofs are forever and they are the "greenest" roof you can possible use.

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IT

And you'll note, the house has slate on the gables as well. Perhaps most incredibly, 105 years later, this house still retains its original windows, siding, roof and even shutters. They appear to be original. I'd guess that the clapboards and shutters are cypress or cedar, both of which are "oily" woods and will last for a long time. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This house deserves a better ending, than being reduced to the "demolished houses" vertical file at the local library. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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I could talk for a long time about this house, but Ill stop here: Its a stunning house and is worthy of restoration.

I could talk for a long time about this house, but I'll stop here: It's a stunning house and is worthy of restoration. Photo is copyright 2016 Lori Jackson Black and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about why this wood is irreplaceable, click here.

To learn more about why you should not destroy “good old work” click here.

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And Then Jennifer Found an “Ellison” in Hershey, Pennsylvania!

February 16th, 2016 Sears Homes 2 comments

Almost as exciting as finding an Ellison (a fancy Sears house I’ve never seen before) is that this “Ellison” is in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and (this just gets better and better), the Sears “Ellison” that Jennifer found is at 266 Maple Avenue, less than a half mile from Chocolate Avenue.

Yes, you heard that right: Less than a half mile from Chocolate Avenue.

But I digress.

Jennifer Hoover-Vogel posted this Ellison in our Facebook group and I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I stayed up way past my bedtime looking at this house and confirming it was indeed an Ellison.

And I’m confident that it is the real deal.

Multitudinous thanks to Jennifer Hoover-Vogel for finding this house and getting some lovely photos!

To learn more about chocolate, click here.

Join us on Facebook by clicking here.

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The Sears Ellison was offered throughout the 1930s.

The Sears Ellison was offered throughout the 1930s.

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The exterior measured 55'10" by 36'8". The first floor bedroom is 17'6" wide, which is large by Sears standards. And the living room is 15 by 21, which is quite spacious.

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The second floor

The second floor has an interesting layout with two bedrooms and an L-shaped hallway. I love that the bathroom is within that first dormer. Seems like a practical arrangement.

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This demonstrates passion for old houses! Jennifer went out in the snow on Sunday to get good photos of this lovely old Sears kit home!

This demonstrates true commitment! Jennifer went out in the snow on Sunday to get good photos of this lovely old Sears kit home! Fabulous find, and a fabulous picture. Photo is copyright 2016 Jennifer Hoover-Vogel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Check out the detail on that front window.

Check out the detail on that front window. Are these original windows? Hard to know. Photo is copyright 2016 Jennifer Hoover-Vogel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And from Google, we can see down the side.

And thanks to Google, we can see down the side.

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The floorplan

The detailed floorplan (from the assessor's website) shows it's a good match, too.

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FFF

Be still my quivering (and shivering) heart. We're always left wondering how many of these "hard-to-find" models were ever built. Thanks again to Jennifer for finding this one! Photo is copyright 2016 Jennifer Hoover-Vogel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks to Jennifer Hoover-Vogel for finding this house and getting some lovely photos!

To learn more about chocolate, click here.

Join us on Facebook by clicking here.

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Oh Dear Ethel, What Were You Thinking…

February 15th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

According to newspaper accounts, Ethel didn’t die easy. For 10 days in November 1918, she lingered in a Richmond hospital before succumbing to her injuries, caused by two bullet wounds through her left lung.

In the last days of her life, between labored breaths and unimaginable pain, Ethel dictated her will to her mother and bequeathed “many pieces of diamond jewelry” to her mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher. Carrie had come down from Girard, Pennsylvania so that Ethel Mae wouldn’t die alone.

Ten days earlier, Ethel Mae Brown had stepped off a train in downtown Richmond to meet her lover, Ralph E. Walker. It was a Wednesday night, about 7:00 o’clock, on a typical November night with temps in the mid-40s. Ethel and Ralph had met at Penniman, a World War One munitions plant on the York River. Ralph did the same work at Penniman as he’d done back home in Chattanooga: He managed the livestock at the plant. Ethel was a foreman, probably in the shell-loading area.

Both Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

Eyewitnesses later told police that there was an argument between the two as they stood on the sidewalk at 14th and Main Street. Ralph (55) pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot Ethel Mae (38) twice in the left chest at close range. She fell to the ground immediately. He then pointed the pistol at his own chest, and fired two shots before collapsing on the sidewalk.

Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from two wounds, Ralph managed to prop himself up on one elbow, point the pistol at Ethel and fire two more bullets at her, with one bullet grazing her head.

Ralph then collapsed.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and saw the horrid scene. Using a citizen’s vehicle, Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, about one mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. While the entire world celebrated, Ralph fretted. Soon, he’d be separated from his sweetheart.

It’s my opinion that Ralph had decided sometime earlier that he’d either sweep Ethel away to a new life, or take both of their lives. Either way, Ralph had no intention of returning home. Shortly before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel signing the register as “F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama.”

Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children, one of whom (Ralph, Jr., age 28) had become an invalid after a terrible street-car accident. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, and was the youngest son of Judge Dawson Walker, and the brother of Judge Seth Walker.  Ralph’s work had always centered around buying, selling and managing livestock.

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Despite Ethel’s suffering, she consistently refused to provide details of the tragedy to the police or medical staff.  When admitted to the hospital, she used the name, “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

Ethel would only tell the police that Ralph “had been despondent for some time,” and that he had a terrible temper. Ethel told the police that Ralph had shot her “in a fit of anger…following a quarrel.”

In the wee hours of November 22, 1918, Ethel breathed her last, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918). Her body was prepared by Henry W. Woody Funeral Home of Richmond and shipped to Girard later that day.

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Until a couple days ago, that’s a summary of everything we knew about Ralph and Ethel. Thanks to Genealogist Extraordinaire Milton Crum and Ohio Historian Ashley Armstrong-Zwart, we now know quite a bit more about Ethel.

Ethel and her mother misrepresented Ethel’s age on several legal documents, but we now have a confirmed birth date of October 23, 1880. Her father was Wilford Joseph Schneittacher and her mother was Carrie Grace Young Schneittacher. Carrie was born in 1865, and she was only 15 when Ethel was born.

On June 3, 1905, Ethel married Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth in Manhattan. The two had met at J. Hood Wright Hospital (also in Manhattan). Sydney didn’t tell his poor blind mama about his marriage for more than a year. When he went home to Plainfield, New Jersey, he sprung the news on everyone. The story of the young doctor who returned home with “a diploma and a bride” was a headline in the New York Times (June 14, 1906).

As the inimitable Milton Crum said yesterday, “There’s a reason you don’t tell your own mother about marrying a certain ‘type’ of girl, and it’s not a good reason.”

The newspapers said that Ethel made a statement to the police, informing them that her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.” Milton and I thought Ethel was talking about Sydney R. Titsworth. We were wrong.

And we also assumed that Ethel had created the pseudonym of “Mrs. Brown” in order to hide her true identify. We were wrong about that too.

Our big break came when Milton discovered that Ethel was enumerated twice in the 1910 census. She was enumerated in early April, living with her physician husband in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and then ten days later she was enumerated again, this time as a boarder in Manhattan, and working as a manicurist.

In other words, there was trouble in paradise. Sometime between those two enumerations, Ethel grabbed her diamond jewelry and left Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, landing in Manhattan at a rooming house. In 1911, the good doctor sued his soon-to-be-ex for divorce. Seems that Ethel was a friend of the drink, and to hear Sydney tell the story, she was a mean drunk.

By 1912, Ethel was back in Pennsylvania, working in Erie as a corset dealer at 924 State Street. In December 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown, and lied about her age on the marriage certificate. Most likely, Ethel headed off to Penniman in the Summer of 1918, about 2-1/2 years after marrying Frank. The 1910 census shows that Frank was a laborer, and his 1917 draft card showed he was a laborer at American Fork and Hoe Company.

On May 26, 1918, Frank became something else: Part of Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force. Private Frank Brown survived one of the worst battles of World War One: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive. It raged from September 26, 1918 until the end of the war, November 11, 1918. More than 26,000 Americans died and 95,000 were wounded. Frank survived with no permanent physical injuries.

While Frank was serving his country and trying to stay alive in the mud-filled trenches on the Western Front, Ethel was serving in the second-line trenches at Penniman, and in her spare time, she was playing “who’s got a secret” with the guy in the stable.

Ralph Walker, the man with a wife and six children in Chattanooga, told several people that he had a “sweetheart” at the plant. He also told the lady who ran his rooming house that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into the room one morning and found that he had killed himself.

When Ethel got off that train in Richmond on Wednesday night, she was probably returning to Penniman to pack up her things and go home. The previous few days, she’d been on a short vacation in Girard, visiting the folks back home. The war was over. Perhaps Ethel decided that it was time to end the affair and go back home to Pennsylvania and get on with her life. Frank would be coming home soon, and she could forget all this ever happened.

Instead, standing on a sidewalk in Richmond, still wearing an expensive diamond brooch and “handsome diamond ring,” she was mortally wounded when an angry lover pressed a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger - twice.

In death, Ethel didn’t fare much better. The story of her very bad ending was kept out of the papers in and around Girard. Her hometown paper, The Cosmopolite Herald, which detailed every citizen’s runny nose, sprained ankle and wandering chicken, had almost nothing to say about Ethel’s death. In a newspaper where even an infant’s death merits a front-page 200-word obituary, how did Ethel get overlooked? It must have been intentional and/or a gentleman’s agreement with Mr. and Mrs. Schneittacher.

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Titsworth Brown was buried in Girard Cemetery with the simplest of markers. The only child of Carrie Grace and Wilford Joseph Schneittacher rests alone in the cold ground. Cemetery records show that three plots were purchased for the three Schneittachers, but only Ethel’s plot was used. The remnant of the Schneittacher family lies in Gustavus Cemetery, more than 50 miles south of Ethel’s grave site.

Some may ask, is this really a story about Penniman? Yes, I’d say it is. It provides a thumbnail sketch about what happens in war time when people are put under difficult circumstances and endure grievous dangers and hardship. In short, it’s a story about the people of Penniman, and that’s what makes history so enchanting.

Thanks to Milton Crum, Ashley Armstrong-Zwart and Anne Hallerman for their help and brilliant research work!

To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Pasted

Ralph (from Chattanooga) and Ethel (from Erie) met one another at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

Ralph and Ethel were only two of the 6,000 workers employed at Penniman. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Ethel Nove 16

Ethel's story appeared in "The Chattanooga News" on November 16, 1918.

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Titsworth

In early 1911, Dr. Titsworth sought a divorce from Ethel.

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1911

And the divorce was granted a short time later.

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In 1912

The 1912 directory shows that Ethel is a "corset dealer" in Erie.

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Even after the divorce

Even after the divorce, Ethel kept the name.

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Married

On December 15, 1915, Ethel married Frank Arthur Brown.

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Ethel's father died on March 30, 1923 from cirrhosis of the liver. Did he become an alcoholic after his little girl's death or was that a contributing factor to Ethel's many problems?

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In a town where every sniffle makes the news, its hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethels death.

In a town where every sniffle makes the news, it's hard to believe that this was the only mention of Ethel's death.

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Ethel

Ethel Mae Schneittacher Brown rests alone in the Girard Cemetery, with her grave marked with the simplest of headstones, offering only the barest facts as to her life and death.

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To read an earlier article about Ralph and Ethel, click here.

Learn more about Penniman here.

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Finding the CUSTOMIZED Houses that Sears Built, Part IV

February 13th, 2016 Sears Homes 3 comments

Recently, I posted several images of a customized Sears House in Glen Ellyn that we found earlier this month. Subsequently, Rachel managed to find a slew of high quality photos online, at Keller Williams Realty Company (Glen Ellyn), so it’s with a hopeful heart that they’re willing to have those photos shared here, in the interest of history. And maybe also in the interest of good publicity!

As mentioned in a prior blog, we found this house thanks to a rare document that was recently discovered, authenticating several massive and grand “kit homes” with designs and building materials from Sears. These houses were featured in Sears & Roebuck literature, promoting the company’s architectural services.

As with the other customized Sears Home we found, this house in Glen Ellyn was also owned by a high-ranking Sears employee, who started at Sears in the 1910s and remained with the company for many years.

Assessor records indicate that this house was built in 1930, and has five bedrooms and four baths.

Again, a warm thanks to Keller Williams Realty Company in Glen Ellyn for permitting me (and/or forgiving me) the use of these photos.

To read about the other customized Sears Homes, click here.

Sometimes, Sears Homes look a lot like plan book homes.

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Oh my, what a glorious home in Glen Ellyn! This house came from Sears & Roebuck and both the design and building materials came from Sears.

What a beauty in Glen Ellyn! Both the design and the building materials were ordered from Sears.

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It would appear that there have been additions put on the homes rear.

It would appear that there have been additions put on the home's rear.

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The entry foyer is stunning!

The entry foyer is stunning!

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It seems likely that this is the homes original (1930s) bathroom.

It seems likely that this is the home's original (1930s) bathroom.

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I think theyve done a little updating on the kitchen.

I think they've done a little updating on the kitchen.

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Since it originally looked something like this...

Since it originally looked something like this...

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And probably had these accoutrements as well.

And probably had these accouterments as well.

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The

The living room is quite grand.

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The homes entry way

The home's entry way does have a decided "Sears Flavor"!

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It looks a lot like the entry on the Sears Jefferson in Carbondale, Illinois.

It looks a lot like the entry on the Sears "Jefferson" in Carbondale, Illinois.

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And to think it came from a mail-order catalog.

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Again, a warm thanks to Keller Williams Realty Company in Glen Ellyn for permitting me (and/or forgiving me) the use of these photos.

To read about the other customized Sears Homes, click here.

Sometimes, Sears Homes look a lot like plan book homes.

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Finding the CUSTOMIZED Houses That Sears Built, Part III

February 13th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Updated! We have some beautiful photos now!!

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Click here to see the new pictures!

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Thanks to a remarkable and rare document that came into my life, Rachel Shoemaker and I have been able to find several customized Sears Homes. One of these is in Glen Ellyn (a Chicago suburb) and it’s a real beauty.

Absent this document (which wholly authenticates this as a Sears House), I’d never have known that this was a “Sears kit home.”

As with the other customized Sears Home we found, this house in Glen Ellyn was also owned by a high-ranking Sears employee, who started at Sears in the 1910s and remained with the company for many years.

According to city records, it was built in 1930 (which is probably about right) and has almost 4,500 square feet. Apparently, it hasn’t been offered for sale in many years, for there is no record of recent sales.

The photos below aren’t very good quality, and if anyone in the Chicago area would like to snap some better images, I’d be grateful!

To read about the other customized Sears Homes, click here.

Sometimes, Sears Homes look a lot like plan book homes.

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Yes, this is a Sears kit house.

This beautiful Colonial Revival is a Sears kit house, ordered by a long-time Sears employee. The bay window has a copper roof and the primary roof appears to be slate (although it is hard to be sure). Thanks to the county assessor for providing such a lovely photo!

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Located in Glen Ellyn.

It's hard to tell from these low-resolution images, but I suspect that those are copper gutters and it appears to be a solid-brick home. This was (and is) a very well-built home, and spacious, with almost 4,500 square feet.

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Front door is intriguing Jefferson

Shown here is a Sears Jefferson in Carbondale, Illinois. Take a look at that entrance. It is a match to the house in Glen Ellyn - right down to the details. The Jefferson in Carbondale was built in the late 1920s.

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Match front door

Here's a close-up of that front door on the Jefferson.

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Preston

The customized Sears House in Glen Ellyn is also a little reminiscent of the Sears Preston.

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Inside

The Preston was pretty fancy inside.

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Houses 1921

It's likely that the interior of the Glen Ellyn house has a few of these extra touches, too.

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Do they know

I'd love to get some bettter images of this house in Glen Ellyn, but for now, these will have to do! And it sure would be fun to know if the home's current owners know that they have a "Sears kit house"!

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To read about the other customized Sears Homes, click here.

Sometimes, Sears Homes look a lot like plan book homes.

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Tudoring

February 11th, 2016 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, this meme made the rounds on Facebook, and it’s fast become one of my all-time favorites.

Now

Even better than the meme were the comments. One wit quipped, "Maybe they're offering free lessons in wattle and daub?" All of which served to remind me, there's another Sears Home I've always wanted to see in the world.

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The Sears Sherwood (1930).

The Sears Sherwood (1930).

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Ive been looking for this one a long time, too but without success.

I've been looking for this one a long time, but without success. It should be easy to identify with its arched door and matching arched garden entry. Plus those stepped windows on the right front gable (staircase and bathroom) are very unique. This house was offered only in 1929 and 1930, so there should be a couple of these around.

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The floorplan is shockingly small, but it does have a half bath on the first floor.

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The second floor has two modest bedrooms and one really small bedroom.

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And here's the tudoring lesson for the day: "The Sherwood is an Americanized English type..."

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Do you have a Sherwood in your neighborhood?

Forensic artists create "enhanced images" of people after the passage of 10 or 20 years. I wish someone could do an "enhanced image" of a Sherwood slathered in aluminum siding and vinyl windows. That might help a bit.

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To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

Click here to join our merry band on Facebook.

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Was This School for African-Americans Ever Built in Pottstown?

February 10th, 2016 Sears Homes 2 comments

Update! Mystery solved! Click here to read the latest.

“Mr. W. L. Jones, chairman of the Williamsburg school board, said that he…purchased the bricks…[from the demolished Penniman smokestack] to build a public school building [in Pottstown] for the colored children” (Newport News Daily Press, December 22, 1922).

On December 19, 1922, the 250-foot tall smokestack at the Penniman powerhouse was taken down with 35 sticks of dynamite. According to the Daily Press, the powerhouse at the DuPont munitions plant cost more than $3 million to build. The smokestack sat on a solid concrete base that was 30 feet square, and 20 feet in diameter at its base. A DuPont employee told the Daily Press that the smokestack had more than 150,000 bricks.

As historian R. Wythe Davis quipped, “Penniman was not erased, it was dispersed” - right down to the bricks in the smokestack.

Before the smokestack was blown, W. L. Jones had agreed to purchase all the bricks within the stack. Pretty bold, considering that he really didn’t know how this would end.

Now I’m wondering, was this school ever built? Despite some searching, I can’t even find a Pottstown (outside of Pennsylvania) and it seems unlikely that a school board official from Williamsburg would buy 150,000 slightly used bricks to ship to Pennsylvania.

The day that the smokestack was blown to smithereens, the Daily Press reported that the bricks were bought by “Mr. Jones for the city school board to be used in the erection of a colored school building in Pottstown” (December 20, 1922).

I’m wondering, was Pottstown a community near Williamsburg? If so, it wasn’t mentioned in period newspapers (that I can find). Where was Pottstown? Surely these bricks weren’t shipped to Pennsylvania.  And was this school ever built? If it was built within Williamsburg, did it survive the restoration in the early 1930s?

Another mystery.

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Penniman about 1918.

A panoramic view of Penniman - in 1918. The York River is in the background, and that's Kings Creek to the hard right. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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These photos

These old black and white photos show phenomenal detail. This is the base of the smokestack, which measured 20 feet in diameter. The concrete base was 30 feet square. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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I cant even imagine how long it would take to load 150,000 used bricks into a 1920s truck.

I can't even imagine how long it would take to load 150,000 used bricks into a 1920s truck.

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Two days later, this article appeared, providing addition detail.

This appeared on December 22, 1922 in the Newport News "Daily Press."

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To read more about Penniman’s dispersal, click here.

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A Penniman Murder Mystery: Ethel and Ralph

February 7th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Ralph and Ethel were married, but not to each other.

About 7:00 o’clock, standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection in downtown Richmond, Ralph and Ethel got into an argument. Ethel had just stepped off the train, and the two started quarreling. Ralph pulled a pistol out of his pocket and shot 39-year-old Ethel twice in the chest. She collapsed immediately. Ralph (55) then turned the pistol on himself, and managed to shoot himself twice in the chest before he fell. Splayed on the sidewalk, bleeding out from the two wounds, Ralph summoned the strength to prop  himself up on an elbow and fire the last two bullets at Ethel, with one bullet striking her in the head.

Ralph then fell back on the sidewalk, where a sailor kicked the empty pistol out of his hands.

Richmond Patrolman Walter M. Angel had just passed the couple at 14th and Main moments earlier. Upon hearing the gun shots, he rushed back to the corner, and commandeered a citizen’s vehicle. Ethel was rushed to Virginia Hospital, a modern three-story hospital about a mile away. Another patrolman rushed Ralph to the hospital, where he died less than 30 minutes later.

It was November 13, 1918. The Great War had ended two days earlier. The entire world rejoiced when Germany surrendered and hostilities ceased, except for Ralph E. Walker, as it meant that he’d soon be separated from Ethel.

The two had met each other at DuPont’s munition plant at Penniman, Virginia, about seven miles from Williamsburg. Many of Penniman’s residents regularly took the C&O train to Williamsburg when they wanted to get out of the village. Ralph and Ethel probably hoped that Richmond would be a safer bet, where it wasn’t as likely that they’d be recognized. According to newspaper articles, the story of their involvement was already well known throughout the munition plant.

In Chattanooga, Ralph’s hometown, this story of the “suicide-slayer” was headline news for several days. The Chattanooga News immediately sent a reporter to Richmond to interview Mrs. D. S. McDonald of Williamsburg, where Ralph had been a boarder. According to Mrs. McDonald, Ralph had told several people that he had “a sweetheart at the DuPont plant.” Ralph also told Mrs. McDonald that she shouldn’t be surprised if she came into his room one morning and found that he’d committed suicide.

Ethel lingered for 10 days. As soon as Ethel’s mother received the news, she rushed to Ethel’s bedside from her home in North Girard, Pennsylvania. Ethel, who was lucid part of the time, refused to make any statement about the events, admitting only that they’d been quarreling, and that Ralph had a terrible temper. Despite intense questioning from both the medical staff and law enforcement officers, both Ethel and her mother managed to keep Ethel’s true identity secret. The story made the headlines up and down the Eastern Seaboard, but - from what I can glean - nothing appeared in the newspapers around Ethel’s hometown of Girard.

At Penniman, Ethel was in a supervisory position (probably on the shell-loading line) and Ralph managed the livestock at the stables,  at the edge of the Penniman camp. Back in Chattanooga, Ralph had a wife and six children. They lived at 801 Union Avenue. His eldest child, Ralph E. Walker, Junior (30) had been in a tragic streetcar accident years earlier and was now an invalid who suffered from frequent convulsions. Ralph, Sr. came from a prominent Chattanooga family, with two judges in his immediate family (a brother and a cousin).

Before meeting Ethel at the train, Ralph had checked into Rueger’s Hotel under the pseudonym of F. H. Armstrong of Birmingham, Alabama. Letters from his wife and youngest child (Mark) were found in his suitcase.

Despite the agony that Ethel must have been experiencing, she wouldn’t give anyone her real name, identifying herself only as “Mrs. N. E. Brown.” Eventually, she told the staff that her name was Ethel Mae Brown. The newspaper articles explained that she wished to keep her identity a secret, because her husband was “a prominent physician in Pennsylvania.”

By all accounts, Ethel’s sufferings were great. With Mother at her bedside, Ethel dictated a will, bequeathing her “jewelry, diamonds and other effects” to her. On November 22, 1918, Ethel succumbed to her injuries, “with the secrets of this [story] still locked in her heart” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 23, 1918).

And for 98 years, that’s about all we knew about the murder/suicide in downtown Richmond.

Soon after I discovered this story, I asked Milton Crum, my BFF and genealogy genius if he could “spare a few minutes” to track down this mysterious Mrs. Brown. Frankly, I thought it was hopeless. But he found her, and that’s when we learned the rest of the story.

Ethel’s husband back in Girard was not a prominent physician, but a 41-year-old army doctor who enlisted in March 1918, and was serving somewhere in France. His name was Dr. Sydney R. Titsworth, and he met Ethel in the early 1900s, when she was a nursing student at J. Hood Wright Hospital in New York. Secretly married in 1905 after a very brief courtship, they had no children.

Milton first found Ethel when he discovered her death certificate. Her mother (the informant) gave false information on this document as well, stating that her daughter’s last name was “Brown,” and giving her age as 28.  A 1900 Census gives a birth date of 1879 for Ethel, which corresponds to newspaper reports, putting her age at “about 35″ in 1918.

Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher, made the necessary arrangements to have her only child, Ethel Mae, buried in Girard Cemetery. Ethel’s tombstone bespeaks the deep shame her own family felt toward her. Stripped of her married name, deprived of the traditional familial connections and dates, it says only, “Ethel, dau of J.W. and C.G. Schneittacher.”

Less than 14 months after Mrs. Ralph Walker (Mary) buried her husband in disgrace, her eldest son (Ralph, Jr.) died during a convulsive fit. He was 31 years old. Mary died in 1938 at the age of 70. Her occupation was listed as “domestic.” It must not have been an easy life for either family. Four years after Ethel’s tragic death, her father (Wilford Joseph Schneittacher) died from cirrhosis of the liver.

So what is the mystery? There are many.

Did the Pennsylvania papers carry anything on this story? I’ve searched several archived newspaper sites (LOC’s Chronicling America, Newspapers.com and Find My Past) and can not find a single mention of this story. What happened to Ethel’s mother, Carrie Grace Schneittacher? She just disappeared after the death of her husband.

And what about Ethel? Did anyone in Girard ever know what happened to her? Was there an obituary for Ethel? The family had been in Girard since the 1900 Census. Surely, someone would have missed this woman.

Lastly, is Ethel buried in the family plot, or in some corner, forgotten by her family - even in death? If Girard wasn’t so far from Norfolk, I’d drive up there, just to see for myself.

There are many interesting stories we’ll find when we go digging around in history, but this story of Ethel is one that I’ve found especially sad and haunting.

Thanks so much to Milton Crum and Anne Hallerman for assisting with the voluminous research.

The above is a preview from Rose’s forthcoming book, Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City. You can read more about Penniman here.

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Ralph and Ethel met at Penniman, Virginia, a World War One munitions plant and village, built by DuPont. It was located about seven miles from Williamsburg. At its peak, more than 15,000 people inhabited the 6,000-acre site on the York River. Penniman was established in Spring 1916, and by 1921, it was a ghost town.

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Penniman

About 6,000 men and women worked at Penniman, loading shells for The Great War. After the war, Penniman was disassembled and in 1942, the land was purchased for use by the Navy (Cheatham Annex).

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Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names.

Thanks to Hagley Museum and Library, we have many wonderful images from Penniman, but no names. This shows the freight depot, where the 155mm and 75mm shells were shipped out to Newport News, for transport to France.

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Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock. At Penniman, he got a job managing the livestock.

Originally from Chattanooga, Ralph had a background in buying, selling and managing livestock, and that became his job at Penniman. In the upper left hand corner, you can see the stables for the donkeys, horses and other animals. The small square buildings at the top are chicken coops. Located on the edge of the property, this is probably where Ralph spent much of his day.

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This is the lone photo of Mrs. Ethel Brown. It was published only in the Chattanooga News, and the accompanying article described her as a good-looking woman.

This is the lone photo of "Mrs. Ethel Brown." It was published only in "The Chattanooga News" with the accompanying headline, "Same Old Story of Human Emotions Repeated in Virginia City."

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News

This article appeared in the "Richmond Times Dispatch" on 11.14.18

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Ethels mother, the informant misrepresented the true facts about Ethels name, age

It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who figured out Ethel's real last name, and I'm still not sure how he did it, but I think it was the discovery of this death certificate that started it all. Ethel's mother, the "informant" misrepresented the true facts about Ethel's name and age.

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It was my history loving buddy and genealogical wizard Milton Crum who

This 1900 census shows Ethel is still living with her father "William" and mother "Gracie" Schneittacher in Girard, Pennsylvania. In 1918, when Ethel "disappeared" did anyone in Girard ask about her?

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Ralph Walker's body was shipped back to Chattanooga where a "family only" service was held.

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Ethels husband

Ethel's husband was discharged nine months after Ethel's death, in August 1919. He spent the next several years traveling the oceans, working as a ship's physician. He remarried in 1925.

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Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery.

Most heart-breaking of all is this tombstone at the Girard Cemetery in Erie County, Pennsylvania. Stripped of her legal, married name, Ethel's marker is nondescript. It's my impression that - even in death - Joseph Wilford and Carrie Grace wanted to put a little distance between themselves and their only child.

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An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, The Kane Republican.

An interesting update - just as I was finishing up this blog, I found this article in a Pennsylvania paper, "The Kane Republican" (November 15, 1918).

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